The Washington Bullets have come to grips with the fact that they aren't in the same class as the Philadelphia 76ers and something out of the ordinary will have to happen or their season will end tonight.

The 76ers beat the Bullets at their own game -- a slow tempo, grind-it-out struggle -- Wednesday night in Philadelphia in the opening game of their best-of-three Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

The second game will be played tonight at Capital Centre at 8:35. If the Bullets somehow pull off an upset, the rubber match will be at the Spectrum Sunday afternoon.

The looseness and confidence that the Bullets were bubbling with before the first game of the series has been changed to tenseness and skepticism.

"We have to be realistic," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said. "Talent-wise and depth-wise, they are superior to us.

"An 82-game schedule is a good barometer of how good you are and they won 20 more games than we did.That should tell you something."

The Bullets controlled the tempo in the 111-96 loss Wednesday, as they had planned, but they didn't execute their half-court offense very well.

The Bullets' strength is their forwards -- Greg Ballard and Elvin Hayes. For them to be effective, they must get the ball inside. They didn't in the first game of the series.

Hayes made only six of 16 shots and scored 14 points. Ballard made only five of 15 for 11 points. Their shooting was bad mainly because most of their shots were taken out of their range.

"We just didn't run our plays right," Hayes said. "We didn't get the ball inside like we should have. Everything we did was from outside. We kept shooting that long stuff. We got them to play our tempo, but then we didn't take advantage of it. I don't know why. We just didn't do it. If we had, we could have won that game."

With Kevin Grevey the only Bullet who played well the first game, scoring a season-high 34 points, the Bullets didn't have much of a chance, even though Julius (Dr. J) Erving had an off night for the 76ers.

Bothered by a sore knee and sprained arch, Erving was hesitant and never got totally into the game. He made only five of 19 shots for 13 points. But Caldwell Jones and Lionel Hollins picked up the slack.

Jones scored 18 points and collected a season-high 26 rebounds, while Hollins scored 21 points.

"For us to win, we need everyone playing up to his capabilities, a superhuman effort from someone off the bench and two or three starters playing over their heads," Motta said. "We're the ones who need that and they're the ones who got it from Jones and Hollins in the first game."

The 7-foot-1 Jones, who was moved to forward this year to make room for Darryl Dawkins in the starting lineup, sprained an ankle late in the game Wednesday.

X-rays taken yesterday were negative and Jones' playing status for tonight will be determined at game time. If he can't play, Bobby Jones will most likely start in his place, with Steve Mix in reserve.

Grevey made 13 of 21 shots, including four of seven three-point tries Wednesday night. He also had three assists and three steals. Grevey said he expects his teammates to play better tonight but he doesn't expect the 76ers to let up.

"I think they're going to come into Capital Centre and try to bury us," he said. "They have a lot of respect for us. They know we are capable of beating them if they ease up at all, so we aren't going to catch them flat or looking past us."

As of yesterday afternoon, there were 4,000 tickets available for the game . . . If the 76ers win, they will begin their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series with Atlanta Sunday at The Spectrum . . . The Bullets received $10,000, $909 a player, for finishing with the sixth-best record in the conference. If they win the Philadelphia series, they will get an additional $27,500. If they lose, $20,000.