John Lucas raced up the left side of the court, dribbling the ball. He saw a small opening to the basket, switched the dribble from his left hand to his right, slithered through the opening and banked in a twisting, double-clutching layup.

"Luke! Luke!" shouted Bullet teammate Carlos Terry.

Much of the rest of Lucas' first practice with the Bullets was a showcase for the former Maryland all-America's ball handling talents as he looked right at home leading fast breaks, penetrating, hitting the open man and controlling the basketball.

"He looked real good for his first time out," said Coach Gene Shue, pleased. "He's really going to help us. The experience and confidence he brings will be invaluable."

Lucas, a free agent, was acquired from Golden State Monday for second-round draft choices in 1982 and 1984. Lucas had presented the Warriors with a five-year, $1.5-million offer sheet from the Utah Jazz, and under the National Basketball Association's right of first refusal rule, the Warriors exercised one of their options by meeting the Jazz offer and then trading Lucas to the Bullets.

Lucas formally signed his Bullet contract after yesterday's morning practice at Fort Meade and then joined the team for the afternoon drills.

"I felt good," Lucas said after the two-hour workout. "I got two basic plays down, and I'll have a crash course the next few days."

It was difficult for Lucas to temper his enthusiasm at what he calls "coming home." In fact, he didn't even try. "I haven't felt this good in a long time," he said. "Life is fun again.

"It's a playmaker's paradise here. Two years in a row Kevin Porter beat me out for the assist title, and he did it because he was here. Now I'll have that advantage over the rest of the league."

Ironically, it was Porter's torn Achilles' tendon 11 days ago that made Lucas so attractive to the Bullets.

When Porter went down, that left rookie Frank Johnson as the leading candidate for the starting playmaking guard spot.

Now, Shue said, "Frank can be brought along a little slower, like we planned when we drafted him. I expect John to be the starter, and as soon as he learns the offense and the defenses, he'll assume that role.

"We still want both of our guards to do more than just one thing, though, and both John and Frank are capable of that. Frank is starting to play more like I want him to now," Shue added. "I want him to look to score more, but before he was just looking to pass.

"Because of John's experience, I know we're going to be looking to him to handle the ball most of the time, but I want him to do more than that. I want to utilize him as a shooter, too."

The Bullets, who have lost two of three exhibition games, will face the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight in Salisbury, Md.

Shue said Lucas would play, but not very much.

"I know how Lucas plays in games," Shue said. "I'd rather see the other players executing, and I need to get Frank as much playing time as I can."

Shue said he was still undecided on his starting lineup for the regular season opener at Boston Oct. 30, but said Johnson and Brad Holland would start at guards tonight against the Cavaliers, along with center Rick Mahorn and forwards Greg Ballard and Charles Davis.