The Washington Bullets are waiting for Frank Johnson's slightly sprained right ankle to heal before they say it for sure, but as soon as the veteran point guard is healthy, he will take Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues' place in the starting lineup.

Johnson did not practice with the Bullets yesterday at Bowie State, but jogged lightly on the sidelines and took part in a brief shoot-around. Bogues, meantime, continued to work with the first team.

Bogues, the Bullets' first-round pick in June's NBA draft, agreed with Coach Kevin Loughery and General Manager Bob Ferry that he has gone into a tailspin. Bogues said he has been struggling for the past several games, and that his last really solid performance was in the second half of the second game of the season, against Boston.

"It's me," Bogues said. "It's definitely me. I'm not playing the way I'm capable of playing. Something's missing. A lot of things are happening to me that have never happened in my life, and I'm at a stage in my life where I don't know what's right and what's wrong."

Said Loughery: "You can just see a hesitation in taking the shot, in making the play, a lot of hesitation. That's a tough position."

It's been frustrating enough, Bogues said, to make him cry. Literally.

"There have been times when I've gone home with tears in my eyes," he said. "The other night, sitting on the bench, tears almost came to my eyes again. . . . I'm just out there doing things, looking like a robot. My opponents haven't distracted me from doing my thing."

When Johnson returns, the Bullets' three-guard rotation probably will make Bogues odd man out for a while, meaning lots of bench time. Loughery didn't want to rule out using Bogues, but Ferry said it would be very difficult to distribute quality playing time among four guards.

"On teams in the past, we were more successful with a three-guard rotation than a four-guard rotation," Ferry said. "With Frank healthy, Darrell Walker and {Jeff} Malone, you've got a very solid three-guard rotation. . . Players generally perform better if they're in the 30-minute range. They get in the rhythm of the game. So whoever the three guards will be, they'll see most of the action."

Johnson said he doesn't care whether he starts or comes off the bench. "Just get me some numbers," he said. "A man in my position, who hasn't played in two, three years, you just want to play."

Bogues remains as baffled as anyone by his slump, which, he said, is the first he's ever had playing basketball. He said it's not the competition, the grind of the NBA, the frequent demands on his time or anything else he can put a finger on.

"My confidence has gone down a little," he said. "The stats even show it, and my performance shows it. I'm used to eight or nine assists, 10 or 12 points, NBA or no NBA. I still think I'm capable of those stats."

Despite his problems, Bogues will continue to play as long as Johnson's ankle bothers him. Loughery said he would wait until after practice Tuesday in Indiana before making a decision about who will start against the Pacers on Wednesday. Johnson said he would be healthy enough to practice by then.

"Now we have our people back," Loughery said of Johnson and forward Terry Catledge, who will be worked back into the lineup after missing several games with neck and back problems. "Hopefully, Frankie's all right."

Catledge won't be starting, in part, because Charles Jones, who blocked three shots Saturday in the Bullets' 124-102 win against the Detroit Pistons, has been effective defensively. Also, Loughery said he is going to keep his second unit, which is playing very well right now, in the game, anyway.