Washington Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery likens the week before the NBA draft to a heavyweight prize fight. The first few days are spent feeling out other teams as to their intentions, then a few days of sparring as teams talk about potential trades and first-round selections.

The final 24 hours before representatives from the league's 23 teams convene at the Felt Forum in New York Monday are the final rounds -- when a few minutes could make or break a career or, in this case, a basketball team.

Despite some big-time flurries of activity on the eve of the last few drafts, Washington still finds itself behind on points compared to the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, let alone the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The Bullets haven't added many rookies able to make an immediate impact, or any impact at all.

And in recent years, they've spent draft days acquiring such veterans as Moses Malone, Cliff Robinson and Gus Williams and getting rid of familiar faces: Greg Ballard, Rick Mahorn, Jeff Ruland. So on Monday, the Bullets are picking 12th, again finding themselves a middle-of-the-pack team.

"We know what we can use {to improve the team} -- the ideal would be to have Larry Bird and work back from there," said General Manager Bob Ferry. "We'd take David Robinson, but, where we're at, we're dealing with a less-than-perfect position."

According to Ferry and Loughery, Washington's most glaring needs are a steady point guard and improved rebounding and scoring. A point guard is necessary because of Frank Johnson's frequent injuries. Johnson -- the team's top choice in the 1981 draft -- has played in just 80 of a possible 246 regular season games the last three years because of recurring foot fractures. Now a free agent, although he is expected to re-sign with Washington, Johnson agreed the team "has to be concerned" about the position.

NBA sources say that when the Bullets talk about possible trades, they're asking for point guards. Names like Lafayette Lever of Denver and Glenn Rivers of Atlanta have been prominently mentioned. But, according to Loughery, "The one thing we're seeing is that teams don't want to give up the premium good lead guard -- nobody's available."

In this draft, two players at that position stand out, according to NBA scouts: Kenny Smith of North Carolina and Kevin Johnson of California. Neither is expected to be available when the Bullets select. On the next level are Mark Jackson of St. John's and perhaps 5-foot-3 Tyrone Bogues of Wake Forest.

Jackson led the nation in assists last season but is considered slow, and scouts say he doesn't finish plays as well as Smith and Johnson. Although his height works against him, Bogues does that as well as anyone.

"Don't rule him out totally," said Loughery of the idea that Washington may select him anyway in the first round. "If he were 6 feet tall, he'd be in the lottery {of the first eight players selected}."

If they're successful at trading for a guard, the Bullets may go for one of the abundant forwards.

Robinson, the Naval ensign expected to be picked by San Antonio as the first selection overall, would definitely help. So would Reggie Williams, the do-everything forward/guard from Georgetown. But they won't be around when the Bullets chose.

If they're lucky, they'll come up with the equivalent of John Williams, last year's top pick (also No. 12 overall). They're hoping the likes of Horace Grant (Clemson), Dallas Comegys (De Paul), Joe Wolf (North Carolina) or Jose Ortiz (Oregon State) won't turn out to be another Kenny Green, the team's pick at No. 12 in 1985. Green was supposed to fill the need for a scoring small forward but had a poor attitude and played in just 20 games with the Bullets before he was traded to the 76ers.

In return, the Bullets got guard Leon Wood, who played sporadically before he was dealt to the Nets at the start of the 1986-87 season for forward Mike O'Koren. O'Koren later was cut, giving Washington a net of zero players from the '85 draft.

Of the Bullets' eight first-round selections in the 1980s, Green and Wes Matthews must be considered failures when measured against expectations. The jury still is out on Williams and, because of his injuries, Frank Johnson, as well. Williams played well in spots last year and seems to have potential.

Anthony Jones, the team's second selection last year in the first round from Nevada-Las Vegas (after stops at Dunbar High School and Georgetown), did not make the team and was picked up on waivers by the Spurs, for whom he averaged 4.1 points a game.

Melvin Turpin, who was drafted in 1984 and immediately traded in the deal that brought Cliff Robinson to the Bullets, never contributed here, and Robinson also is gone, to Philadelphia in the Moses Malone deal.

The final two players, guards Jeff Malone and Randy Wittman -- both picked in 1983 -- have solid careers in the NBA, Wittman with the Atlanta Hawks, where he went in another draft-day deal that netted now-retired forward Tom McMillen. Of those players, as well as the nine others selected first by Washington since 1973, only Jeff Malone has played in an all-star game.

Ferry argues that another measure of personnel acumen is finding players good enough to compete in the league. On that score, his first-round picks in the 1980s measure up -- all are still in the NBA.

Still, a team's No. 1 selection probably should do more than simply keep a job. Perhaps that's one reason the Bullets again find themselves in the middle of the pack, sifting through the masses in an attempt to find a gem Monday to help them move up.