When the Philadelphia 76ers visit Capital Centre tonight to face the Washington Bullets in Game 3 of their first-round NBA playoff series, they will be playing again without injured center Moses Malone.

Malone missed Philadelphia's last seven regular season games because of a broken bone beneath his right eye. Although the all-star was put on the 76ers' playoff roster and did some light shooting and exercising before the start of the best-of-five series, he didn't play in the first two games split over the weekend in Philadelphia.

As of yesterday, about 5,000 tickets remained for tonight's game and Bullets officials said they expected a crowd of 15,000 to 16,000.

According to a 76ers spokesman, Malone didn't join the team Monday for its bus ride to Washington. Another absentee was forward Bob McAdoo, who missed both games because of a sore knee and is not expected to play.

Malone would not speak to reporters Sunday and could not be reached yesterday. Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery said he spoke with Malone on the weekend in Philadelphia, "and it didn't sound at all like he was going to play."

Philadelphia Coach Matt Guokas said he does not expect either Malone or McAdoo to play tonight or in Game 4 Thursday night at Capital Centre. "If there's a fifth game, there's an outside chance" the two will play, Guokas told the Associated Press.

Malone told AP his condition is improving but added he won't be given clearance by team doctors to begin practicing until he is examined again on Friday. "I'm feeling better and better every day," said Malone, who will wear protective goggles.

Dr. Jack Jeffers, the team ophthalmologist, said sufficient scar tissue has to form around Malone's eye to prevent further injury when contact occurs.

Malone's absence has not been as significant as might be expected, if only because of Charles Barkley, Philadelphia's 6-foot-6, 260-pound power forward. He has dominated the series, with 26 points, 22 rebounds and nine assists in Game 1, a 95-94 Bullets victory, followed by 27 points, 20 rebounds and six assists in Game 2, won by the 76ers, 102-97. In rallying his team to victory, Barkley scored 14 points in Sunday's final period.

"He's just a great, great player, right now one of the top 10 in the league," said Loughery. "He's a great passer, he's quick . . . he'll be a great defensive player. Then there's the rebounding."

Perhaps more impressive and, ultimately, more intimidating than Barkley's sheer number of rebounds is the way he goes about his job. In his 10 years in the NBA, Malone has acquired a reputation as a relentless worker. However, Malone rarely embarrasses an opponent.

Second-year pro Barkley, on the other hand, causes heads to hang with startling regularity. If he is not using his brutish strength to bull to the basket directly through a defense, he is eschewing contact altogether, simply choosing to sky over more stationary bodies to get to the hoop.

Despite his impressive statistics against the Bullets, Washington defenders have done a fairly good job on Barkley. They actually have taken away a number of his pet moves through both excellent position and good defensive pressure.

"I can't complain," said Loughery. "The guys have been doing everything we've asked them to do. There really aren't any adjustments to make. Well, maybe one . . . "

The coach stopped just short of specifying, but forward Dan Roundfield, who has been asked to keep Barkley in check, had one idea. "What new defense do I have for him?" asked Roundfield before a Monday practice at Bowie State College. "Well, I've got this crowbar out in the car . . .

"I haven't really had an impact on the series yet because I've got to find a way to stop him from getting those 20/20s. I guess I have to dig farther down for some more experience. Maybe I can try to block him out farther away from the basket, but then he can jump right over people. That's what young legs will do for you."

At 32, Roundfield's legs aren't as young as they used to be, particularly a few years ago when he was one of the game's dominating power forwards. Still, Roundfield has had an impact of his own in the series.

In the first two games, Roundfield scored 32 points and took 17 rebounds. He contributed perhaps the biggest play outside of Dudley Bradley's winning shot in Game 1 when he came from nowhere to block a layup by a wide-open Bobby Jones in the final two minutes.

His postseason work is merely a continuation of his late regular season play, particularly in the final 16 games, when he averaged 14.6 points and nine rebounds. The year has been a vindication of sorts after Roundfield's 1984-85 season with Detroit.

Roundfield played in only 56 of 82 regular season games and averaged 10.9 points and eight rebounds -- not the sort of numbers the Pistons were expecting from the former Atlanta Hawk acquired to be the final ingredient in what Detroit thought would be winning formula.

The only problem, said Roundfield, was the formula didn't work. "With the way I play I couldn't help them very much," he said. "Successful teams really aren't gonna change for one guy . . .

"I was getting eight rebounds a game in 25 minutes a night. That isn't bad. Even now, people will say that my stats were pretty much the same this year [11.6 points and eight rebounds]. But I played in 79 games and look at it percentagewise. Detroit averaged 116 points a game last year, 11 doesn't seem like much. But when you're getting just 100 or 102 a night, like we did, they mean a whole lot more."