The first three times Elvin Hayes shot the basketball last night he missed badly. He thought it might be one of those games in which nothing would go in.

He was wrong.

Hayes drilled in his next 12 shots and went on to a season-high 42 points as the Bullets buried the woeful Detroit Pistons, 135-107, at Capital Centre.

It was the Bullets' sixth victory in seven games in their late drive to return to the NBA playoffs. Coupled with the Indiana Pacers' loss to New Jersey, it moved the Bullets from eighth to seventh in the scramble for the six Eastern Conference playoff spots.

With the Bullets comfortably ahead, Hayes sat out the final nine minutes, even with the 9,639 in attendance chanting in unison, "We want E! We want E!"

"When we lose they (the fans) are on me and when we win they're on me," Coach Dick Motta said jocularly. "There was no way I was going to put him back in the game and take a chance on him getting hurt. I told him that if the fans want him so bad, he can take off his shoes and go up in the seats and join them."

It was that kind of night for the Bullets -- a romp in which everyone seemed loose and at ease.

"You're supposed to have two or three nights like this a season," Motta said.

Hayes had lots of company in enjoying a big night. Greg Ballard tossed in 22 points and John Williamson 20.

Kevin Porter provided 17 assists in only 24 minutes and the Bullets issued 44 assists, the most they have amassed in a game since they left Baltimore.

The Bullets decisively outrebounded the Pistons, 60-35, with Wes Unseld collecting 14 and Dave Corzine a career-high 13.

Lawrence Boston, in his second game as a Bullet front-court reserve, pulled down five rebounds, more than all but two of the Pistons, though he settled for two points in 19 minutes.

The Pistons were without Kent Benson and Phil Hubbard, left home with leg injuries, then lost their only muscle when Leon Douglas sprained his ankle in the second quarter.

Without him, the team with the worst record in the NBA had no chance.

Detroit tried Douglas, Bob McAdoo, Greg Keiser, Terry Tyler and John Long on Hayes, without much success for any of them.

Tyler blocked two of Hayes' shots, but for the night, Hayes made 18 of 27 and went six of six from the foul line.

He had his usual mixture of slam dunks and turnaround jumpers from the left side, but he was also deadly from the top of the key.

His teammates kept giving him the ball and he kept putting it up.

"He's an amazing athlete because he comes out each night and does it," said Porter, who got half of his assists passing the ball to Hayes. "We wanted to get him the ball. Detroit was playing with four guards some of the time and there's no way a guard can check E. We had to go to him."

Hayes tried to downplay his performance, his first of 40 or more points since 1976.

"Somebody has to pick up the slack," he said.

"Tonight I flet like it just wasn't going to be my night, though. But once I got in my rhythm I was fine. I was moving inside and out. Once you get in your rhythm you want to keep putting it up."

Hayes nevertheless found time for three assists.

"You can't just shoot the ball every-time you get it, no matter how hot you are," he said. "My teammates were looking for me and when I got open they got me the ball. I try to do the same for them. We look out for each other on this team and that's why we're right back in the playoff picture."

The Pistons, losers of 15 of their last 16 games, led at 20-18, but Hayes scored five straight points to put the Bullets ahead to stay.

Washington went on to outscore Detroit, 15-5, closing out the first period and Hayes had nine of those points, 13 in the quarter.

He made all seven of his shots in the second period and had 27 points at halftime as the Bullets led, 65-42.

Tyler and Long led Detroit with 23 and 19 points, respectively.

The Pistons, with passable individual talent, once again looked lost collectively. There was no cohesiveness on offense and no one helping out much on defense.

The Bullets led by more than 30 points a couple of times and once they secured the lead in the first period were never in any danger.

The Bullets have won six straight at Capital Centre and their next game will be at home. Thursday night against the New Jeresey Nets. A rematch with the Pistons follows in Pontiac on Friday, then a Sunday afternoon date in Boston Garden against the Celtics.