The Bullets will try to come up with a protective device that will enable star forward Jeff Ruland to play against the New Jersey Nets tonight at Capital Centre despite a sprained right wrist. Even though Ruland asked about getting a pain-killing shot last week, the Bullets said they definitely would not comply.

Trainer John Lally said yesterday that Ruland inquired about a pain-killing shot Friday, hoping it would enable him to play against Indiana, two days after he was injured in a game against the Nets. Lally said he refused.

"He just wants to play so bad, so he asked about it, but I told him it wasn't very wise. It just isn't a good practice," said Lally. "If a guy's injury is serious enough so he can't play, if he shoots it up, he might damage it 10 times worse because he doesn't have any feeling.

"It's just something you can't do. It wouldn't do him any good, anyway. If his hand is numb he certainly can't feel or handle the ball.

"All we can do for him is give him therapy and try to find a way to tape or brace it so he won't feel too much pain if he plays."

Ruland said he wanted the pain relieved so he could play because it was frustrating sitting on the bench "not able to do anything."

Lally said he and team physicians Carl MacCartee and Steve Haas would experiment today with ways to give Ruland's wrist support and protection. Ruland will work out this afternoon and a determination will be made later if he can play in the 8:05 game. He is listed as questionable.

The original injury was a dislocated wrist, incurred when Ruland banged into the basket support after a first-quarter collision with Darryl Dawkins.

Ruland said he snapped the wrist back into place and played the rest of the game.

X-rays were taken the following day and no fractures were discovered, so it is being treated as a sprain.

Ruland hasn't practiced or played since. He said yesterday it was still very sore and he has trouble flexing it, but it has improved.

The Bullets (37-37) have won eight of their last nine games. Without Ruland, they beat the Pacers, 123-109, and lost to the Boston Celtics, 120-117, in overtime.

Going into tonight's game, the Bullets trail New York (38-36) by one game and Atlanta (40-36) by two games in the race for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks are at home against the Celtics tonight and the Knicks are home against Detroit.

If Ruland is unable to play, Carlos Terry will start for him, with Dave Batton and Joe Kopicki backing him up.

"We've done remarkably well without Jeff, but we know we aren't going very far if we don't get him back soon," said Coach Gene Shue. "The bench has really been great, though."

The bench has been, specifically, Terry, Batton, Kopicki and Don Collins. Forward Charles Davis has missed the last three games with lower back spasms and Shue has chosen not to use guards Kevin Grevey and Bryan Warrick.

In the two games Ruland has missed, Batton, Terry and Kopicki, the ones playing most at power forward, have averaged, collectively, 24 points and 15 rebounds.

Davis was released from the hospital yesterday after a six-day stay, but is doubtful for tonight's game.

Player representative Greg Ballard left for Chicago after practice for a briefing on the recent collective bargaining agreement that the union's executive committee agreed to in principle last week. It averted a strike scheduled for last Saturday. Ballard will explain the agreement to his teammates today and then a vote will be taken. The agreement is expected to be overwhelmingly accepted leaguewide