The Washington Bullets came out with fire in their eyes last night, steamrollered the Atlanta Hawks, 100-80, before 18,186 at Capital Centre and kept alive their playoff hopes.

To gain the playoffs, the Bullets must beat the New Jersey Nets Sunday in Piscataway in their final regular-season game.

A victory over the Nets would give the Bullets a 39-43 record, tying them with New York for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Washington would edge out New York for the conference's last playoff berth because of their better record within the conference.

The Knicks ended their season Thursday.

"A win Sunday will put us in and a loss will put us out. It's that simple," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta.

The edition of the Bullets that the Capital Centre crowd saw last night was a world apart from the bunch that wilted in Richfield, Ohio, against Cleveland Thursday night.

Elvin Hays had 31 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Kevin Grevey added 24 points, Greg Ballard 20. But it was the defense that won it for the Bullets, forcing the Hawks into shooting 32 percent.

The Bullets also limited the Hawks to 33 points the first half, the low for a Bullet opponent this season. The 80 points were the fewest allowed by the Bullets since 1974.

"We just had it tonight," Ballard said. "We were just more alive than we were against Cleveland."

Against the Cavaliers, the Bullets looked like they couldn't wait for the season to end. Last night they looked like they couldn't wait for the playoffs to begin. If they do get into the postseason action, it will be for the 12th straight year.

"I wish I knew what makes us so different from night to night," Wes Unseld said.

"Atlanta's shots didn't fall is one reason they got into such a hole, but there was more to it than that. We had more fight than usual. It's a shame, because if we had the same fight against Cleveland we'd have the playoff spot locked up right now."

The Hawks shot 29 percent the first quarter, 26 in the second and 29 in the third as they fell farther and farther behind.

Atlanta Coach Hubie Brown, frustrated early, was ejected with two technical fouls with 2:16 left in the first half and the Hawks down, 47-33.

Brown went into a tirade after Unseld was called for elbowing Tree Rollins. Brown thought Unseld should have been ejected and Rollins awarded two free throws. Official Joe Gushue disagreed and, when Brown persisted with his complaining, hit him with a technical foul.

Brown continued arguing and the other official, Jesse Kersey, called a technical, which resulted in Brown's automatic ejection.

He remained on court, however arguing with both officials, even engaging in a shouting match with Unseld, before the Bullet coaches and players from both teams quieted him.

Once again it was Grevey who got the Bullets off to a quick start. He made three-point shots in the first quarter, which ended with the Bullets ahead, 30-21.

Hayes scored 12 of his points in the second quarter, when the Bullets ran off a 15-2 spurt, to take control. The Bullets led, 53-33, at halftime.

Grevey has made 16 of 27 three-point shots the last six games.

"I took those shots all the time at Kentucky Grevey said. "There just wasn't a line there."

"Kevin has really opened things up for us with those three-point shots," said Kevin Porter. "The defenses are aware of him and everything else we want to do becomes easier because of it."