The Atlanta watch has begun.

Any hopes the Bullets have of making the playoffs center around the Atlanta Hawks, the team the Bullets have the most realistic chance of overtaking. Even that's an extreme longshot.

Going into the final four weeks of the regular season, the Bullets, who play the Utah Jazz tonight at Capital Centre at 8:05, trail the Hawks by five games. The Bullets (30-36) have 16 games remaining, and the Hawks (36-32), who play at Indiana tonight, have only 14 left.

There is only one head-to-head meeting remaining between the two, April 9 at Capital Centre, and the Hawks have already clinched the season series.

The Bullets have nine of their last 16 games on the road, and even with the 96-90 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Saturday, they've lost 16 of their last 18 away from Capital Centre.

Among those 16 remaining games, two are with Milwaukee, two with New Jersey, two with Boston and one with Philadelphia, the top four teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks have seven games left at the Omni and seven on the road. They, too, have at least one game remaining with Milwaukee, New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia.

The Bullets trail the Knicks (36-31) by 5 1/2 games, but Coach Gene Shue and most of the players feel New York is playing so well lately, that it is impossible to catch them.

The Knicks have the fifth-best record in the conference and the Hawks the sixth best, the Bullets seventh; the Detroit Pistons (30-38) are a half-game behind them.

The Jazz are out of the playoffs, as is Thursday's opponent, the Bulls, but the Bucks, who play the Bullets Friday, hope to catch Boston for the second-best conference record.