As the Washington Bullets prepared for what Coach Kevin Loughery called "the most important week of the season," they faced the possibility of doing so shorthanded.

Forward John Williams sat out yesterday's practice with a bruised left thigh and Jay Murphy missed time because of lower back pain. Unable to play during Saturday's 102-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Murphy initially injured his back bending over to tie his sneakers during training camp.

Murphy likely will be placed on the injured list. Although that would force the team to guarantee his salary for the remainder of the season, it would enable the Bullets to keep everyone on the roster past the NBA's 6 p.m. deadline for guaranteed salaries. After that time, every player on a team's roster has to be paid for the remainder of the season.

That would include newcomer Steve Colter, who might start at point guard against Portland instead of Frank Johnson. Forward Bernard King also might return to the starting lineup for Charles Jones, although Loughery said he probably would not make that move considering how well King has played off the bench.

On Wednesday, the Bullets (8-16) will meet the Portland Trail Blazers at Capital Centre. Friday, the Denver Nuggets come to town and the Houston Rockets the day after that.

"They're the three key games," Loughery said after yesterday's practice at Bowie State College. "They're good teams but we're playing them in our home building. It's time to see our guys' reactions."

Although the reinsertion of King into the starting lineup seems unlikely, that it was mentioned is another example of the uncertainty that has been a part of the team all season. Each time the Bullets have thought they've turned a corner with a win or two, they've regressed.

The most encouraging thing about their last two losses, to Milwaukee and the Cleveland Cavaliers, is that for the most part the Bullets performed well.

"Our shooting percentage is better, we're moving the ball better but we just haven't been able to put it together for any amount of time," Loughery said. "If you look at it, there have really only been four games -- against the Lakers, Detroit, Chicago and New Jersey -- when everyone on the team has played well.

"That's not enough. We've made changes on the team and in the lineup and we've had a tough schedule but that's gone -- we've had enough time to start getting things together."

The biggest disappointment to Loughery and assistants Bill Blair and Wes Unseld has been the erratic nature of the individual production. Despite their improved play of late, it seems as if the Bullets are still struggling to blend their three-pronged attack of Moses Malone, Jeff Malone and King. Earlier in the season, Moses Malone complained that he wasn't getting the ball enough on offense to be effective.

Yesterday, he said, "I'm not going to complain about that. We've got a lot of great individual talent on this team, I just work hard. Sometimes I get the ball enough . . . but I'm playing the way I've got to play, the way I'm designed to play on this team. If I'm the third option, the second option or the first option on offense, it's whatever they want."

Moses Malone scored 14 points with 11 shots from the field in 27 minutes in the loss to Milwaukee. Jeff Malone played 28 minutes and had nine shots and 12 points. Loughery has been upset at the spotty production from the Bullets' first unit but Jeff Malone retorts that it's hard to score when you don't get the ball.

"Right now, going into games I never know how many shots I'll get, or when I get the ball, if I'll be able to try and take a guy one-on-one," he said. "Last game I had nine shots, the game before that it was 19, the game before that, it was 10. The number of shots I've gotten has been inconsistent . . . If you want me to score, run some plays for me and give me some freedom."

Blair acknowledged that the offense has moved away from the guard recently but said it wasn't intentional, nor likely to be long-term.

Suns Beat 76ers

From News Services

PHOENIX, Dec. 28 -- Larry Nance scored 39 points and pulled down 10 rebounds tonight to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 117-101 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 76ers committed 26 turnovers, including 13 steals by the Suns, as Phoenix broke a three-game losing streak.

Phoenix used bursts of 18-8 and 10-4 in the second quarter to break open a close game, and led by 18 points in the final minutes.

Philadelphia's Charles Barkley was held to 15 points and five rebounds, both less than half his season averages. He also made six turnovers.

Jay Humphries added 20 points for Phoenix; Eddie Johnson had 16, Jeff Hornacek 15 and Walter Davis 13. Cliff Robinson led Philadelphia with 21 points.

Trailing by 29-27, Philadelphia scored the first three points of the second quarter to take a 30-29 advantage, but Phoenix went on an 18-8 scoring run to move out to a 47-38 lead on a 22-foot jumper by Hornacek with 5:18 left in the half.

Phoenix led, 59-49, at halftime.

SuperSonics 108, Nuggets 100:

Xavier McDaniel scored 30 points, including his final five shots to spark a fourth-quarter surge, as Seattle won at home.

Dale Ellis added 21 points for Seattle, including eight in the final quarter; rookie center Olden Polynice had 11 rebounds and reserve Sam Vincent had 10 assists. The SuperSonics trailed by 11 at halftime.

Alex English topped the Nuggets with 24 points. Denver was without forwards Jay Vincent and Calvin Natt, both out with knee injuries.