Center Jeff Ruland of the Washington Bullets apparently did not seriously injure his tender right ankle Saturday night at Detroit.

"There was just a lot of soreness," General Manager Bob Ferry said yesterday. "Apparently it's nothing major. That's definitely good news."

Ruland missed the fourth quarter of Saturday night's 116-101 loss to the Pistons because of soreness in the same ankle that caused him to miss 22 games. In only his third game back from that injury, incurred against the Pistons Dec. 11, he was kicked during a scramble under the basket in the third period.

After the game, Ruland, limping badly, said he was scheduled to have X-rays taken yesterday, along with an examination by team physician Carl MacCartee.

Upon returning from Detroit yesterday, Ruland traveled to Capital Centre, where MacCartee saw him before the Georgetown basketball game. MacCartee also is team physician for the Hoyas.

According to Ferry, the doctor found only some tenderness and scheduled another examination on Tuesday. Ferry added that X-rays were not taken yesterday, as had originally been planned. Bullets spokesman Mark Pray said it was determined that X-rays were not necessary.

Neither MacCartee nor Ruland was available to comment.

If the outcome of Tuesday's examination is satisfactory and Ruland is able to resume play the next night in Boston against the Celtics, Washington will be able to continue an experiment in which Ruland starts at power forward alongside Manute Bol.

"When Jeff initially went out, we learned to rely on Manute back there defensively," Coach Gene Shue said. "Teams knew that they couldn't drive to the basket on us. At the same time, though, I think we became lax in the basics because when Manute hasn't been in there, teams have found it easier to penetrate.

"The habits are out of sync, and we're going to have to get back to the drawing board and work at getting things back to where they were as well as getting everyone used to playing with each other."

Bol's prowess on defense -- he leads the league in blocked shots -- is such that Shue was able to shift Ruland from center to power forward and 6-foot-9 Cliff Robinson from power forward to small forward. However, as the team has discovered in the last two games, it takes more than placing big bodies out on the floor to win games. Losses to the Celtics and the Pistons exposed the Bullets' unfamiliarity with their new alignment and left the team desperately in need of time to iron out some rather sizable wrinkles.

In both games, Washington's problems began with matchups on the defensive end. Against a Boston front line of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Scott Wedman, subbing for injured Kevin McHale, Ruland at times had to play on the outside against Bird. That actually wasn't as bad as the next night against Detroit, when 6-6 forward Kelly Tripucka beat Robinson frequently and scored 26 points.

Often in basketball, games are won when one team is able to impose its style of play on the other. In both cases over the weekend, the opposition dictated the play and, Shue said, won because of it.

"We can't just say, 'This is what we want to do,' " Shue said. "We have to get out there and do the hard work to make it happen."

Detroit Coach Chuck Daly, who fields a quick team that is lacking power, likens the situation to a chess game.

"There are 23 different teams and 82 games," he said, "but you have to play your style every night; you can't change for one team or one game. Even if we're outmuscled, we still have to try and use our speed.

"With us, it's a case of getting our small forward Tripucka hot enough to make the bigger player move around on the outside. With them the Bullets , I would think that they have to be able to get enough stops defensively to be able to capitalize on the other end."

That didn't happen against either Wedman, who scored 24 points against Washington, or Tripucka. Both men got most of their points on wide-open jumpers. "That's the problem," said Shue.

At the other end of the floor, Washington would like to be able to take advantage of the matchups physically. Against the Pistons, for example, Robinson was initially guarded by Tripucka, who never will be mistaken for a defensive genius. Robinson scored only 12 points.

In the Bullets' case, the need for defensive stops is especially important because Bol doesn't score much. The problem is compounded when Robinson doesn't, either. Averaging only three points a game, Bol is often stationed far outside in Washington's set offense, not so much to get him out of the way as to eliminate the opposing center, thereby giving the Bullets' more accomplished scorers room to operate.

Teams have been counteracting this strategy by placing a smaller man on the center. In a recent game against the Chicago Bulls, it was George Gervin, a guard, on Bol. The Pistons were able to switch Tripucka onto him.

In both cases, the Bullets responded by sending Bol down low for some shots. Although those efforts succeeded to a limited extent, Shue said that will occur more often in the future.

"Sooner or later," he said, "Manute is going to score down there; we're not going to let teams get away with that. We're going to start telling Manute that he can shoot the ball, too. He just has to have a little patience and use good form."

He and his teammates will get a chance to make adjustments. The last two games before next weekend's all-star break will be rematches against Boston and Detroit.