Although the Washington Bullets lost their first exhibition game Monday night in Atlanta, something positive came from it: they learned they could rebound with one of the best rebounding teams in the National Basketball Association.

With Jeff Ruland leading the way with 14, the Bullets outrebounded the Hawks, 57-42. "We rebounded, but we didn't get back on defense very well," said Coach Gene Shue. "That bothers me."

Shue was also bothered that the Bullets turned over the ball 17 times in the first half and, except for the unit of Carlos Terry, Charles Davis, Garry Witts, Ruland and Frank Johnson that played the fourth quarter, the execution on offense wasn't as crisp as he would have liked.

The Hawks got the Bullets into a running game and built an early 15-point lead. The Bullets never caught up, losing, 100-95.

Fourteen of the 15 Bullets played at least one quarter. Forward Spencer Haywood, who has sore legs, played only nine minutes.

As expected, Shue started Greg Ballard and Haywood at forwards, Rick Mahorn at center and Johnson and rookie Bryan Warrick at guards.

Warrick played only the first period. He made one of three shots and had two assists and two turnovers.

Shue said he still isn't ready to commit himself on the starting shooting guard opposite Johnson, but said Warrick didn't do anything to hurt his chances. John Lucas and Billy Ray Bates teamed in the backcourt in the second period and struggled. As a tandem, they missed all eight shots and didn't have an assist.

Kevin Porter and Don Collins, the guards in the third period, were very effective, rallying the Bullets from a 15-point deficit to within six points.

Porter, playing his first game since incurring a torn Achilles' tendon in training camp last season, had five assists and made both of his shots from the field. Collins scored eight points and had three assists and four rebounds.

"I wanted to give everybody a chance, which is why we substituted the way we did," said Shue.

Shue said he was pleased with the play of center Dave Batton, a free agent, and second-year forward Charles Davis.

Batton had five rebounds and an assist and made his only shot in 13 minutes.

Davis, who has played well all through training camp, led the Bullets with 16 points and had eight rebounds and four assists. He has improved his outside shot and is challenging Ballard for the small forward spot.

Former Bullet Wes Matthews scored 17 points; he also had six assists, four steals and a headache from a bumping pick by Mahorn that left him sprawled on the floor. Terry caught Mike Glenn the same way later.

The Bullets left Atlanta mumbling about Dominique Wilkins, the Hawks' rookie forward from Georgia.

"He's going to be a real factor," said Lucas. "He can fly--I mean, really fly."

Wilkins treated the fans at the Omni to four impressive dunks and finished with 18 points.

Shue gave the players the day off yesterday, their first since camp started Oct. 1 . . . They play the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday in the first game of a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Frederick, Md., Sunday.