Jeff Ruland, who fractured and severely sprained his right ankle Dec. 11, is expected to practice with the Washington Bullets on Friday and may play Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks at Capital Centre.

"The ankle feels good," he said yesterday. "Except there is one small spot on the inside of the ankle where the tendons or ligaments attach that is really sore, and I had to curtail my therapy today. Basically, it hurts when I run hard and to touch it. If that pain goes away, then I'm almost set to go."

He will have therapy again today and, if the pain disappears, practice Friday.

"He's supposed to be at practice Friday," Bullets Coach Gene Shue said yesterday after a workout at Bowie State College. "If he says he's okay, then he'll play some Saturday."

The Bullets activated him last week when he had his cast removed. He wasn't expected to play before next week.

The Bullets want him back for a host of reasons, including his 21.2 points, 12.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He also is the team captain. And, on a more basic level, the team barely has enough healthy bodies to scrimmage in practice.

But there is caution, too, especially after Frank Johnson broke his foot again, this time after playing only 14 games this season. Shue, obviously looking forward to having Ruland back, said he wouldn't rush it.

"I'll use common sense," he said.

Backup center Tom McMillen had his right foot placed in a cast Monday after it was found he had ruptured a tendon. Yesterday Shue said he is "looking for somebody who can shoot" to fill a spot on the roster, although McMillen has not been deactivated yet.

Meanwhile, the Bullets spent much of their two-hour practice scrimmaging in preparation for their game tonight against the Phoenix Suns at Capital Centre. The Suns, who are in third place in the Pacific Division, have lost five straight road games.

The Bullets have won four of five games. They are 21-21 and in fourth place in the Atlantic Division but have not played since Sunday, when they beat Chicago, 112-98.

"I have mixed feelings about the layoff, because we were doing well," Shue said, "but then we have so many injuries, and this gave us a chance to get those people some rest. We needed it because we were playing hard, but I don't like layoffs because you never know what's going to happen after them."

The Bullets had only eight players for Tuesday's practice, as Manute Bol had a cold and Dan Roundfield needed to rest his sore knee.

Yesterday, Bol's cold was better, but he left the scrimmage early because of a sore left shoulder that he said has bothered him a couple of weeks. Neither ailment would cause him to miss tonight's game, he said.

Roundfield's knee often hurts and merely needs intermittent rests.

"Any time you do anything extra on it, it's going to hurt," said Roundfield, who had 20 points and eight rebounds against Chicago. "But it will be all right."

He shared his coach's mixed feelings about going three days without a game, although he did hasten to mention that the team did not have three days off.

"When you're playing well, you want to keep playing," he said. "But it's hard to practice when you don't have 10 healthy guys. This is a chance to get some of those people healthy. But we'll be ready tomorrow night, even if we only have eight." 76ers 118, Suns 111

Charles Barkley scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as Philadelphia, playing at home, built a 15-point lead in the third period and held off a Phoenix rally last night.

Moses Malone had 23 points and 10 rebounds as the 76ers won their third straight and 16th of 18 games.

Walter Davis' 25 points and Mike Sanders' 22 led the Suns.

The 76ers led, 89-74, with 2:38 left in the third period, but the Suns had closed to 110-106 with 1:14 to play. After the teams traded scores, Bobby Jones hit two baskets for Philadelphia to clinch the game.