There was a time earlier this season when it appeared that the Washington Bullets' stretch of three games in six days against the Philadelphia 76ers would be as close to a playoff series as they would come. That was before the new year, which brought the team a new coach and, apparently, a new attitude.

Now it seems the Bullets, winners of five of seven games under Wes Unseld, are resolved to make the playoffs. Undefeated in four home games since Unseld replaced Kevin Loughery, Washington can move a step closer to that goal with a victory over the Golden State Warriors tonight at Capital Centre.

Yesterday, the Bullets signed guard Steve Colter for the remainder of the season. Picked up by Washington in December after Darrell Walker was injured, Colter was released less than a week later, then re-signed to a pair of 10-day contracts. Currently the starter at the point, the former Portland, Chicago and Philadelphia pro has averaged three points and five assists per game with the Bullets.

The visit from the Pacific Division Warriors represents a hiatus from the set against Philadelphia, which will continue with games at Capital Centre on Sunday and Monday. Wednesday, the Bullets took the first game, coming from behind to beat the 76ers at the Spectrum, 110-98.

After the game, there was more talk about the next time Moses Malone squares off against Mike Gminski than there was about his first matchup this season against the Warriors' newly acquired center Ralph Sampson tonight. Unseld, however, cautioned that the Bullets are nowhere near the point where they can afford to look past opponents.

"When you're in the position we're in, you can't do that," he said. "For us a win is a win and we need every win we can get."

Not that it isn't tempting to look past the Warriors, who have the worst record in the NBA. When Coach George Karl's team took a last-second 103-101 decision over New Jersey on Wednesday, it was Golden State's first road victory in 18 games this season.

The Bullets had gone more than a month without a win away from home before their triumph in Philadelphia. Since Dec. 12 they had played 11 of 13 games at home, losing road games to Milwaukee and Boston, before their 1-1 mini-trip to Chicago and Philadelphia.

"We haven't won on the road for a while and this was a good one to get," Moses Malone said of the Spectrum success, which moreover was the Bullets' first in 11 games on the road against teams with records of .500 or better. "Now, our concern is to protect our home court."

The words were delivered with the weight usually associated with a playoff series, which isn't unexpected, given the teams' history. Twice in the past three seasons Washington and Philadelphia have met in the opening round of postseason play. In addition, their fortunes have become intertwined because of a series of trades made by the two in recent seasons, including the deal that brought Malone and Terry Catledge to Washington in exchange for Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland. The oft-injured Robinson, incidentally, had to leave Wednesday's game after two minutes, with a lower back strain. He entered Temple University Hospital yesterday and the 76ers indicate his status is day to day.

Although there are still nearly 50 regular season games remaining, the playoffs are on the minds of everyone in both organizations. The 76ers have the rights to whichever team's first-round draft choice is higher this June. Should the Bullets fail to make postseason play, the lottery draft pick to which they would be entitled will belong to Philadelphia.

With Wednesday's victory, though, the Bullets are four games behind the 76ers -- by no means a lock for the playoffs themselves -- for second place in the Atlantic Division. Washington is three games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers, who currently hold the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots.

The Bullets will have a better chance at overtaking any of the three teams if they continue to execute the way they did during the second half of Wednesday's game. They trailed by 10 points at halftime but won going away because of a strong defense that forced nine second-half turnovers.

Many of those miscues were converted into points because the Bullets ran their sets crisply, with Bernard King, John Williams, Frank Johnson and Tyrone Bogues, in particular, coming through.

"We knew they had some new guys {Gminski and Ben Coleman} playing and it would be harder for them to adjust to what Philadelphia was trying to do on defense," said Johnson. "We had our plays designed for a three-man game and that opens things up a bit. It's been effective all season for us, but against Philly we really set some good screens -- John was unbelievable -- and we got some easy layups."

Nuggets 115, Lakers 113: Two free throws by Michael Adams with two seconds to play last night brought Denver its first home-court victory over the NBA champions in more than two years. Overall, the Lakers had won 10 straight meetings, including playoffs.

Adams' fellow former Washington Bullet, Jay Vincent, led the Nuggets with 23 points, had a season-high 12 rebounds and made a three-point play for a 111-111 tie after the Lakers had rallied into the lead.

Denver took a 104-96 lead with 6:25 left on a basket by Danny Schayes. But the Lakers went on a 9-1 run to tie at 105 when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit from in close. The Lakers went ahead, 111-108, on an Abdul-Jabbar basket; Vincent evened the score with 1:05 left.

Baskets by Vincent and the Lakers' James Worthy kept the game even before Magic Johnson missed a long hook shot with the 24-second clock running out and Denver's Bill Hanzlik got the rebound.

Adams began his drive with five seconds remaining and missed his shot, but was knocked to the floor by Michael Cooper, setting up the winning free throws.

Rockets 116, Bucks 103: Akeem Olajuwon, marking his 25th birthday, scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Rodney McCray and Sleepy Floyd provided 22 points each in Houston's home victory over Milwaukee.

Randy Breuer had 25 points and 13 rebounds, Terry Cummings 24 points and Jack Sikma 19 points and 15 rebounds for Milwaukee.

Houston having won in Milwaukee, 102-93, on Dec. 30, this is the first time in team history the Rockets have swept the Bucks in the regular season.

Hawks 101, Cavaliers 93: Dominique Wilkins scored 28 points as Atlanta beat Cleveland in Richfield, Ohio. Glenn Rivers supplied 15 Hawks points and 12 assists.

Wilkins scored 10 of his points in a 25-10 rally that put the Hawks ahead, 57-44, at halftime. Cleveland drew within 79-73 behind Brad Daugherty's 11 third-quarter points, but could not get closer. Daugherty had 25 for the game.