So much for the consistency.

After averaging 116 points per game in a three-game winning streak, the Washington Bullets reverted to the offensive struggle that has plagued them so much this season, losing to the Denver Nuggets, 101-91, at Capital Centre.

The Nuggets, the worst rebounding team in the NBA, had 10 more than the Bullets.

Nor was the news good on the Bullets' injury front. Center-forward Jeff Ruland, out the last nine games with a strained left knee, said he did not feel good enough to test his knee in yesterday's shoot-around, as the team had announced he would. He said he hopes to test it at Monday's shoot-around.

The Bullets, who play at Indiana tonight, suffered another injury. Center Manute Bol jammed his right thumb making a dunk early in the second half, shortly after electrifying the crowd of 6,579 with a 17-foot hook shot from beyond the foul line. The thumb was taped and he played again in the fourth quarter.

"Tonight was one of those nights," said Jeff Malone, the hottest guard in the NBA since the all-star break and a main reason the Bullets had won seven of their previous 10 games.

Denver's big guards -- T.R. Dunn, Elston Turner and Bill Hanzlik -- consistently overplayed Malone, denying him the ball for most of the game and holding him to 16 points, four in the second half. The Bullets' offense also was limited when Cliff Robinson, their other major scoring threat, picked up his fourth foul less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third quarter. Nevertheless, he finished with 20 points.

Although the Nuggets shot well, making 20 of their first 30 shots, they gave the Bullets opportunities to catch up. But Washington squandered them.

The 20-for-30 shooting put the Nuggets up by 13 points. The Bullets had only chopped that lead by three (59-49) by halftime even though Denver missed 14 of its next 20. The Bullets, who trailed by 11 entering the fourth quarter, reduced the final margin by only one even though the Nuggets were five for 18.

"They defended us well," Bullets Coach Gene Shue said. "We weren't fluid offensively. Against Denver you have to pound the ball down low. If you're effective, they can't run."

The Bullets hardly were effective, so ineffective in fact that Denver never bothered double-teaming down low. Therefore the Bullets never had the open perimeter shots that the Nuggets were getting -- and making -- with regularity.

Alex English, the NBA's leading scorer, was the main beneficiary of Denver's unpredictable passing game, scoring 33 points.

"I went a long period the second half without shooting the ball," Malone said. "When I put it up it didn't feel good. I was just walking around out there. I didn't get in the offensive flow."

Dunn, Turner and Hanzlik, a defensive specialist who has turned scorer, too, this season, were responsible for that. "People overlook the fact that Dunn's a great defensive player," said Hanzlik. "If Malone doesn't have the ball, it's tough to score."

Another Denver guard, Fat Lever, had seven rebounds, as many as any of the Bullets. In their past four games, the Nuggets (40-27) had been outrebounded by an average of 22 per game. They are 17-0 this season in games in which they outrebounded their opponents.

The Nuggets broke on top, 10-2, with English having a hot hand, scoring eight of their first 10 and 12 of their first 20. He had 18 points in the first half. The Nuggets broke it open with streaks of 11-2 and 13-4 for their biggest lead of the night, 50-35, with 6:15 left in the first half.

At times it looked as if the Bullets' defense was a half-step slow. But both the Nuggets and the Bullets disagreed.

"We run a passing game," said Hanzlik. "There are no set patterns. We run and cut. Defenses can't anticipate where you'll be and it works to our advantage."

Said Bullets forward Dan Roundfield, who guarded English much of the game: "It's unpredictable and English is a great player. It's tough to keep the ball out of his hands. We did all we could do but it wasn't enough."