Unable to win on the basketball court, the Washington Bullets are attempting to score a victory off it. Yesterday, they filed a protest with the NBA, contending a disallowed free throw by Dan Roundfield Tuesday night in Detroit should have counted.

The incident occurred with 40 seconds remaining in regulation of what ended as Washington's sixth straight loss, a 124-122 overtime defeat by the Pistons. Roundfield, who was fouled while shooting, made his first shot, bringing the Bullets to within a point, 108-107.

Referee Jim Capers returned the ball to Roundfield, who made the second attempt. However, almost as soon as the shot went in, Capers ruled that it didn't count, saying the Pistons had asked for a timeout that negated the shot. After the game, Capers said he told this to Roundfield as soon as he tossed him the ball, but the Bullets' forward shot it, anyway.

According to Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry, Roundfield's reaction was a correct one. Ferry and the Bullets are contending in their protest to the league that once the ball was given to the player, NBA rules don't allow for a stoppage of play. Roundfield missed the shot after the timeout.

"Detroit didn't have the right to stop play. The ball is live when it's placed at the disposal of the free-throw shooter," Ferry said yesterday. "Dan got it, dropped it on the floor once and shot it. There was no gesture or anything about a timeout until the ball was almost through the net."

The Bullets' point would appear to be supported by two league rules. Rule five, section seven states that, "A player's request for a timeout shall be granted only when the ball is dead or in control of the team making the request." Rule six, section two states that the ball is considered to be live when it is "placed at the disposal of the free-throw shooter."

Before filing the protest -- and paying the $1,500 necessary to do so -- Ferry, who attended the game, looked at films of the play. Ferry said the Pistons, in particular center Bill Laimbeer, didn't motion for a timeout until the ball was in motion to Roundfield. He added that, "Looking at the Detroit bench, it wasn't even like they were prepared to call a timeout. Their coaches are just sitting around talking."

The Bullets filed their protest well before the 48-hour limit placed on such action. Ferry said he was told by the league that a statement from the game officials already had been received. Within the next five business days, both teams also must state their cases to the NBA. Five business days after that, Commissioner David Stern will make a final ruling.

"I don't ever remember protesting, but you have to do it in this case," said Ferry. "I don't know how we could lose it, but you never hear about anyone winning one."

NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said the league would have no comment until all the pertinent information had been gathered.

The last successful protest by an NBA team was by the San Antonio Spurs in December 1982. The team had lost a 137-132 double-overtime game to the Los Angeles Lakers, but argued that the outcome was tainted by a play occurring with three seconds left in regulation.

In that instance, the Spurs were ahead, 116-114, with the Lakers' Norm Nixon at the line for the second of two free throws. Instead of releasing the ball, Nixon faked a shot, drawing members of both teams into the lane. After some confusion, a double lane violation was called by the officials and a jump ball was held at center court. Los Angeles controlled the tip and scored the game-tying basket.

San Antonio successfully argued that the correct call should have been to make Nixon shoot the free throw. The league agreed and the game was replayed from that point four months later. The Spurs won.

If the Bullets are successful in their protest, the game probably would have to be resumed with the score tied at 108 with 40 seconds remaining and the Pistons in possession of the ball. The Bullets don't return to Detroit until Dec. 11.

By that time, both Ferry and Coach Gene Shue are hoping that the current losing streak will be a thing of the past.

"I'm not happy, the players aren't happy and I know that Abe (Bullets' owner Abe Pollin) isn't happy, but you just have to forget about this losing streak," said Shue. "We have to take the attitude that, 'Our record is 2-6, but so what?' We're all sure that things will start moving in the opposite direction . . . "

Although the Bullets lost a 15-point lead in the final quarter of the game against Detroit, Ferry said that from his seat in the Silverdome there was no reason to blame anyone. "In the NBA, you lose leads. That's what the 24-second clock is for," he said. "I didn't see our defense collapse or anything else. (The Pistons) just shot the ball brilliantly.

"We competed and we fought hard. I thought that everything that was done was correct. We were doing things the right way."

Bullets officials said forward Tom McMillen, who did not play in the Detroit game, pulled the hamstring muscle in his right leg Monday in practice. He is expected to be sidelined about a week, according to team physician Dr. Stephen Haas. Roundfield strained a right calf muscle during Tuesday's loss and is day-to-day, according to Haas.