During the off season, the Houston Rockets, citing a need for a starting guard, came north and pirated Tom Henderson away from the willing Washington Bullets. He was not used -- and not needed -- tonight.

The Rockets beat the Bullets, 134-111, and Henderson didn't play a minute. The other Rocket guards -- Mike Dunleavy (31 points), Calvin Murphy (23) and Allen Leavell (20) combined for 74 points. Henderson, who has been bothered by flu and an even colder-than-usual shooting hand, was never missed.

"It was the same story," lamented Bullet Coach Dick Motta. 'We're just having trouble stopping any guards.

"Did I try everything possible? I'd have tried my sister buy she couldn't come."

She might have had better success than the Bullet guards. Against them, in only his second start of the season, Dunleavy came within one point of his career high.

"He's a good guard, no doubt about it," Motta commented. "He was going to start for them before he was injured, but still . . ."

Still, no one would expect the Rockets to win a game in which Moses Malone scored only four points and gathered only two rebounds in the first half. Wes Unseld's weight-shifting tactics kept Malone in the shadows throughout the first two quarters.

The third quarter was a different matter. Malone returned to his form as last year's NBA most valuable player to score 10 points, take 10 rebounds and come up with four steals as the Bullets threw the ball around much like a pickup softball team.

"He was responsible for about six steals right at the end of the third quarter," said Motta. "We just couldn't handle the press. They converted turnovers into layups and that was it."

Before a three-minute collapse at the end of the third quarter, the Bullets behind Larry Wright (Washington's leading scorer with 22 points) and Greg Ballard had taken a 61-60 lead at halftime.

The off-again-on-again Bullets came tumbling down in the second half. Houston outscored them, 74-50, in that span and the only question after the third quarter was whether the Rockets would hit the "magic" 135-point mark, giving a free chicken dinner to the 11,183 fans as part of a promotion.

With two seconds to play and the Rockets ahead, 133-111, Dunleavy went to the free-throw line. He missed the first of two, his only falling of the evening.

The Bullets, despite shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor, had many more shortcomings. Bullet guards scored only 38 points; Washington was outrebounded, 43-31, and its defense, plus Houston's hot shooting, permitted the Rockets to hit at a 58 percent clip from the floor.

The Rockets even beat the Bullets in the technical foul department, as touchy officials Wally Rooney and Jack Nies hit three Rockets (Murphy, Rich Barry and Rudy Tomjanvoich) with Ts while smacking only two Bullets (Elvin Hayes and Dave Corzine).

Indeed, it was a half-and-half night for Washington. One half good, one half awful. It all added up to another whole loss.