Proverb check: Is home, indeed, sweet home? The Washington Bullets will try to find out tonight when they host the Detroit Pistons at Capital Centre.

Home can certainly be no worse than the road for Washington. The team had lost four straight road games before Wednesday's 101-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. It was the first win of the season for the Bullets over a team that was not named Knicks or Nets, Washington's partners in the lower half of the Atlantic Division.

Coach Kevin Loughery, to his delight, found out Wednesday that his second unit can come in and contribute to a win if his starters, in the midst of a horrendous shooting slump, continue to misfire. The second team was in early and stayed late, right to the end of the game against the Clippers.

"We're trying to get them a lot of playing time," Loughery said of his second five. "It's a situation where you've got a lot of new people. We're trying to get them an identity. The second unit was very effective for us last season. I don't see any reason why it can't be more effective this season."

Last season, now-departed guard Michael Adams led the pressing, trapping unit. After the second team had played well in the loss to Utah Tuesday, Loughery didn't hesitate to bring it in Wednesday. The starters had already fallen behind, 14-4, to a team that had played a double-overtime game the night before.

"Each guy's still trying to find his place on the team," said reserve guard Frank Johnson, who teamed with Darrell Walker in the back court to play most of the fourth quarter. Rookie Tyrone Bogues only played 12 minutes, but hit both his shots early. "The first team's been struggling somewhat, but that's because you've got three new starters with Charles Jones starting."

Forward Terry Catledge, suffering from neck and back injuries, worked out with the team yesterday at Bowie State College, but will not start, Loughery said.

"It's going to take a while," Loughery said of Catledge, who missed all four games of the road trip and played little in Washington's last home game against Chicago.

Jones, starting for Catledge, played good defense on the road trip, but like the other starters, he struggled from the field.

Among the four primary starters (Jones and John Williams split starts at the power forward spot), Bernard King was 25 for 57 over the four games, Moses Malone 17 for 53, Bogues seven for 19 and Jeff Malone 29 for 68.

Loughery went with a lineup Wednesday of Johnson, Walker, Manute Bol, Mark Alarie and Williams. Bol, Williams and Johnson combined for 39 points to get the Bullets back in the game. In the fourth period, they stayed in with Jeff Malone and King, who combined to score the team's final eight points. Jeff Malone scored the final two baskets, when the Bullets' offense began to sputter.

"Late in the game, I like to take the big shot," Jeff Malone said. "I might have been missing more than normal, but I'm going to keep shooting. That's what they pay me to do."

Malone, like Loughery, said the starters' shooting woes are something they're just going to have to gun themselves out of.

"You can't go out and not want to shoot," he said. "Early in my career, I didn't feel like this. I felt like if I missed the shot, I shouldn't shoot it anymore."

Johnson said the second team's success may be because of the nature of its task: playing ballhawking defense and trying to run the break offensively.

"It could be because of what is asked of us," he said. "All it is is a gambling defense. What we're trying to do is force the offense out of its patterns."

The Bullets will start their home stand against Detroit, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in three straight games last season. After that, Washington will play Atlanta and Seattle at home. The team only has five road games during the month of December, against Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Milwaukee and the Pistons.

At home, the Bullets also play the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls. Loughery said the team's performance at home over the next few games is central to building confidence.

"We've gotta start winning some games," he said. "We saw some signs in Utah and the Clippers game that were encouraging. We were in the Utah game until late in the fourth quarter."

Celtics 117, SuperSonics 112:

Darren Daye tied his career high of 27 points and Boston, at home, held Seattle scoreless for 2:54 late in the final quarter.

Dennis Johnson scored 23 points, Danny Ainge 21 and Larry Bird 19 for the Celtics, who ended Seattle's four-game winning streak and extended their victory stretch at Boston Garden to 33 games.

Lakers 127, Nuggets 119:

A.C. Green scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 16 rebounds as Los Angeles, at home, broke a two-game losing streak.

The Lakers have not dropped three consecutive games since Jan. 22-25, 1986. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar added 26 points for Los Angeles.

Pistons 143, Spurs 111:

In Pontiac, Mich., Adrian Dantley scored 27 points and six other Detroit players reached double figures in a romp over San Antonio.

Pacers 88, Hawks 86:

In Indianapolis, Wayman Tisdale's turnaround jumper with 26 seconds left put Indiana ahead to stay and Atlanta missed its final two shots.

Cliff Levingston, starting in place of the injured Dominique Wilkins, had a game-high 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Hawks. Wilkins is expected to return today.

Mavericks 94, Bulls 93:

Mark Aguirre scored 26 points and Roy Tarpley blocked Charles Oakley's three-point attempt from 30 feet with no time showing as Dallas won a close one at home.

Suns 113, Nets 107:

Mike Sanders scored a career-high 29 points as Phoenix, at home, handed New Jersey its fourth straight loss.

Jazz 118, Rockets 96:

In Salt Lake City, Karl Malone scored a season-high 35 points, 25 of them in the first half as Utah took a 20-point lead, and Houston center Akeem Olajuwon was held to five points, 15 off his average.

Trail Blazers 97, Clippers 87:

Clyde Drexler scored 16 of his 27 points in the first half as Portland, at home, won its fourth straight.

Warriors 109, 76ers 103:

In Oakland, Rod Higgins scored 10 of his 28 points in the final 2:13 and Eric Floyd finished with 24 points as Golden State ended a seven-game losing streak.

The Warriors' won for only the second time in 12 games.