The Washington Bullets begin one of their most important three-game stretches of the season tonight in Houston when they take on the Rockets at the Summit (WDCA-TV-20) at 9 p.m. The two teams will meet again at Capital Centre Thursday night.

After last night's games, the Bullets (28-34) were only three games behind the Rockets, who had the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The top six teams make the playoffs. Indiana and New York are between Houston and Washington.

The Rockets defeated the Pacers last night and both Coach Dick Motta and his assistant, Bernie Bickerstaff, scouted the game.

The Bullets will host the Pacers, 1 1/2 games ahead of Washington, Sunday afternoon.

Bullet forward Bob Dandridge, who has a pulled calf muscle, will not play tonight and is unlikely to Thursday.

Guard Jim Cleamons did not practice yesterday because of a bruised hip but will play tonight.

Rocket starting forward Robert Reid collapsed in his hotel room in Salt Lake City last Friday -- an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart was diagnosed -- and has been hospitalized since. His condition is not serious, however, and the Rockets said he is expected to be released today, but won't play before the weekend.

Reid is being replaced by Rick Barry and Billy Paultz. The other Houston starters are Rudy Tomjanovich, Moses Malone, Allen Leavell and Calvin Murphy.