BOSTON, JAN. 26 -- The Washington Bullets have won a season-high four straight games, eight of their last 10 and seven straight at home, climbing from the depths of the Atlantic Division into contention for a playoff berth. As a reward, they will get to play the Celtics at Boston Garden Wednesday night.

If the Bullets are indeed looking for an indication of how far they've come under new Coach Wes Unseld, chances are they'll find it here. One of the things they will have going for them will be an extra day of rest. They took today off to travel here; the Celtics will have to fly into town Wednesday morning after beating the Atlanta Hawks, 77-66, at the Omni Tuesday night.

The situation was reversed in the opening days of the season. On Nov. 7, when the Bullets returned to Capital Centre the day after playing in Atlanta, the Celtics already were in town and waiting. They won that double overtime thriller, 140-139.

That is as close as the Bullets have come to beating the defending Eastern Conference champions. In two subsequent meetings, Boston has won by 20 and 16 points. The last game, a 125-109 decision here Jan. 8, was close until midway through the last quarter, when the Bullets were unable to respond to the Celtics' run.

The loss was Unseld's first as the Bullets' coach. Since then his team has gone 7-1, with three victories over another divisional rival, the Philadelphia 76ers. Monday night's 118-117 overtime victory was Washington's third victory over Philadelphia in five days.

"The first two games I thought we stunk but {Monday} we gave everything we had," said 76ers forward Charles Barkley, who had 37 points and 15 rebounds in the game, after guaranteeing a victory. "We played as hard as we could. If we keep playing like we did, we'll win more than we'll lose."

Of course the Bullets, just 1 1/2 games behind the 76ers for second place in the Atlantic, can say the same thing. Unlike their five previous home games, when their lowest margin of victory was 17 points, the Bullets had to scrap throughout Monday night's game, not sealing the victory until the last two seconds.

"Their whole team was fired up," said Bullets center Moses Malone, whose rebound and dunk provided the go-ahead basket with 24 seconds left in overtime. It's hard to beat a team three straight times and twice back to back."

The play began with Jeff Malone driving toward the basket from the right wing. Barkley blocked his leaning shot, but Moses Malone recovered amid a thicket of players. Not hesitating, he slammed the rebound in, eschewing the soft layins he generally uses when near the basket.

"There were people grabbing around," he said. "I didn't want anybody to get the ball. Besides, I might have gotten a three-point play out of it. When Jeff got the ball, I was looking for a rebound. When I saw it got tipped, I just went after it strong."

Neither Monday night's victory nor any of the other victories during his brief tenure have convinced Unseld that the Bullets have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. After Sunday's 131-99 success over the 76ers, he said the team's success "could all go out of the window tomorrow. This team is capable of losing five or six games in a row if it's not ready to play every night."

Although he undoubtedly is trying to keep the Bullets from getting carried away with themselves, there's good reason in this case. Despite their recent performance (Dallas was the only other NBA team with four straight wins entering play today), they remain five games under .500 and likely need at least a break-even record to make the playoffs.

In addition, the easiest part of their schedule is over. Thirteen of their next 17 games will be on the road, including an eight-game West Coast trip in February.

"I remember looking at the schedule once, and I didn't see any other team that had to go out for a seven-game trip, let alone eight like we've got," said assistant coach Bill Blair. "It's tough to go into a stretch like this, especially when we've started to play well."