Despite another strong defensive effort, the Washington Bullets were losers again last night because they don't have the scoring punch necessary to win consistently in the NBA.

One player they obviously could use is Elvin Hayes, who scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds to lead Houston to a 95-94 victory before 11,253 customers at Capital Centre.

"The old man can still do it," said the 36-year-old Hayes, the oldest player in the league. "We just took advantage of them inside."

In what is becoming a familiar, but painful and frustrating, pattern to Coach Gene Shue, the Bullets played well for three quarters, then died in the stretch. They led, 69-58, with 1:17 left in the third quarter, then were outscored, 37-25, the rest of the way.

"We just can't make a shot," Shue lamented. "We were getting high-percentage shots in the first half, the kind we want to take, yet we had to struggle to get the lead (47-46) at halftime.

"Kevin (Grevey) isn't shooting well (eight for 17), Frank Johnson isn't shooting well and we've just got to have the outside shots to open things up underneath."

Shue made a personnel change, starting Jim Chones in place of rookie Charlie Davis in an effort to match up with Hayes and Moses Malone. He said he will stay with it for tonight's game in Chicago (WTOP-1500 at 8:35).

Chones, who scored 16 points in a 104-99 victory over the Bulls Nov. 14, sank seven of 11 shots and scored 19 points. Greg Ballard led the Bullets with 22, two more than Grevey.

The night, however, belonged to Hayes. The former Bullet all-star received a prolonged standing ovation when he was introduced before the game, then was honored at halftime when his No. 11 jersey was retired and hung from the rafters alongside Wes Unseld's 41 and the Bullets' world championship banner.

Hayes was instrumental in the Rockets' rally, scoring eight points in the third quarter and six more in the last. It was his familiar turnaround jumper with two Bullets hanging on him with 4:40 to play that broke a 79-79 tie and gave the Rockets a lead they never lost.

"I've been thinking about this game since the beginning of the season," Hayes said. "I wanted to play well. It's a great honor to have my uniform retired and I really appreciate it."

Hayes was able to score his highest point total of the season because the Bullets concentated on stopping Malone and did a good job, limiting the all-star center to 15 points on only six of 21 shots.

"Hey, when they double up on Mo, that's when I'm supposed to take over," Hayes said. "That's the big difference with the Rockets. I don't get double-teamed all the time. Now I can go one on one and enjoy myself."

The victory was the third in three games on this Eastern swing for the Rockets and Coach Del Harris gave a lot of the credit to Hayes.

"He's playing hard, he's practicing hard and he makes some good suggestions," the coach said. "He's made us such a better ball club. Moses is still averaging his 30 points and 14 rebounds. We needed another inside scorer and he's giving us that."

After eight ties in the first 10 minutes, the Rockets pulled ahead, 22-18, and maintained their four-point advantage to the end of the quarter. Calvin Garrett kept Houston in contention, getting all 12 of his points in the opening quarter.

The Bullets trailed throughout the second quarter until they scored the last six points, four by Chones, to nudge in front, 47-46, at intermission.

With Ballard and Grevey setting the pace with four points and a steal each, the Bullets outscored the visitors, 10-4, to take a 57-50 lead five minutes into the third period.

A combination of the Bullets' tenacious defense and the Rockets' cold shooting helped widen the advantage to 69-58 before Houston scored the last four points of the period.

The Bullets still appeared in control, 77-67, after Rick Mahorn's slam dunk at the 10:04 mark, but Houston scored the next seven points. After Grevey broke the drought with a 22-footer, the Rockets scored twice to tie the score at 79. Then Hayes hit his turnaround and the Bullets were on their way to a third straight setback.