The job of an understudy is a frustrating and often thankless one. Ask Greg Ballard.

This is Ballard's fourth season with the Bullets. Most of that time he has been sitting on the bench waiting for Bob Dandridge to tire, get hurt or get in foul trouble.

He never complains.

"Bobby paid his dues. I have to pay mine," Ballard says.

Ballard had not been having a particularly good season until Atlanta came to Capital Centre Tuesday night. But with Dandridge out with a sore knee, Ballard was given his first start of the season and made the most of it. In three quarters he scored 24 points and had six rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots. He made nine of 12 shots from the field, including his last seven.

He is expected to start again tonight when Dick Motta, former Bullet coach, brings his expansion Dallas Mavericks to Capital Centre for an 8:05 game.

Ballard wasn't the only hot-shooting Bullet Tuesday night. As a team, the Bullets made 57 percent of their shots and registered their highest point total in a 122-98 victory that broke a five-game losing streak.

Kevin Grevey had 28 points and 10 assists and Elvin Hayes scored 22 points as the Bullets (3-9) played their most balanced game of the year.

"I think we finally grasped Coach (Gene) Shue's offense in that game," Ballard said. "We've drilled and drilled and drilled and I guess it finally paid off."

Ballard has always performed better as a starter and his output Tuesday will give Shue something else to think about once Dandridge is ready to play. w

Along with Grevey, Ballard is one of the Bullets' best outside shooters and outside shooting is what the team needs desperately.

"Mentally, it's a different ball game when I start," Ballard said. "I'm more mentally involved and it's easier for me to blend my game into the rest of the team when I'm in there from the beginning.

"I just feel that I'm better when I start. I can be a much more positive factor that way, but it's just not meant to be right now, I guess."

Tonight's game is the second of a four-game home stand and Dallas is a team the Bullets must beat. Dallas and Detroit are the only teams in the league with worse records than Washington. Detroit was the other. The Bullets host the Pistons Friday.

"We'll always play good against the good teams because we can still shove the ball down their throats," said center Wes Unseld. "It's the other teams we have the most trouble with. I don't really know why, but something just seems to happen to us when we play teams we should be able to beat."

Dallas (2-11) started its sixth different lineup in the last 10 games in Tuesday's 116-102 loss to San Diego: Scott Lloyd at center, Geoff Huston and Terry Duerod at guard and Marty Byrnes and Tom LaGarde at forward. . . Former Knick Huston is the Maverick's leading scorer, averaging 16.1 points a game. Former Duke guard and Philadelphia 76er Jim Spanarkel is averaging 14.6 points a game at small forward. . . Motta expects his return to Capital Centre to be "emotional. I just don't want it to be ugly". . . Most of the Bullets say it will be just another game. . . Grevey was surprised at his career-high 10 assists against the Hawks. "I got them because the guys were hitting the shots, not because I was passing that well," he said. . . Baltimore radio station WCBM-680 will broadcast 19 regular season Bullet games beginning with Tuesday night's game against the Denver Nuggets.