Today, for the second NBA playoff game in a row, bench strength takes human form in the Spectrum.

Rookie 6-foot-6 power forward Charles Barkley, weighing in at 260 pounds, give or take breakfast, is expected to watch perennial sixth man Bobby Jones start in his place for the Philadelphia 76ers when they play the Washington Bullets at 1 p.m. in Game 2 of the playoffs.

Barkley, at different times a sensation and a curiosity during his first professional season, was not happy when Coach Billy Cunningham told him the day before Philadelphia's 104-97 victory that he was not starting.

"I was disappointed," Barkley said. "I guess it's more of an ego thing. Deep down, everyone wants to start, especially after you start most of the season. But it's a team thing and I do everything for the team."

Against the Bullets in Game 1, he did a lot. In 31 minutes, 2 1/2 more than he averaged during the season, he became the game's leading rebounder with 12, and scored 17 points.

"His numbers were great," said Julius Erving.

Cunningham decided to keep Barkley on the bench for several reasons. Jones, he says, is his best defensive forward. "He's excellent at getting back on defense. That's a concern of ours. (Bullets guard) Gus Williams in the open court -- he's just a great player there. We have to try to keep him under control."

Take control early, Cunningham figures, and you might never give it up.

"I would like us to establish some things early in certain areas and with Bobby, we do a better job of that."

Perhaps most important, though, is with Barkley fidgeting on the bench, the 76ers are left with something in reserve.

"It's much better for our team to have some firepower and rebounding power coming off the bench than to overload our starting lineup," Erving said. "One of the problems we had all year probably was having all of our scorers in the game at the beginning of the game. When we went to our bench, we had role players left and, unless they had an exceptional night, we weren't going to get double figures from them."

Barkley, who gave up his senior year at Auburn to turn pro, averaged 14 points per game during the regular season, fourth-best on the team. He had 8.6 rebounds per game, second only to Moses Malone's 13.1. But, when Malone had one of those crazy playoff evenings in which he ended up with more steals (six) than rebounds (five) in Game 1, Barkley thundered to the rescue.

Barkley, who turned 22 in February, loves to rebound more than anything else in the game. "It's something you can do yourself. You don't need any help on it," he said.

"I just try to go out and get as many rebounds as possible. Whatever happens on offense, I don't worry about too much. The key to my game is how well I'm rebounding. And rebounding is the key to the game in most situations."

Especially with the return of Washington's Jeff Ruland. Jones thinks Barkley will start if Ruland starts today, but Cunningham said that's not so.

"We're going to plan on starting the same way (as Wednesday)," he said.

The 76ers were given the ultimate raw talent last fall when Barkley showed up for his first practice. Early on, Erving said, Barkley made himself a "non-factor" in games by fouling out too much. He fouled out five times, accounting for nearly half of the 76ers' 11 disqualifications.

"He was not using his speed and body, but his hands," Erving said. "He was reaching in too much, possibly because he was used to the zone defense in college."

He also took too many 15-foot jumpers for his own good, but solved that problem, too.

"He has an awareness of his strengths as an inside player now," Erving said. "He can be a dominating force taking it down low, forcing it up, getting fouled and taking it to the line."

Twice this season, Barkley became the star of the 11 o'clock sports highlights, when, in the fury of two especially demonstrative slam dunks, he actually moved the basket supports, which weigh hundreds of pounds.

Yet this is the same player who, when invited to the NBA's slam-dunk competition during the All-Star game, declined because he was homesick and wanted to visit his family in Alabama.

"Charles is a young man. Remember, he should be in his senior year in college now," Cunningham said. "He has matured, but he still must maintain his concentration. I think that's what's difficult on Charles."

Cunningham was pleasantly surprised by what he saw against the Bullets.

"I was concerned how he'd respond to the playoff situation," Cunningham said. "If nothing else, I think his concentration is better."

For Barkley, Philadelphia's so-called Round Mound of Rebound, the only problem now is making sure his power is unleashed in small doses.

"When you come off the bench, you tend to be real hyper for the first few minutes," he said. "You want to do well. In fact, you want to do better than well.

"You want to do real well."