Jeff Ruland and Kevin McHale probably won't be in the starting lineups when the Washington Bullets play the Boston Celtics Friday night (WDCA-TV-20 at 7:35), but if past performances are an indication, they both will figure prominently in the outcome.

McHale, a third-year player, and Ruland, in his second season, are two of the most productive sixth men in the National Basketball Association; their respective coaches, Gene Shue of the Bullets and Bill Fitch of the Celtics, turn to them whenever they need a lift.

The last time the Bullets and Celtics met was the fifth game of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs last season. The Celtics won the game and the series with a 131-126 double-overtime victory.

Ruland scored a career-high 33 points and had 13 rebounds in that game and McHale had a key steal and layup that forced the second overtime.

Both Ruland and McHale are 6-foot-11 center-forwards who played in all 82 regular-season games last year. Ruland was the Bullets' leading rebounder with 9.3 a game and second-leading scorer with a 14.4 average. McHale averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds. He also was sixth in the NBA in blocked shots with 2.26 a game.

In the five playoff games in which they played against each other, Ruland averaged 17.9 points and 8.4 rebounds; McHale had 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds. This season, Ruland is averaging 19.8 points and 8.5 rebounds and McHale, 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Ruland may get a rare start Friday if Spencer Haywood's sore left calf keeps him out of the lineup. He reinjured it in the Bullets' 104-85 victory over the New Jersey Nets Wednesday night and is questionnable for the Celtics game.

Shue said he has considered starting Ruland for some time, but still prefers to bring him off the bench.

Ruland had 21 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots against the Nets.

"He's so effective the way we've been using him that I hate to change," said Shue, "but we have to find a way to get more production out of our starters. We'll keep things the way they are for awhile, though."

Ruland said being a sixth man "is fine with me. It's what they need me to do. I still get enough playing time."

Said McHale: "Who am I going to replace if I did start, Larry Bird?"

The Celtics won 10 of the 11 meetings with the Bullets last season, all six regular-season contests and four of five playoff games. But they needed two overtimes to win one playoff game and won another by four points. During the regular season the Bullets lost two of the games by one point and a third by six.

"We like playing Boston," said Shue. "Even though we haven't won many games against them lately, we play them tough. We have to control their break and get them in a halfcourt game like we did last year in the playoffs."

Boston guard Gerald Henderson injured his hip in the Celtics' 111-104 victory over Indiana Wednesday and his string of having played in 190 straight games may end Friday night.