BALTIMORE, FEB. 17 -- A.J. English recorded two noteworthy career highs today. The rookie point guard from Virginia Union scored 31 points and played all 48 minutes as the Washington Bullets ended a three-game nose dive by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 108-104.
English, making his seventh straight start with Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman hurt, also dealt 10 assists and committed only two turnovers guiding a Washington offense that got 25 points on fast breaks. For a further contribution, English took two early charges by Darnell Valentine that left the Cleveland guard frustrated -- he totaled four points.
"He took control out there," said Washington Coach Wes Unseld. "He's struggled against some teams and he's played well against others, but today I thought he was exceptional. He might start a few more."
Cleveland, which had won three straight, played Bernard King tough, John "Hot Rod" Williams in particular making King work hard for his 25-point production. But the Cavaliers could not handle the Bullets' guards -- English and Ledell Eackles, who made some key baskets late and ended with 20 points.
"When you play the Washington Bullets, you concern yourself with Bernard King," said Cleveland swingman Craig Ehlo. "Sometimes you overlook the other guys, and today English had a good day. He got out fast and kept it going. I'd never seen him shoot that well."
The Cavaliers came here hoping to close ground in the struggle for the eighth and last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they fell 3 1/2 games behind the Bullets, presently No. 9.
"I've got no answers," Coach Lenny Wilkens said. "We were just . . . one step behind the whole game. . . . out of sync. But give English credit, he had an outstanding game."
English maintained equilibrium in the face of so much praise and said: "I'm getting confidence. I'm not a natural point guard, but I'm having fun learning. As a rookie, they don't expect a lot and that takes pressure off you. But it is a learning experience and while I'm doing all right so far, I have a long way to go.
"It wasn't that I was looking for shots today. They were falling, so the guys were looking for me."
Of his career high, he joked: "I have a long career ahead of me."
Of his full-game assignment, he said: "It doesn't bother me right now, because I'm young. Down the road, that might bother me though."
Neither team played a lot of defense the first three periods, as Washington sank 61.3 percent of its shots and Cleveland 52.9. The fourth quarter was something else: the Bullets four of 15, the Cavaliers seven of 24.
Washington pulled ahead late in the first half, English making five baskets to help build a 10-point margin after the teams had been tied 16 times in the first 19 minutes.
The Cavaliers never could knot it again, but with big men Larry Nance scoring 27 points and Brad Daugherty 22 they frequently made a run to within two or three points.
Two baskets by Eackles withstood one such surge and gave the Bullets a 105-98 edge with 2:01 left. Then two free throws by Daugherty and Pervis Ellison's goaltending on Williams's layup closed the gap to three.
In the stretch, the Bullets gave Cleveland repeated chances, but Daugherty missed two layups, Williams took a wild shot off the glass and Ehlo and Steve Kerr missed three-point tries. With 4.1 seconds left, King was fouled by Nance and made both shots to assure the victory. Washington made 13 of 16 free throws in the last quarter.
Unseld used only eight players, as Tom Hammonds caught flu and Mark Alarie has tendinitis in a knee.
One sub who made an important fourth-quarter contribution was Charles Jones, who blocked shots by Williams and Daugherty when Cleveland was closing in.
"This was a big win for us," Jones said. "To finally come back home and get a victory was real important. A.J. gave us a tremendous lift."