Inconsistency and the lack of a full complement of players continue to hurt the Washington Bullets.

They lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, 102-96, last night. They trailed by 19 points at halftime and, at times, looked so mediocre that the Capital Centre crowd of 7,101 booed them at intermission.

But, behind Gus Williams (37 points, 24 in the second half) and Jeff Ruland (26 points, 15 in the second period), they played so well that Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson said:

"Believe me, there was not any letdown by us. We came out with intensity. But they were very aggressive. I have no complaints with how my team played. They played better."

The defeat wasn't as ugly as Wednesday's 26-point loss in Milwaukee, but it was still the Bucks' second victory over Washington in three nights. All five of Milwaukee's starters scored in double figures, led by forward Terry Cummings with 25 points.

When the Bullets got close in the second half, the Bucks countered with one-on-one isolation plays. "We're not at all successful when other teams isolate on us," admitted Bullets Coach Gene Shue.

Shue and most of his players keep saying the team will improve when the three new men gain familiarity with their teammates. But one of those three, forward Cliff Robinson, left for California yesterday to attend the funeral of a brother. He will not return before Wednesday's game at New Jersey.

Jeff Malone, who is eligible to return from the injured list, will not be activated for tonight's game in Atlanta (WDCA-TV-20) because his recovery from a sprained right ankle is only 80 percent complete, Shue said.

The Bucks controlled the pace in the first half last night. That forced the Bullets into a half-court game, and Paul Pressey (19 points, career-high 15 rebounds) let Greg Ballard get only one shot.

Ballard was two for 12 in the game and Frank Johnson was one for nine, with all but one miss in the first half. Williams and Ruland scored all but 33 of Washington's points.

Sidney Moncrief scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half and Milwaukee led at the break, 55-36. The Bucks scored the last 12 points of the first quarter and closed the second with a 10-2 run.

Moncrief had eight points and an assist in the streak at the end of the first quarter. During that run, Washington center Rick Mahorn got his third foul.

When the Bucks reached a 37-24 lead midway in the second quarter, Washington had scored on three of its four fast breaks, but on only eight of 31 possessions when it was forced to play a half-court offense.

"Now, one guy is going one way, and another guy is going another way," said Ballard, motioning with his hands for emphasis. "And we have to get it together."

With 21 seconds left in the first half, Mahorn (13 rebounds, seven points) drew his fourth foul. Cummings made both free throws for a 53-36 lead. The Bullets played for a last shot, but Johnson made a careless pass that became a breakaway basket by the Bucks' Mike Dunleavy.

That brought the boos, which disturbed Ruland. He called the fans a four-letter word, then said, "They boo us, and we're trying as hard as we can. They don't come out to begin with. We ought to move to Miami. It's like playing 82 road games. The Boston Celtics come in, we have 18,000 people. You look in the stands and 12,000 of them have green on."

The Bullets' level of play improved significantly in the first two minutes of the third quarter. When they held the Bucks scoreless for 4:11, they reduced the deficit to 59-50, and had it down to 75-70 after three quarters. When Williams made an 18-foot jumper and fed Darren Daye for a fast-break layup, it was 75-74.

Then the Bucks went to their isolation plays. Former Bullet Kevin Grevey drew two fouls on Williams and made four free throws in a six-point run that made it 81-74. Three times after that, the Bullets would get within three, but Alton Lister, Moncrief and Cummings each scored to get the lead to five.