The last time the Washington Bullets got off to a 1-4 start was in the 1977-78 season. They went on to win the National Basketball Association championship that year.

This year's 1-4 Bullet's aren't thinking about championships right now, but about getting back on the winning track. They will start a key four-games-in-five-nights stretch tonight at Capital Centre against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

They will be off Thursday and then travel to Chicago for a Friday night game against the Bulls, return to Capital Centre Saturday to face the Boston Celtics and then go to Milwaukee to face the Bucks Sunday evening.

Those games will tell Coach Gene Shue and General Manager Bob Ferry a great deal about their squad. The Celtics and Bucks are two of the league's best teams. The Bulls with a starting lineup of 7-2 Artis Gilmore, 6-9 Larry Kenon, 6-9 1/2 David Greenwood, 6-7 Bobby Wilkerson and 6-7 Reggie Theus, are the biggest team and one of the up-and-coming clubs in the league. The Cavaliers beat the Bullets in Richfield last week.

Mike Mitchell scored Cleveland's final 14 points that game as the Cavaliers won, 90-88.

The brightest spots for the Bullets so far this season have been the play of the three rookies -- Wes Matthews, Rick Mahorn and Carlos Terry.

Matthews has seen the most action and, even through he makes far too many ball-handling errors, he has shown that in time he will probably be everything the Bullets had hoped.

Matthews has shown he can shoot -- he made two three-point field goals against the Philadelphia 76ers in the last game.

That game also marked the first regular-season appearance of Terry, a 6-5 free agent from Winston-Salem. He played 21 minutes, made six of 10 shots from the field and had two rebounds, an assist and a steal while playing the big-guard spot. He also committed four turn-overs.

In the first four games, Shue had used John Williamson as Kevin Grevey's backup at the position, but decided to give Terry a chance against the 76ers.

"Carlos is a real lively player," Shue said. "I'm not sure, though, that small forward may be his best position."

Shue added that Terry probably would get more playing time.

It has been particularly tough to find minutes for rookie center Mahorn. He has played in only three games for a total of 15 minutes, but he's made six of eight shots from the field and has five rebounds.

The third center always has trouble getting minutes. Starter Wes Unseld has played well and, with Mitch Kupchak coming back strong this season, that doesn't leave much time for Mahorn.

The Cavaliers, under new Coach Bill Musselman, are 2-4. Most of their offense is provided by Mitchell and guard Randy Smith. . . Unseld is forth in the league in rebounding with a 12.6 average. . . Mitch Kupchak and Greg Ballard will be on an upcoming segment of PM Magazine having to do with stretching exercises. . . Overlooked in the Bullets' four-game losing streak was Elvin Hayes' move past Elgin Baylor into fourth place on the NBA'S all-time scoring list. The only active player to have scored more points than Hayes is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is fifth on the all-time list. The all-time leader is Wilt Chamberlain, followed by Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek and Jerry West.