Center Rick Mahorn isn't expected to play when the Bullets are host to the unpredictable New York Knicks today (WTOP-1500, 1:05 p.m.) and Coach Gene Shue is hoping that the recently motivated Spencer Haywood will fill the void.

Mahorn sprained his right ankle in the second quarter of Friday night's 100-98 victory over visiting Kansas City. He did not practice yesterday at Bowie State.

"It's sore," he said on the way to his second whirlpool treatment. "It didn't swell much, though. I'll just have to wait until tomorrow and see how it feels."

Jim Chones will start at center, but the seldom-used eight-year veteran hardly can be expected to match Mahorn's usual production of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Chones had played only 54 minutes while appearing in five of the last seven games before taking over in the second half against rookie Steve Johnson. He finished with five points and five rebounds.

Haywood had his most productive game as a Bullet with 27 points and 10 rebounds against the Kings, and says it could be the start of something big.

"Gene has been after me to take more shots and now I'm convinced," Haywood said with a smile. "I wasn't as big a part of the offense as I should have been. We've got an excellent playoff opportunity and I mean it when I say I'd cut off my left toe to make it."

The last-place Knicks, the league's biggest disappointment after winning 50 games last season, were 2 1/2 games behind the Bullets in the Atlantic Division before playing Portland last night. In a typical week, they beat two excellent teams, Houston and Milwaukee, at home, then went to Indiana and lost by 31 points.

"Beating New York would give me a lot of personal satisfaction, but the team is my first priority," said Haywood, who spend 3 1/2 years with the Knicks before being traded to New Orleans for Joe C. Meriweather. "It's not a must win, but it's very important.

"If Rick can't play, I'll have to do more rebounding," the 12-year veteran continued. "I'm going to concentrate on defense and rebounding because I know the offense will come. There's no doubt about that."

Haywood has a career scoring average of 20.5 points, but was reluctant to assert himself on a new team on which Greg Ballard and Kevin Grevey were the main shooters. Now he's convinced he should be more involved.

"Gene has a good offense," the 6-foot-9 forward said. "If we follow it and execute his thing, we'll be all right. The forward spots are interchangeable and now we're starting to run more plays for me."

The second annual Bullets' alumni game is set for March 16 before the Boston game and these former players will be on hand: Jim (Bad New Barnes), Walt Bellamy, Fred Carter, Phil Chenier, Bob Ferry, Paul Hoffman, Bailey Howell, Gus Johnson, Kevin Loughery, Jack Marin, Earl Monroe, Stan McKenzie, Mike Riordan and Gene Shue. The players will be divided into two seven-man teams and play two 10-minute halves.