With their regular-season opener in Atlanta Friday night almost upon them, the Washington Bullets today were still decided on their roster and contemplating implications of a knee injury that will sideline Manute Bol at least a week.

Bol was diagnosed yesterday as having a laterally strained and bruised left knee, according to trainer John Lally. His absence could pave the way for the return of free-agent forward Charles Jones.

It definitely put a damper on Coach Kevin Loughery's plan to trim his team from 14 to its 12-man limit yesterday. Before Bol's injury, incurred in Monday night's Patriot Center exhibition victory over Cleveland, Loughery said he had decided on who would fill the one roster spot yet in question. The candidates included free-agent rookies David Henderson and Dale Blaney and fifth-round draft choice Patrick Fairs.

Loughery said a decision probably would not be made until today, once Bol's status is more fully determined.

"The injury might change which way we go," the coach said. "We have to be sure of the situation first. It's too early to say if we'll put Manute on the injured list or not. I'd think the only way we'd do that was if we knew he'd be out for at least five games."

According to NBA rules, a player on the injured list must sit out a minimum of five games. The Bullets will have played three games -- in Atlanta on Friday, at Capital Centre against Boston on Saturday and at Milwaukee on Tuesday -- during the 7-foot-6 center's convalescence.

"It's not feeling too good right now," Bol said yesterday. "The doctors say they'll see me on Monday and I should take it easy, not walk around on it until then. I don't like it -- it's no fun sitting down like this."

If Bol should go on the injured list, Jay Murphy, with 58 games of NBA experience mostly at forward, would back up center Moses Malone. That would likely prompt a move to re-sign Jones, who has missed all of training camp while negotiating for a new contract.

"I haven't talked with anyone, I didn't even know that Manute had gotten hurt," Jones said yesterday. "I spoke with my agent {Bill McCandless} Tuesday night and he said that Bob had called him earlier in the day and that they were going to talk {yesterday}."

Last season, Jones, Murphy and Henderson were among a group who didn't know whether they had made the final roster until the team met to go to Boston for the first game. Loughery said that this season is different because the coaches had "pretty much decided," before Bol's injury, who would make up the team.

Including Bol, other front-court spots will be filled by Malone, Murphy, Terry Catledge, John Williams, Bernard King and Mark Alarie. At guard will be Jeff Malone, Tyrone Bogues, Frank Johnson and Darrell Walker.

That leaves Henderson, Fairs and Blaney to compete for the last spot, although there's a chance that if Jones is re-signed, each of those guards could be bumped.

"The way I look at it, I can't even be concerned with that," said Fairs. "It's not in my hands who they pick. I just have to go out and perform. If I'm out there worrying, it takes away from what I'm trying to do."

Henderson nearly made last season's team and Blaney had a good shot at earning a spot on the Los Angeles Lakers last year before abruptly leaving camp. That probably makes the 6-5 Fairs the least known of the three candidates, but he doesn't seem to mind.

"I think I have the athletic ability, courage and confidence to play in this league," the former Texas Longhorn said. "It's a nice feeling to be out on the same court as Moses Malone and Bernard King but I can't be floating up and down the court just because I'm playing with them."

Blaney, also 6-5, said his exit from the Lakers' camp last year was brought on by a number of factors.

"There were problems back home {West Virginia} and I was out in L.A. I'd spent so much time away -- I'd played in the summer league there and overseas before that -- I just got sick of basketball. I didn't want to get up and go to practice, I wasn't working hard at all. Everyone there was great, but I said that if this is what it was gonna be like for me then I might as well go."

This preseason, Blaney averaged 5.5 points in four games, Fairs 6.2 in five games. Henderson, who twisted an ankle in the game against Cleveland, played in all seven preseason tests and averaged 6.3. A sensation in last year's camp, Henderson strove for consistency this year.

"I think I've progressed," the former Duke athlete said. "I feel more comfortable with the game out there . . . I still firmly believe I can play at this level . . . but I'm just a rookie. I have to tell people, 'Hey, wait a minute -- I don't know anything.'

"But you have to like the direction the team is headed in now. I'd really like to be a part of it."