In what has become something of a running gag, some people who have followed the travails of the Washington Bullets all season are fond of saying a number of the team's games will be remembered later on, when playoff berths are determined.

There have been at least four close games the Bullets lost because of mental or physical mistakes. But Saturday's 105-103 loss to the Atlanta Hawks may indeed wind up on the top of the list when the "what-might-have-beens" are discussed. The difference against the Hawks was that the Bullets played nearly flawlessly but fell short after what had to be regarded as questionable officiating in the waning minutes.

"It's over and we just have to go on to the next one," said Coach Wes Unseld yesterday. "What good does it do to sit and worry about {Saturday} when we've got another game to play right away?"

That would be today's President's Day game against the Milwaukee Bucks -- yet another conference playoff contender -- at Capital Centre at 1 o'clock.

Despite his initial reaction, Unseld realizes that the loss to the Hawks won't be easy to forget. Indeed, the Bullets lost a 10-point lead built in the early minutes of the final quarter, but that was due more to the brilliance of all-star forward Dominique Wilkins (20 of 39 shots for 45 points).

Even with Wilkins and guard Glenn Rivers (24 points, 15 assists, six rebounds and five steals) going crazy, Washington still seemed poised to give Atlanta just its third loss this season at the Omni. That is, until reserve center Charles Jones was called for an offensive foul that took away one basket and Bernard King was cited for a similar call with 21 seconds left that deprived the Bullets of an opportunity for the victory.

Although it may sound strange, the loss could have some long-term positive results for Washington, which battled what had been a far superior team on even terms on the Hawks' home floor.

"It seems like we've been doing that a lot lately, playing well enough to lose at the end," Unseld said. "But the game might be a good sign; we played very well, we just had an extraordinary amount of bad breaks go against us down the stretch."

Unseld is considered the calm and collected half of the Bullets' coaching duo, in comparison with his assistant Bill Blair. Blair missed the Hawks' game because of flu. Typically, he had a strong reaction watching the controversial finish on TV.

"I thought I was getting better but then I thought I'd have a double heart attack," he said. "Every game it seems like there's something that goes against us in the end and that's not right.

"We're playing hard but we're just not getting the wins. If we keep it up though, I bet we'll get our share of them."

One could expect today's game to be another nailbiter. Like the Hawks, Milwaukee has a decided height advantage over the Bullets, with a front line of 7-foot-3 center Randy Breuer, 7-0 Jack Sikma and 6-9 Terry Cummings. Once an automatic first-place finisher in the Central Division, the Bucks have fallen to fifth, at 23-22.

Even so, that's good enough for second in the weaker Atlantic Division and despite their conference standing, Milwaukee is still five games ahead of the Bullets.

"They've got that big, really good lineup," said Unseld, "And with Sidney Moncrief healthy and Ricky Pierce back {after a lengthy, season-opening contract dispute} they're getting better."