The New York Knicks were expected to be one of the teams the Bullets would match up well with this season, but the way the Knicks manhandled Washington, 98-77, at Madison Square Garden Saturday night, there was some question the teams are in the same league.

"Sometimes, you're going to have games like that," said Bullets forward Greg Ballard. "We tried things, but nothing worked."

The victory was New York's third in a row and ended a two-game winning streak for the Bullets, but Washington has still won 13 of 19 games.

Unfortunately for the Bullets, however, of the six losses in those 19 games, two were to the Knicks and two to the New Jersey Nets, the teams with which the Bullets are competing most directly for a playoff spot.

Saturday's game was a low point for the Bullets in a number of areas. "The kind of game you just throw out of your mind," said Coach Gene Shue.

The Bullets' 77 points equaled their season low. The last time they scored 77, they won, however; Cleveland managed only 74. They shot only 37 percent from the field against the Knicks, the first time this season they have been below 40 percent.

Individual performances also were disappointing.

Dave Batton got his first start for the Bullets because Spencer Haywood's injured right eye was dilated when he underwent an examination earlier in the day and he was advised not to play.

Haywood injured the eye in practice Tuesday when he ran into Carlos Terry, but he played the next night against Milwaukee.

Batton seemed confused and picked up two fouls in the first two minutes. The Bullets fell behind, 10-2, and were never in the game after that.

Center Rick Mahorn had two points. Jeff Ruland led the Bullets with 19 points, but he made only five of 15 shots from the field and many of his misses were layups.

Ballard had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists, but committed seven turnovers.

With the Bullets down to 11 men after a foot injury to Don Collins, Haywood's absence left them with only 10 players and Shue never could find a combination that worked.

Washington has three games this week, two at Capital Centre--against Dallas Tuesday and Philadelphia Friday. The Bullets will play at Cleveland Saturday. Haywood is expected to be back in the lineup against the Mavericks.