The Bullets changed two-fifths of their starting lineup last night, but continued their slide toward the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

The New Jersey Nets had little trouble handing Washington its sixth straight loss, 98-87, before 7,096 at Capital Centre and pulling the Bullets within a half-game of the Nets' fifth-place status in the five-team division.

The last time the Bullets, now 20-27, lost six games in a row was in 1967.

They played effectively only in isolated spurts last night, and a horrible second quarter and an even worse fourth period did them in.

They made four of 18 shots in the second period and scored 11 points, their lowest single-quarter output this season.

They netted only four of 22 shots in the final quarter and could never sustain a rally.

Coach Dick Motta, scrambling to instill some life into his team, started Bob Dandridge for Greg Ballard at forward and Kevin Grevey for Larry Wright at guard.

Both played well, but as a team, the Bullets just didn't have it. The 87 points they produced is a season low.

Elvin Hayes was high for the Bullets with 27 points and Dandridge scored 22.

Mike Newlin led New Jersey with 28 points.

It started out like the Bullets' night. They made their first six shots and moved to a 12-6 lead.

The Nets slowly crept up the rest of the first period and then unloaded full force on the home team in the second.

The Bullets led, 22-21, going into that fateful second period, but the Nets outscored them by 21-2 at its start and Washington never recovered.

"Super" John Williamson, the overweight New Jersey guard who has been in Coach Kevin Loughery's doghouse most of the season, scored nine of those points as the Nets played as though they were all by themselves.

When the half mercifully ended, the Nets had a 51-33 lead and the Bullets were mumbling.

The Bullets didn't quit, though. Behind Dandridge's 14 third-quarter points and 10 from Jim Cleamons, they made a run at the Nets and went into the fourth period down by only 75-68.

Two Hayes free throws closed the gap to 80-76 with six minutes to play, but that was as close as the Bullets could get.

Eddie Jordan answered Hayes' free throws with a 15-footer and then 6-11 George Johnson took over. Johnson first blocked a Hayes shot, setting up a fast-break basket by Newlin; next he blocked a Kevin Porter shot, resulting in another Newlin fast break.

The 86-76 lead was plenty. Dandridge, who made his first start since Dec. 19, said, "We can come back all right, but we can't ever get over the hump. We just can't get the perfoormance we need from everybody.

Grevey lost his starting job to Larry Wright seven games ago, but after Wright's zero-for-11 shooting against Cleveland on Tuesday and because Roger Phegley has not proven ready to be a full-time starter yet, Motta went back to Grevey.

"We haven't been doing so good the other way is why I made the changes," Motta said. "We'll stay this way for awhile."

Grevey made only four of 12 shots, but had seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocked shots.

"We were getting our shots," Grevey said. "We were even getting second, third and fourth shots, but they weren't going in. Then we started missing layups, throwing bad passes and having mental errors.

"Our defense isn't bad, but our offense just isn't doing much."

This was the Bullets' first home game since losing to Seattle Jan. 15, and their followers in attendance were not very pleased with their wandering heroes.

Boos were frequent and the Bullets' frustrations even became comical at times.

The Bullets simply looked confused and lost most of the night.

"It's too easy to lose," said captain Wes Unseld. "I can tell you exactly what's going to happen. We're going to start rationalizing and then start looking around and blaming each other. What worries me more than the actual losing is that we don't play like losers, but that's what we're starting to do."

The Bullets face a mean task trying to right themselves tonight at Boston Garden against the Celtics (WDCA-TV-20, 7:30 p.m.). Boston center Dave Cowens is not expected to play because of a foot sprain.