The Cleveland Cavaliers grew tired of treading water and took the plunge in the offseason with a near-total face lift.

They have a new owner, a new coach, new uniforms and six new players.

The new Cavaliers struggled to their first victory in three games Tuesday night, edging league patsy Detroit. They will go for two in a row Thursday night against the Washington Bullets at the Coliseum.

It will be the first of three games in three nights for the Bullets. After the Cleveland game, they will face the New Jersey Nets at Captial Centre Friday and then will travel to the Spectrum for a rematch with the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night.

The Bullets showed in their last game, a 126-120 double-overtime loss to the 76ers at Captial Centre, that they can play with the best the NBA has to offer. The question is, can they do it night after night?

"We'll see," said captain Wes Unseld.

The Cavaleirs aren't a very good team at present. They traded two of their best players before the season, sending forward Campy Russell to New York and guard Foots Walker to New Jersey.

They acquired Bill Robinzine from Kansas City in return for Russell in a three-way deal and former Bullet Roger Phegley from the Nets for Walker.

The Cleveland guns are guard Randy Smith, who is averaging 22.7 points after three games and had a team-record eight steals against the Pistons, and forward Mike Mitchell, who has scored 34, 20 and 26 points in the first three games.

This is Bill Musselman's first job in the NBA and he is another coach who believes that a strong defense and a conservative offense are the keys to success.

"I use different rules on defense than most people," he said. "We have guards guarding centers, forwards guarding guards and vice versa. I don't worry about mismatches," he said. "We just pressure the ball. When the other team fast breaks, our players run back to a spot on the floor instead of picking up a man."

Musselman is still experimenting with his lineup. The jump-shooting Phegley started the first two games, but gave way to rookie Chad Kinch the last game.

Former De Matha and North Carolina State star Kenny Carr had an outstanding preseason and was expected to be a key performer once the play for keeps started. But Musselman has decided to go with the steadiness of Don Ford instead of the sometimes brilliant, sometimes blundering play of Carr. The coach wants a passing forward and, with Mitchell the primary scorer, Musselman isn't about to turn him into a passer. Carr, too, is a scorer, not a passer.

"Ford gives us ball movement," said Musselman. "His whole game is finding the open man. Your best NBA teams have a forward with a high number of assists. When he was out, our whole offense slowed down."

Despite their optimism, the Cavaliers have a long way to to become a good team. When your centers are Dave Robisch and Bill Laimbeer, you are suspect in the middle.