In an almost stunning display of ineptitude, the Chicago Bulls, coached by Kevin Loughery, emerged from the 1983-84 NBA season with a 27-55 record.

There were some who predicted Loughery would soon go the way of Paul Westhead. Westhead came to the team as a savior from Los Angeles and had been fired the previous season, leaving under a cloud of rancor and shame. And his Chicago Bulls had won 28 games.

But fortune could have been on Loughery's side. Westhead's poor season got the Bulls the sixth pick in the 1983 draft. With one fewer victory than Westhead, Loughery got the No. 3 pick.

In the last draft, the Houston Rockets had the top pick, and as expected, chose University of Houston center Akeem Olajuwon. The Portland Trail Blazers then surprised some people by choosing Kentucky's Sam Bowie.

Considering a center the missing part of their equation, the Trail Blazers felt that the oft-injured Bowie was the answer. Chicago also needed a center but did not hesitate in selecting North Carolina's Michael Jordan.

From that point, jump forward to the league standings entering tonight's Washington-Chicago game at Capital Centre. The Bulls, on a four-game winning streak, already have won 24 games this season, five more than Portland.

To this day, Portland Coach Jack Ramsay will say "You don't win championships with 6-foot-5 guards," and that's undoubtedly true. But perhaps for the Bulls, winning championships is not as important as preservation; that is, saving the franchise, not to mention Loughery's job.

Jordan leads the Bulls in minutes played, points, assists, blocked shots and defensive rebounds. In a 122-113 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 14, Jordan provided the Bulls their first triple-double in more than a decade with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 15 assists.

Loughery said Jordan is "a better player than everything that's been said about him." Forward Orlando Woolridge went a step beyond that, calling his teammate "a god."

Woolridge smiled when he said that, but when the topic is Jordan, the fourth-year player from Notre Dame smiles a lot. That's because one of the immeasurable aspects of Jordan's presence is how he improves the game of his teammates.

The biggest beneficiary has been Woolridge. Beginning to excel last season (averaging 19.3 points), the forward has improved this season to 23.5 -- 13th in the league -- and narrowly missed being selected to play in this season's All-Star Game, in which Jordan will start for the East squad.

As the media dwells on Jordan's spectacular rookie season, some of that spotlight carries over to the rest of the Bulls, including Woolridge. "If your team isn't doing well, it's tough to get noticed," Woolridge said. "We're doing much better this season and a lot of it is Mike, and people see him out there and say, 'Well, somebody's got to be helping him.' "

That's not to say that before Jordan's arrival, Woolridge was doomed to obscurity. According to Chicago's assistant coach, Fred Carter, Woolridge's game "has grown in leaps and bounds." That is partially evidenced by his scoring average, which in four seasons has only once failed to go up by at least six points.

Woolridge, a Louisiana native, is personable, bright and witty, and he has a flair for words. He once labeled himself "the Afro-American Curt Gowdy."

There also have been times when that flair has created trouble, such as when he compared the Bulls favorably with the Boston Celtics and practically guaranteed a victory over them the first time the teams met, on Nov. 15. Boston won, 125-105.

"I guess no person from Notre Dame has ever been considered shy and that includes (Joe) Theismann, (Joe) Montana and myself," Woolridge said. "I've been known for some quotes but I really don't mean to offend anyone or get involved in scandal. The only trouble I want to make is out on the basketball court."

Once there, Woolridge creates more than his fair share of mischief although his small forward position is filled with the most talented athletes in the league.

"There are so many great players to go up against that I found playing small forward forced me to elevate my game," he said. "It's almost like I had to get better in order to survive. Now I try to use my offense to help play people like Larry Bird and Bernard King by making them work so hard on defense that they can't give as much to their offense."

Tom Wards, the Bullets' marketing director, said that more than 5,000 tickets remained as of late yesterday afternoon for the Bulls game.