John Lucas took a big step out of Coach Gene Shue's doghouse tonight, directing one of the Bullets' best offensive efforts of the season in a reserve role.

With Lucas controlling the tempo, the Bullets broke open a close game and scored their last 27 points from underneath, pulling away to a 121-114 victory over Detroit before 4,186 in the Silverdome.

Lucas teamed frequently with Jeff Ruland, who once again was a dominant force down the stretch, scoring 13 of his 24 points in the final eight minutes.

"Jeff really is developing into a great player," said Lucas, who had nine points and eight assists. "He's starting to become a dominant force for us. I know if I get him the ball down low he's going to score.

"I just hope I can get out of the coach's doghouse," Lucas said. "I finally got a chance to play some tonight and I hope he liked what I did."

Lucas lost his starting job eight days ago when he failed to show up for a game in Philadelphia. He also missed practice Monday and has been used sparingly in recent games.

Frank Johnson took over as point guard, but the rookie from Wake Forest got in foul trouble against the Pistons and played only 18 minutes.

"That's the best John has played in a while," Shue said of Lucas' poise and control in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons made several bids to overtake the Bullets.

"Our offense was terrific and John did a good job of getting the ball to the right people," the coach continued. "He also did a good job defensively on Isiah (Thomas). He was doing that little jab step, but Luke didn't go for it."

Thomas made six of nine shots for 12 points in the first half, but scored just six after intermission. The rookie from Indiana made a three-point play to bring the Pistons to within 94-87, then was held scoreless the rest of the way.

"I was going to make him hit the jumper," Lucas said, grinning. "He called me an old man at halftime. Heck, I'm only 28. I guess I got a little fired up. You don't like to see these young kids come in and get all the attention."

Greg Ballard also had 24 points for the Bullets, making all 10 free throws and seven of 16 shots. Kevin Grevey led the Bullets in the first quarter, scoring 14 of his 22 points in the first eight minutes.

Kelly Tripucka and John Long kept the Pistons in contention. Tripucka consistently got inside for layups and offensive rebounds and finished with a game-high 33 points. Long shook free for several medium-range jumpers and finished with 32. 94-91 with 8:31 to play.

Shue called time to stress the inside power game, and Ruland then went to work. In the next 3:26, the Bullets outscored Detroit, 15-6; four of their six field goals came on offensive rebounds.

Ruland scored seven points in that stretch and Don Collins four, both after sneaking inside for rebounds.

The Pistons, losers of four of their last five, made one more bid, cutting the Bullets' advantage to 115-110 with about two minutes left. Then Lucas picked up a loose ball and drove in for a layup. After Tripucka scored, Lucas got the ball inside to Ruland, who rolled to the basket and scored to ensure the Bullets' 10th road victory in 19 games.