Bullets Coach Gene Shue, his team in a deep offensive slump, has decided to make Jeff Ruland a starter--permanently.

Shue has contemplated the move much of the past two seasons, but has resisted starting Ruland, except when injuries have necessitated it. But with the Bullets struggling to stay alive for a playoff spot, Shue said today he is left with virtually no alternative.

"I think it's just a question now of putting our five best players on the floor together and letting them play," said Shue.

Ruland started in place of Spencer Haywood Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers and responded with a season-high 31 points and 15 rebounds, but the Bullets still lost, 104-95. It was Ruland's first start since Dec. 23.

Sunday's loss made the Bullets 0-3 so far on their six-game road trip. It was also their 11th consecutive defeat on the road and dropped their overall record to 24-28 going into Tuesday night's game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.

The Bullets now trail Atlanta by one-half game and Detroit by one game and are only one-half game ahead of New York in the race for the final two of six playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

"I think we have to start Jeff from now on," said Shue. "He scored and rebounded well against Portland and by starting him, it will enable us to post up early and more often. It'll also probably help us get off to some faster starts."

Said Ruland: "I like coming off the bench, but now I'll just have to stay out of foul trouble. I'm tired of losing like this. We have to make a stand sooner or later and now is the time. We have to go for it and let it all hang out because if we keep messing around like we have been, we're going to slowly put ourselves out of the picture."

Power forward has been a trouble spot for the Bullets most of the season. Because of an assortment of ailments, Haywood has been in and out of the lineup and been effective only occasionally.

Haywood had averaged only six points and 5.3 rebounds in the six games before his benching. He played 13 minutes as a reserve Sunday and had four rebounds but no points.

Ruland is the team's second-leading scorer with a 17.1 average and leads in rebounding (10.6). In an effort to get some productivity at power forward, Shue had started Haywood, rookie Dave Batton and even Greg Ballard at the spot before finally deciding to go with Ruland.

Ruland and Mahorn, the Bullets' only effective inside players, both are foul prone; Shue has been reluctant to play them together early in the games. Ruland is averaging four fouls in 34 minutes a game and Mahorn, 4.2 fouls in 37 minutes.

Shue also likes the lift Ruland provides off the bench. He will now turn toward Don Collins and Charles Davis for that lift. Davis hasn't played in the last two games because of neck spasms, however. "Not having Charles has really thrown off our substitution rotation," Shue said.

Jim Paxson scored 26 points and Calvin Natt 22 Sunday, as Portland moved to a 16-point fourth-quarter lead. The Bullets got back in the game with five three-point shots, two of them by Ricky Sobers, but they never got closer than seven points in the last period.

"If it weren't for Jeff and the three-point shots, we wouldn't have had any offense," Shue said.