Rarely is Coach Gene Shue satisfied with his team's defense. But tonight he could find nothing wrong with it as the Washington Bullets won their first exhibition game, 100-84, over the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden.

Atlanta had only three field goals in the first 15 1/2 minutes, 28 points in the first half and trailed by 30 points when Shue substituted for all his key players in the fourth period.

On a night on which second-year guard Jeff Malone twisted his right ankle in a third-quarter spill and is uncertain for tonight's doubleheader at Capital Centre, Shue said he could not be more satisfied with a defense that held Atlanta to 26 percent field-goal accuracy for the first three quarters.

"It was just great, just perfect," Shue said after the Bullets' first exhibition victory in three starts.

"It all boils down to (the fact that) Dudley Bradley was just doing it," center Rick Mahorn said.

Bradley had five steals, seven points and two assists in the first half when Washington's defense was suffocating, forcing the Hawks to keep shooting from the perimeter. Bradley, a former No. 1 draft pick of Indiana who played in the minor leagues last season, now has played two straight strong games.

Shue will not name his starting lineup until guard Gus Williams and forward Cliff Robinson, both acquired in draft-day trades, recover from injuries. But, Shue said, "On his last two performances, (Bradley's) really helped himself. But I'm being cautious. I'm not going to commit myself."

Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello was impressed with Bradley, but more so with Washington's overall defense.

"Bradley's got great hands, long arms and anticipates well, plus he has toughness and strength," Fratello said. "Washington was very good tonight. Their team defense was very good, they rotated very well and they doubled back (to the post) very well. They forced us to look as bad as we did."

The Hawks (0-4) were perfect foils for Washington. Unlike the Bullets, who also ran a good offense, Atlanta did not on a night on which neither Cliff Levingston nor Dominique Wilkins played because of injuries.

"We held the ball too long," Fratello said. "We turned it into a completely perimeter game, and the defense accomplished what they wanted to do."

The Washington offense was balanced, with point guard Frank Johnson (20 points, four assists, four rebounds) leading six players in double figures. All-star forward Jeff Ruland scored only 10 points, but he had nine of them, along with five rebounds and two assists, in a 28-11 first quarter. Mahorn had 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Tom McMillen got 17 points.

And, in the third quarter, when Atlanta adjusted to cover the Bullets' inside game, small forward Darren Daye scored nine of his 14 points, mainly on short jumpers.

"We've been working real hard the last two days," Ruland said. "It takes a little pressure off us. The coach has been riding us. It's getting close to the season."

The season starts next Friday in Chicago, and tonight's game in Madison Square Garden was the first of four exhibitions in five nights for the Bullets. They are to play the Houston Rockets in the second game of Friday's doubleheader, after the Hawks play the New York Knicks in a 6:30 opener.

Williams (sprained left ankle) watched tonight's game from the bench in street clothes, and Robinson (sore right shoulder and back spasms) did not make the trip. Shue hinted that neither may play before the exhibition season ends Monday night against the New Jersey Nets in Miami.

"Next week," he said, "both players will be back and get a couple days of practice (before the opening game)."