Last night before a sellout crowd of 19,123 at Capital Centre, the Washington Bullets, who aspire to greatness, suffered a 97-88 loss to the team that set the standard: the Boston Celtics.

The final score of the visitors' 10th straight victory was more than a little misleading, as a 13-4 run by the Bullets in the final three minutes cut into what once was a 21-point Boston lead. Of course, many of the fans missed the spurt by the home team, since a large number of them left with as much as 7:40 to play in the game, when all seemed hopeless for Washington.

A major reason for the mass exodus was Boston forward Scott Wedman. Starting in place of Kevin McHale, the Celtics' injured all-star forward, Wedman, who attained all-star status himself during a stint with Kansas City, hit his first five shots from the field and finished with a game-high 24 points on 11 for 17 shooting.

He was ably assisted by Robert Parish, who scored 16 points and controlled the backboards with 14 rebounds. Leon Wood had 21 points for Washington; Jeff Ruland had 15 and 12 rebounds and Cliff Robinson had 16 and nine.

Somehow, though, the Bullets' collective numbers didn't seem to stack up the same way, which perhaps could be best explained by the way the teams went about their business this evening. Washington, using its normal two-man and one-on-one isolation games, suffered from a dearth of outside shooting.

Meanwhile, Wedman's explosion at the game's start was the result of Boston's rapid-fire movement of the basketball. Forced into some uncomfortable, if not impossible, defensive matchups, the Bullets found themselves a step behind in pursuit of the ball, usually catching up with it only as it came out of the net.

"That's what we do best," said Celtics guard Dennis Johnson. "And it's something that I think that teams which are at the top -- Philly, Los Angeles, Denver -- all do it. With us it's the extra pass. You're not afraid of giving the ball up and then wondering if you're gonna get it back. We all know that each and every one of us is gonna get it."

That was certainly the case last night. Wedman was the constant, but Parish, Larry Bird, Bill Walton and even little-used guard Rick Carlisle had their smaller scoring binges.

After trailing, 53-48, at halftime and 59-56 early in the third period, the Bullets were victimized by an 8-0 Celtics run. Washington would get no closer than nine for the remainder of the game.

Ironically, it was McHale's absence that presented the major problem for the Bullets, according to Coach Gene Shue.

"They played a very good, very smart game," he said. "We had a real problem with their small lineup of Bird, Parish and Wedman. We wanted Manute (Bol) in the game because we rely on him for defense and we wanted Ruland in because we're working him back into the lineup.

"But then we've got problems. Who takes Bird? Who takes Wedman? They're both outside players and Jeff doesn't belong there."

In fact, the Bullets struggled the entire evening in an attempt to find a competitive combination. Shue went early to Darren Daye, the team's quickest small forward, in an effort to counteract Wedman's start, but said he wasn't pleased with the results. There was also a brief glimpse at what may become the team's starting lineup in the not-too-distant future: Bol, Ruland, Robinson, Wood and Jeff Malone, who scored 13 points in his first game back after a bout with the flu.

The best group last night seemed to be the quintet of Wood, Bol, Ruland, Gus Williams and Dan Roundfield, which turned a 28-10 deficit into an all-too-brief 33-32 lead.

That it didn't last was a result of Boston's overall dominance, which in part explains why they're 35-8 for the season and Washington's 23-23.

"They've got great mental toughness, no matter who they put out on the floor," said Wood. "It's just heart, and (Coach) K.C. (Jones) has nothing to do with that. Guys who hardly get any time come in and just play well."

Wedman, who only averages 14 minutes a game, certainly qualifies in that respect, although he felt that his performance against Washington wasn't really surprising.

"I think I've been playing well for the last month, in practices and in games," he said. "I don't know if they let down with Kevin not playing. If so, it definitely worked to our advantage.

"Kevin presents more problems than I do and the way their defense was set up it was giving us the outside shot. We only had to hit them."

And that proved to be no problem at all. Hawks 116, Pistons 103

Jon Koncak scored seven points in a 17-2 run that broke open a close game as Atlanta, playing at home, defeated Detroit. It was Atlanta's 12th victory in 16 games overall, and 15th in 17 home games.

Koncak, a rookie from Southern Methodist, led the fourth-quarter streak that sent the Hawks from an 86-85 lead after three quarters to a 103-87 advantage with 7:28 to play.

Dominique Wilkins led the Hawks with 36 points, followed by Koncak's 20 and Doc Rivers' 18.

Detroit was led by Joe Dumars with 22 points and Kelly Tripucka with 19. Bill Laimbeer had 14 and a game-high 16 rebounds