One major difference between the powerful Philadelphia 76ers and the inconsistent Washington Bullets was clearly evident tonight when both teams showed up short-handed.

The Bullets sorely missed the playmaking of John Lucas and the scoring of Spencer Haywood. The 76ers never missed a beat despite the absence of Darryl Dawkins and Andrew Toney. Philadelphia romped, 126-112, before 11,076 in the Spectrum.

"When they're undermanned it doesn't seem to have any effect on them, but when we are, it really hurts us," Coach Gene Shue said following his Bullets' second loss in two nights. The Bullets will have a chance to turn things around in a televised game Thursday night in Cleveland (WDCA-TV-20 at 8:05).

Rookie Frank Johnson got his first NBA start when Lucas failed to show. Lucas missed the morning bus ride and never contacted Shue during the day to explain his absence.

Haywood tested his sore calf before the game and decided not to play. He said his entire leg was swollen and he would not be making the trip to Cleveland. Jim Chones started in his place, but contributed only four points and two rebounds in 19 minutes.

Dawkins left a 124-101 loss at Detroit Tuesday night complaining of tendinitis in his left knee and wasn't in uniform against the Bullets. Toney, the 76ers' second-leading scorer (14.7 average), sprained his right ankle. Neither player will be available for Friday night's key game in Boston.

Philadelphia also may be without starting guard Lionel Hollins. He lost a front tooth and got three cracked when the Bullets' Rick Mahorn caught him with an elbow after grabbing a rebound in the first quarter.

"When you go into the season you think five guards are enough, but now I don't know," said Coach Billy Cunningham. "Right now we're hurting and we're in the midst of four games in five nights."

If ever there was an opportune time to play the 76ers here, tonight was it. The team arrived here at noon from a western swing and obviously in position for a letdown. The fact that two starters were out and Boston is next on the schedule also was in the Bullets' favor.

The 76ers quickly dispelled any thoughts of an upset, however, by breaking a 12-12 tie and racing to a 51-31 lead midway through the second quarter.

Earl Cureton, a second-year forward from the University of Detroit who started at center, scored 13 points in the first period for the 76ers. Maurice Cheeks took over in the second quarter, tossing in 10 points to help Philadelphia build an insurmountable 70-42 halftime advantage.

"We really came out of the box strong," said Cunningham. "We were very aggressive on defense and got every loose ball. I was concerned how we would play, but that fast start really gave us a lift."

Johnson admitted that he was not comfortable as a starter in Lucas' spot and that might have had something to do with the Bullets' slow start.

Johnson played 45 minutes, but made only four of 14 shots, after averaging 10.6 points per game while playing about 22 minutes.In other NBA games, visiting Milwaukee defeated the New York Nets, 109-95; Chicago came from behind in Boston to down the Celtics, 116-102; Denver scored 51 points in the third period for a 136-114 victory over San Diego; Utah defeated San Antonio, 130-115, and Seattle beat Dallas, 107-100.