Sure Larry Wright saw them.

"Pictures of two naked women? How could I miss that?"

Well, they were not quite naked. There seemed to be strings attached to the scantiest panties. But one can never be certain from the free-throw line, especially with at least the most important game of the season -- and quite possibly a career -- in the balance.

But if the Nets seemed not to care deeply about causing the Bullets to miss the playoffs for the first time in 12 years here today, their fans did. Wright has seen all sorts of distractions to upset a free-throw shooter in his brief athletic life but waving 24-by-36-inch portraits of wicked women as he shot was beyond belief.

"The worst I've ever seen," he said. "I'm up there trying to concentrate, saying I've gotta block all that out" -- he also saw the guy with a hairpiece that resembled rainbow-colored cheese doodles -- "and sorta wondering if I can.

"You can't say you don't see 'em. They're right in front of you."

This was a game for the Bullets' Larry Wrights, players either seldom seen or seldom appreciated carrying Elvin Hayes for a change.

Wright often measures his playing time in weeks lately; others have noticed that Coach Dick Motta seems to use him when the team is desperate. So it was not too surprising to see him pop off the bench when Keven Porter became burdened with fouls in the first half.

Three times Wright readied himself at the free-throw line. Three times he tried to eliminate the women, the guy with the goofy hairpiece and -- more importantly -- the fact that failure at that moment could bring all manner of grim possibilities.

For whatever reason, Motta became discouraged early this season with Wright. His minutes are down nearly 400 for the season. In the Bullets' most recent game, after 21 minutes of fine work against Cleveland, Wright's name on the stat sheet was followed by: "Did Not Play -- Coach's Decision."

That hardly inspires the zest for what Motta wanted when he summoned Wright today. Undoubtedly he knew Wright would not quit -- and by halftime he had given the Bullets three field goals and four assists.

Also, he made all three of those R-rated foul shots.

For those reasons and some others -- which included a Net dribbling the ball the length of the court and out of bounds -- the Bullets had a five-point lead at halftime with Hayes missing nine of 10 shots from the floor and both his free throws.

"I just go out there and work hard," Wright said, "try and help every little bit I can. It's been rough, an up-and-down year, with a lot of personnel changes. It would be easy to bail out, but I'm not that way.

"If not playing so much had been on my ability, I'd have been mad. But it's not my inability to play. Lots of times I've been called on and pulled it out. I think I've not played this year as much as the other three years combined."

To prepare himself for such moments as today, rare appearances under the worst sort of pressure,

Wright hones his game whenever possible. Often he works against the son of a neighbor, Jim Monday, a feisty high-school player, on a back-yard court.

"Sometimes a schoolboy can be as tough as an NBA defender," Wright said, "Because they're aggressive all the time."

Wright also logs practice time during clinics he and others give in the Washington area. After not playing Friday night against Atlanta. Wright tried to stay reasonably sharp by twisting and turning the next day in a suburban shopping center.

Against 10-year-olds.

"Sometimes kids would be that young," he said. "They were grade-school age to high-school. A smart little kid would say he could whup me, I'd say he couldn't and we'd have to play a couple of baskets for me to show him."

The wrights of the NBA must do well whenever the chance comes, for they either are considered too small or not smart enough or given less certain reasons for decreased playing time. Or given no reasons at all.

Motta is among the most impatient coaches anywhere. Other players when given a chance to fire a verbal shot at the coach, as Wright was today, would have shot from the hip. Wright said:

"The town is used to winning. To miss the playoffs would have been terrible. There's been a lot of pressure on him to do things he might not have done otherwise. He's no different than anyone else. He's human.

"But I've been on the end of some undoings. I'm not gonna knock him. I could, but it's not my character."

Diplomacy also is important for the Wrights -- and by helping Washington into the playoffs and keeping his frustrations in check he helped himself to more minutes against Philadelphia. He hopes Motta will remember those 11 minutes of excellence in the first half instead of the three tentative minutes the second half.

Wright tries to remember to stay positive.

"I hope to be playing basketball," he said to a question about his future with the Bullets. "I really enjoy it in Washington. I've got a family, like everyone else. I know I can play. I know a lot of people know I can play.

"I'm 24. But I know what it's like to play on a championship team. I've got too much pride to go out there and embarrass myself."