Bullets Coach Gene Shue says he gets a good feeling at the start of every game knowing that his most dominant player, Jeff Ruland, is still sitting next to him on the bench.

That may change soon.

With the Bullets on the verge of getting blown out in the first five minutes last night, Shue called on Ruland earlier than usual. Ruland, a 6-foot-11 second-year player, responded by turning the game around and powering the Bullets to a 104-85 home-opening victory over the New Jersey Nets before 14,872 at Capital Centre.

Both teams are 2-2.

Ruland, in 33 minutes, scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals. He is averaging 19.8 points after four games and Shue said the temptation to start Ruland is greater than ever before.

"Starting Jeff is something I'll have to really think hard about, now," said Shue. "I'm just not sure if that's the right thing to do because he really picks us up when he comes in."

Ruland plays center and power forward. If he is to start, it will most likely be at center for Rick Mahorn, who has been struggling offensively so far, averaging only 7.5 points a game after his six-point effort last night.

Ruland, however, said he is content to be a substitute.

"I just play well that way," he said. "That's fine with me. Everyone has a role on this team and that's mine."

The Bullets were down, 16-6, in the first six minutes when the call went out to Ruland. He scored eight points the rest of the quarter and the Bullets were down by only four and went on to outscore the Nets, 28-17, in the second period and take control of the game. They outscored the Nets, 14-0, in one stretch of the quarter.

"Ruland's strength is his inside game," said Shue, "and when he comes in it gives us a dimension we don't really have with our starting group."

Frank Johnson had another outstanding game with 24 points and a career-high 14 assists. He also had three steals and five rebounds.

"It was very important for us to win our first game at home because of all of the away games we have early," said Johnson.

The Bullets go back on the road Friday to play the Boston Celtics.

Albert King, Buck Williams and Darryl Dawkins each had 18 points for the Nets, who committed 34 turnovers.

The Bullets shot only 44 percent, the same as New Jersey, but they got off 20 more shots, due mainly to the high number of Nets turnovers. The Bullets turned the ball over 18 times.

Rookie Bryan Warrick got his first start last night and it wasn't a memorable one. He fouled out after playing only 14 minutes, missed all four of his shots and had two turnovers.

Don Collins had started the first three games, but was ineffective, having scored only eight points in 25 minutes.

Billy Ray Bates went in before Collins last night, but he, like Warrick, was ineffective. So Shue finally called on Collins and he responded with his best game of the season. He played 27 minutes and scored 13 points and had two steals.

"I felt a lot better tonight than I had in the other games," said Collins. "I didn't make all of those stupid fouls, either. Tonight I controlled my temper and kept my mouth shut. I just went out and played. I was disappointed I didn't start, but all I could do was make sure I produced when I did get in."

John Lucas played for the first time this season and had five assists in seven minutes. He didn't score.

Former Georgetown star Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, scored his first NBA points, making two of seven from the field and four of five from the foul line. He had played in only one of New Jersey's first three games.