Kevin Porter races downcourt,dribbling the basketball while running full speed. Teammate Mitch Kupchak streaks down the right side, giving the Bullets a two-on-one fast break.When Porter reaches the foul line, the Capital Centre crowd starts cheering in anticipation of a K.P. stutter step, or a leaping, twisting pass.

Not this time.

Porter makes a simple bounce pass and Kupchak dunks the ball. Porter gets a zero on flair, but a 10 on effectiveness.

Porter still comes with the fancy stuff now and then, but he's more selective.

That's the new Porter. He has mellowed, toned down his flamboyance and grasped Coach Gene Shue's offense perhaps better than anyone.

Porter isn't a starter, having lost his job to rookie Wes Matthews a month ago, but as a reserve Porter probably has become more valuable to the Bullets than at any other time since he returned to the team.

He knows his role, he is comfortable with it and has become both a rah-rah leader and a quiet leader.

He has come to grips with what he can do and can't do on the floor and has made the most of it.

"I've slowed a step and tried to make up for it by playing smarter," Porter said. "I can still turn on the speed when I need it, though."

Porter has been outstanding the last two games. He had 10 points, 12 assists and four steals in 27 minutes in a victory over Atlanta two games ago, and 10 points, 10 assists and two steals in 29 minutes in the loss to Golden State Tuesday night. He had only three turnovers in the two games.

Porter still will be on the bench when the Bullets play the San Diego Clippers at 8 o'clock tonight at Capital Centre, but both Porter and Shue know it probably won't be long before Porter is in the game. They're on the same wavelength.

"What Wes (Matthews) does dictates when K.P. goes in," Shue said. "Wes has still been wild at times and as soon as he starts turning the ball over, I go to K.P. That could be two minutes into the game or 10 minutes into it."

According to the latest National Basketball Association statistics, Matthews turns the ball over more often than anyone -- once every 7.8 minutes he is on the floor.

"Kevin is steady and he still runs the break well," Shue added. "He seems to be getting the ball to the right people and that's what we want."

It was Porter who first suggested to Shue that Matthews start, and Shue agreed.

Some people criticized Porter for that move, saying most players wouldn't give up their starting job.

That's part of the new Porter.

"I can sit on the bench, see what's going on and then go in and try and get something going," Porter said. "I adjusted to coming off the bench last year and I like the role I have now.

"When you change coaches and systems as much as I have, it's tough on you, but I picked Gene's system up faster than I did most of the others. This is an offense I like. It's a running game and there are plays for everyone on the floor. I even have a play. With Coach Motta's system, the offense was designed for certain people and that was it."

Where he once felt he was competing with Matthews, Porter accepts that they are different kinds of players and the Bullets can use -- and need -- both.

"I'm not a great offense player like Wes," Porter said. "His jumper is starting to fall now and I've never seen a guy 6-foot-1 go to the hoop like he does. His presence has added something to our club. But I'm not Wes Matthews. We do different things."

Atlanta Coach Hubie Brown, not always a Kevin Porter fan, has high praise for Porter now.

"Matthews does all the fancy stuff, but he doesn't get much for it," Brown said. "Look at the stats. Porter is the one who is getting the job done."

"There are only so many things a 5-10 player like myself can do," Porter said. My role is to come in when Wes is erratic and settle the team down and give him a chance to sit and settle himself down. (Former Bullet Coach) K. C. (Jones) did that with me and Jimmy Jones when I was younger and it helped. I never thought then I'd be doing the same thing for someone else."