Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin said yesterday that he's "not even thinking" about replacing Kevin Loughery as coach and that he believes his 4-11 basketball team will start to improve when the players become more confident.

"I think it's something of a mental feeling of confidence, that's all I can see," Pollin said. "It's knowing that you're going to win no matter what, instead of being concerned that you might possibly win."

Pollin was in his customary center court seat at Capital Centre Saturday, when the Bullets turned an 82-76 third-quarter lead against the Seattle SuperSonics into a 115-99 defeat. It was their third straight loss.

"I thought we'd played a good game until that fourth quarter," he said. "I don't know what happened then . . . I think the guys are starting to know each other, and we certainly have the talent. I think we just need to get a few wins under our belt and things will turn around then."

After the Seattle game, Loughery and his assistants, Bill Blair and Wes Unseld, met for at least an hour with General Manager Bob Ferry. Pollin said he doesn't sit in on the regular meetings.

"When we win I may go in and kibitz but the meetings are their responsibility," Pollin said. "I'll talk with them, Bob and Kevin and Bill and Wes, but I'm not one who believes in protocol. I'll talk with the guy who sweeps the floors at night, to the coaches or anyone else who can tell me what's going on."

After practice yesterday at Bowie State College, Loughery said he'll keep forward Bernard King out of the starting lineup for tonight's game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

King, who joined Washington as a free agent just before the start of the season after spending the previous four years with the Knicks but much of the time disabled, was replaced by Terry Catledge in the Bullets' first unit for the SuperSonics game. Averaging 31.9 minutes and 16.5 points per game going in against Seattle, King left the bench to score a team-high 23 points in 30 minutes.

King declined to comment following Saturday's game and again yesterday. Loughery said King "isn't happy about the switch but I don't expect him to be. I don't know if he's ever come off the bench before. It's not a reflection on him, we're just trying to put something together."

Loughery added that the lineup change was made because the previous starters "weren't doing the job. It wasn't B's fault; you could've picked out anybody." Part of the rationale, he said, was that the Bullets' second unit needs scoring from the front court, which King could provide. Also, Manute Bol's shot-blocking capabilities and John Williams' overall defensive skills make those two essential to the trapping defenses often used by the reserves.

"There really wasn't much choice," said Loughery.

When the Bullets fell apart in the final quarter of Saturday's game, Loughery noted, it was with "the group that had been our starters previously -- they didn't get the job done again."

If King is indeed upset about his demotion from the starting unit, Loughery believes that might be the exception on this club.

"Most players want to start; I'm not sure that's true on this team," Loughery said. "I haven't seen anyone step up to really deserve more minutes -- that's why we've been juggling the lineups so much."

Perhaps the Bullets will be able to vent some of their frustrations on the Knicks, who will be playing their first game after a three-game trip to Phoenix, Utah and Portland.

While there still wasn't a great deal of defensive rebounding during scrimmaging at yesterday's practice, there were signs of fraying tempers as some players exchanged words. The sight might not have been displeasing to the Bullets coaches, who would probably like to channel that aggression toward the team's opponents.

"You've got to be disappointed with the way it's developed so far," Loughery said of the team's season. "We have to have players who are physically and mentally tough from within this group if we're gonna do anything. Those things coincide a bit, I think. Physical toughness comes from mental toughness.

"I think there are more momentum swings in basketball than in any other sport. When adversity is going against you, that's when you have to get tougher instead of just accepting it. We haven't shown we can do that."