"It was reminiscent of watching Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld out there. They just kept getting all of the rebounds and knocking people all over the floor."

That's how Bullet guard john Lucas described the play of teammates Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland in the fourth quarter of Thursday's 95-87 Bullet victory over the Atlanta Hawks at the Omni.

"They're both bangers, and when they're in the game together we seem to play better," Lucas added.

Coach Gene Shue has made the same observation. Although Ruland hasn't played that many minutes, he is usually on the floor in the fourth period. When he and Mahorn are in the game together, the opposition usually has matchup problems. Mahorn, a second-year man from Hampton Institute, is 6-foot-10, 235 pounds. Ruland, a rookie from Iona who played in Italy last season, is 6-11, 240.

Mahorn equaled his career high with 16 rebounds and added 13 points against the Hawks. Ruland, playing 20 minutes, scored a career high 13 points and had six rebounds. He had eight points in the fourth quarter and Mahorn had four rebounds in the final two minutes as the Bullets turned back an Atlanta rally to win their second game against four losses.

They will go for two in a row tonight at Capital Centre against the Chicago Bulls at 8:05.

"When we're in the game together, I usually play power forward and Jeff plays center," Mahorn said. "The positions are so similar, though, that it doesn't make that much difference."

Against the Hawks, Ruland was matched against 7-1 Wayne (Tree) Rollins and Mahorn against 6-8 Dan Roundfield, Atlanta's best player. Ruland had no problems with Rollins. "I was much quicker than him, so I brought him outside and drove on him."

Three straight times in the third quarter, with the ball at the top of the key, Ruland moved around Rollins. Rollins waved at him once, resulting in a Ruland layup, and grabbed him the other two times. Ruland made three of four free throws.

"He has that quick first step, which makes it difficult to defend him outside," Shue said.

"I feel more comfortable each time out," Ruland said, "and I just want to take advantage of every chance I get. Rick and I played together all summer, so we know what each other is going to do and we communicate real well. Not many teams have any guys much bigger than us, I know that."

"When it gets rugged, that's the game," Mahorn said. "With both Jeff and I in the game together, all that beef has to be good for something."

It will come in handy against the Bulls, who start 7-2 Artis Gilmore at center, 6-10 Dwight Jones at power forward and 6-9 David Greenwood at the other forward spot.

Despite the slow start, Shue said one of the most encouraging things about the team is that it wins the games it's supposed to win. "We have to beat the teams like Atlanta and Detroit because we still don't have the talent of some of the others," he said.

The four Bullet losses have been to Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston (twice), all teams that won 60 or more games last season.

The Bullets' most impressive team statistic lately is that they have held each of their last three opponents to 38 percent shooting. When they beat Detroit, they limited the Pistons to two free throws in the last 5:02.