A fleeting thought by Washington Bullets Coach Gene Shue to start center Jeff Ruland in tonight's soldout game against the Boston Celtics probably won't materialize because of an injury to Celtics all-star forward Kevin McHale.

"It was just one of a few things I was considering, depending on who would be starting for them," Shue said yesterday.

"If they went with McHale and (center Robert) Parish together, for example, we could probably better counter it with Ruland and Manute (Bol). If they started Parish and Scott Wedman, though, we'd probably stay with Bol and Charles Jones."

McHale is suffering from a sore Achilles' tendon and didn't accompany the Celtics to Chicago last night when they beat the Bulls. Team officials said he also wasn't scheduled to play against Washington at Captial Centre.

That Boston has won nine straight games, though it was without McHale for more than half those, demonstrates one of the differences between the Celtics and the Bullets. Washington foundered offensively without its all-star, guard Jeff Malone (flu), Wednesday night in a 92-88 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

The loss has taken a bit of the luster off tonight's game. A victory over the Pacers would have given the Bullets victories in five straight games, and eight of their last 11, and would have afforded them an opportunity to measure themselves against one of the NBA's elite teams. "Now I'd just like a 'W,' period," said Ruland.

As their 34-8 record would attest, that hasn't been a problem for the Celtics., In McHale's absence, Bill Walton has reemerged as a dominant player, at least on a part time basis. In big wins over Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the center controlled the action on the floor, just as he did in his heyday with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Bullets forward Cliff Robinson, eager to atone for four-for-19 shooting against the Pacers, also would like to assert control. He is looking forward to playing the Celtics, if only because "everyone gets up for Boston like they do for Los Angeles," but he downplays the overall importance of the game.

"We can't go into it thinking that we have to win to prove that we're one of the top teams in the league," he said. "You do that against Indiana. You don't see Boston losing to teams like the Pacers too many times."

Shue said a slowdown style was necessary to defeat Indiana, given the absence of Malone. And, although he felt the loss was "disappointing," he added that "we played plently well enough to win. We held them to 42 percent shooting and didn't beat ourselves with turnovers. If Malone is there and contributes his normal 21, it's not even a ball game. You don't mind losing to a Philadelphia or Boston, but Indiana, that hurts."

Shue said that even if he were to start Ruland, he felt that the results wouldn't be indicative of what the Bullets might accomplish. "It'll really be about another 10 games before you can see where we'll really be," he said. "It's not fair to expect Jeff to come right back and step in after missing 22 games.

"Once we get the rotation right-Jeff, Bol, the small forwards-that's when things will start to come together. Those are the things we'll be working on between now and the all-star break."