After the way the evening had begun for them, perhaps it could be said that the Bullets richly deserved their 115-103 victory over the Clippers at the Sports Arena tonight.

First, the Bullets saw center Wes Unseld take a few layups during pregame warmups and then retire to the locker room with fluid on the right knee. Shortly thereafter, he reappeared -- in street clothes and out for the night.

Then, at the 6:31 mark of the first quarter, it was announced that the Chicago Bulls had upset the 76ers in Philadelphia to pull three full games ahead of the Bullets in the race for the sixth and last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

That left Washington with the prospect of holding off the Clippers -- a 30-37 team hanging on by its cuticles in the Western Conference playoff race and therefore dangerous. This the Bullets did, thanks to their big men underneath and their little man, Kevin Porter, outside.

Even without Unseld, who had 10 or more rebounds in 13 of his last 19 games, the Bullets were outrebounded by only 58-53. As for Porter, he fininished with 12 points and a game-high 15 assists.

Those, along with San Diego's miserable .125 field-goal percentage in the second quarter, were the keys to the victory, only Washington's fourth in the 10 games.

If there was a highlight in this otherwise dreary game, it was the sight of Bobby Dandridge in uniform and playing for only the 14th time all season. The 6-foot-6 forward, who missed 56 games with calcium deposits in the knee, played 23 minutes. He finished with 12 points and three rebounds in his third game since the long layoff.

That effort was in support of Greg Ballard's 24-point, seven-rebound effort and Mitch Kupchak's 18-point, 16-rebound game. Phil Smith's 29 points led San Diego, and teammate Swen Nater had 16 rebounds.

The Bullets left the floor with a 51-41 halftime advantage, thanks mainly to the Clippers' inability to hit from the floor. San Diego made three of 23 field-goal attempts during the second quarter and scored 10 points.

After hitting at a .619 clip from the floor in the opening 12 minutes, San Diego began the second quarter with a one-for-21 drought that was finally broken by Nater's dunk at the 2:06 mark.

Before that, Washington had feasted on San Diego's lack of depth up front. Bullet Coach Gene Shue played much of the second quarter with four forwards -- Kupchak, Ballard, Ricky Mahorn and a hot Don Collins -- on the floor.

So dominant was the Bullet front line in the opening half that Washington guards -- Porter and Kevin Grevey -- managed but 10 of their team's 51 points.

The Clippers closed to 61-57 on an 18-foot jumper by Smith at the 7:07 mark of the third quarter. However, four Bullets scored 11 points over the next four minutes to build a 72-60 lead.

That 12-point margin held up throughout the second half, as Kupchak and Ballard combined for 28 points after intermission. Kupchak also had 11 of his 16 rebounds in the second half.