It was his first regular-season NBA game since April 1981. It was his first basketball game in almost as long.

Kevin Porter entered to a standing ovation and the first time he touched the ball drove the middle and bounced a sideways pass to Don Collins, who made a short jump shot.

Assist Porter.

The next time he handled the ball, Porter drove the base line, twirled, went in the air and passed through traffic to Rick Mahorn, who made a short jumper.

Assist Porter.

Then it was a fast break with Porter in the middle. He took something off the pass to Collins so he could catch it easily in stride.

Assist Porter.

Now the Bullets were coming down on a two-on-one break and Porter got the defender back on his heels expecting a pass and Porter then took the ball all the way in himself.

Then came the set offense and Porter, calling a play, controlled the ball. Just as Greg Ballard came off a pick, the pass was there.

Assist Porter.

And finally, Collins slapped the ball away from World B. Free to Porter, who threw a soft pass three-quarters of the length of the floor to Collins for an easy basket.

Assist Porter.

It was some return to the Washington Bullets for Porter Tuesday night at Capital Centre as the Bullets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 77-74. He played the last two minutes of the third quarter and all but the final 17 seconds of the fourth and he performed as if the Bullets were his team to lead. He didn't commit a turnover and he ran when the break was there and slowed the ball down when the situation called for it. He told players where to go and he was in charge. He also scored two points and had six assists.

"I wasn't surprised at Kevin's performance," Coach Gene Shue said. "He's a good player. He knows the offense and he knows what to do. He's been away a while, but it didn't seem to matter. He's going to get better, too."

Said Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff: "One of the things Kevin has always done is get the ball to the shooters where they want it. Some guys make great passes, but the guy they're passing to can't do anything with the ball once he gets it."

Porter tore his Achilles' tendon in training camp prior to the start of last season and sat out the entire year. He came back healthy this year, but was cut the day before the regular season started.

The Bullets re-signed him Monday after Frank Johnson sustained a chip fracture of his right (shooting) elbow. Johnson is expected to be sidelined three to four weeks, so he was put on the injured list, making it possible for Porter to be brought back.

Not even Porter, a four-time NBA assist champion, dreamed his return would be as spectacular as it was.

"I was fortunate," said Porter. "I just went out and did what Gene told me to do. I know the offense and I know the players and I felt comfortable."

It showed. But how can a 32-year-old basketball player miss a whole season and part of another and then step right in and play like he was never away?

"I don't know," Porter said. "I ran three or four miles a day five days a week, but I didn't play any basketball. Sometimes it's good not to pick up a ball for a while anyway. I picked that up from Elvin Hayes, who never touches a ball in the offseason. I just felt if I kept up my conditioning, everything else would be fine.

He also pedaled a stationary bicycle to keep in shape.

Even though he played 13 straight minutes in his first game, Porter said he did "not feel winded at all, mainly because we were playing pattern ball most of the time and it just wasn't that tiring.

"I'm not a shooter, so I couldn't lose my shooting eye. I got that first assist right away and it was like a shooter making his first shot. I had a lot of confidence and everything else just fell into place."

Porter said when he wasn't spending more time with his family or working out, he was waiting for the phone to ring.

Shue is in a dilemma of sorts now. Rookie Bryan Warrick will start again tonight when the Bullets play the New Jersey Nets at the Meadowlands (WDCA-TV-20 at 8:10), but who will be the first off the bench, Porter or John Lucas, is uncertain. Shue said he will let the "flow of the game" determine which one he goes to, but he made it known Tuesday night that Porter is the one he feels the most comfortable with.