Life without Kelly Tripucka hasn't been quite the nightmare the Detroit Pistons feared when their all-star forward injured his right knee Nov. 24.

Going into Friday night's game against the Bullets at the Silverdome (WTOP-1500 at 8:05), the Pistons have a 4-5 record without Tripucka. Their 13-11 overall mark is good for second place in the Midwest Divison, two games behind Milwaukee.

Tripucka was averaging 25.3 points and leading the National Basketball Association in minutes played when, on the last play of the first quarter in a game at Kansas City, teammate Isiah Thomas took a charging foul and fell against Tripucka.

At first it was feared Tripucka had a torn ligament and would miss the remainder of the season. It was later learned the ligament was only strained and Tripucka plans to be back in action Jan. 1.

Terry Tyler, one of the top leapers in the league, has been starting in Tripucka's small forward spot and is averaging 17 points.

The game after the Pistons lost Tripucka, starting power forward Kent Benson hurt his left knee and ankle; it is uncertain when he will return. Edgar Jones has replaced him.

The Pistons also were without guard John Long for eight games. He is back, however, and will team with Thomas in the back court against the Bullets.

Thomas is averaging 21.5 points and 6.8 assists a game. He had been in a shooting slump, making only 28 percent of his shots until Wednesday's 108-104 loss to the Boston Celtics. Thomas scored 20 points and had six rebounds, six assists, six steals, two blocked shots and only two turnovers that game.

The last time the Bullets and Pistons met, Nov. 9 at Capital Centre, Detroit won, 108-105, and Thomas had 19 points and four assists. Tripucka and the Bullets' Greg Ballard each had 27 points.

The anchor for the Pistons has been 6-foot-11, 250-pound center Bill Laimbeer, who is averaging 13 points and 12.8 rebounds a game.

A third-round pick by Cleveland in 1979, Laimbeer was traded to the Pistons late last season.

The Bullets (11-11) have won eight of their last 11 games. They will face the Philadelphia 76ers at Capital Centre Saturday; fewer than 300 tickets are unsold . . . The Pistons are enjoying their best season at the gate, averaging more than 13,000 a game. That is an increase of 44 percent over last year.