Kevin Porter said he didn't even expect to play last night. But with the Washington Bullets struggling, Coach Gene Shue turned to Porter who, playing his first game in two seasons, sparked the Bullets to a difficult 77-74 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Capital Centre.

A three-point play by Greg Ballard with 17 seconds remaining provided the margin of victory. Ballard finished with a season-high 28 points.

Porter, playing the last two minutes of the third quarter and all but the final few seconds of the fourth, had six assists and two points and didn't commit a turnover in helping the Bullets (14-11) win their fourth straight and 11th in their last 14 games.

The Cavaliers (3-22) have the worst record in the National Basketball Association, but gave the Bullets trouble the entire game.

The 77 points were the fewest the Bullets had scored this season and Cleveland's 74 were an all-time low for a Bullets opponent.

"A slow-tempo game is usually our style," said Shue, "but against some teams we want to speed up the game and this was one of those times. Cleveland got us to play its tempo and that's what got us into toruble.

"We went to K.P. to increase the tempo and he did just that. He played very, very well, for his first game. He pushed the ball up the court quickly and he made some excellent passes.

"I had planned all along to let the flow of the game determine how I would use him tonight," Shue said. "We wanted to hurry the ball up the floor, but in a controlled way, and Kevin did it."

Said Porter: "Gene told me to be prepared to play if things weren't going well, but after I didn't play in the first half I didn't think I'd play at all. When I went in, I just did what he told me to do and I felt fine."

Until last night, Frank Johnson had started every game this season, but he was put on the injured list Monday with a chipped bone in his right elbow, suffered when he ran into Philadelphia's Moses Malone in Saturday's game.

Porter, who missed all of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon and was cut this year the day before the season started, was signed to take Johnson's place on the roster.

Rookie Bryan Warrick started last night and when he needed rest in the first half, Shue sent in John Lucas.

When the game was at stake, though, Shue called on Porter.

Porter entered, to a standing ovation from the crowd of 5,791, with 1:53 left in the third period and the score tied at 52.

The first time Porter had the ball, he fed Don Collins for a layup. And after Sam Lacey scored for Cleveland, Porter assisted on a basket by Rick Mahorn and the Bullets had a 56-54 lead going into the fourth period.

The Bullets outscored the Cavaliers, 9-4, in the first four minutes of the quarter, to take a 65-58 lead. Porter had two points and three assists in that rally.

World B. Free, playing in only his second game as a Cavalier since being traded from Golden State for Ron Brewer, almost pulled it out for the visitors.

He got nine points in the next four minutes, as the Cavaliers outscored the Bullets, 13-4, to take a 71-69 lead.

Ballard made two base line jumpers and Mahorn a free throw to put the Bullets back on top, 74-71, with with 2:02 remaining. But Free made a free throw and, after an offensive-goaltending call against Jeff Ruland, an exchange of turnovers and an exchange of missed shots, Geoff Huston was fouled by Ballard with 29 seconds to play. He made two free throws to tie the score at 74.

The Bullets then called a timeout to set up the last play.

"Greg ran the play perfectly," said Shue. "It was a variation of a play we had run the whole game, but usually we send Greg all the way through the lane to the other side. This time he started through and then reversed, which put (Scott) Wedman on the wrong side and Greg just laid the ball in."

Wedman also fouled Ballard and Ballard made the free throw as well to account for the margin of victory.

Wedman, who led the Cavaliers with 19 points, missed a desperation three-point shot with five seconds left.