LANDOVER -- Washington Bullets rookie guard Alex English is trying to make a name for himself.
The second-round draft choice from Virginia Union had seen so little action in the past few weeks, he did not even notice that the back of his new uniform shirt read "E-N-G-I-L-S-H."
But he spelled only trouble for the Miami Heat last night, saving 10 of his 12 points for the final quarter as the Bullets rallied for a 105-101 victory before a Capital Centre crowd of 6,101.
Watching English perform his high-wire act is like a walk on the wild side. Bullets coach Wes Unseld considered yanking him several times in the last quarter as the slender rookie played matador defense, only to watch him burn his defender at the opposite end of the floor.
"My mind kept changing from yanking or leaving him out there," said Unseld, "but every time I'd get somebody up ready to go in, A.J. would do something good."
English said: "Out of the corner of my eye, I kept seeing [guard] Haywoode Workman getting up to come in for me. But then I'd score a hoop or grab a rebound and make him sit down again. It was just my night."
Harvey Grant's two foul shots pulled Washington into a 98-98 tie with two minutes left, English converted a pass from Bernard King into a floating layup. He added two free throws, and King and Darrell Walker completed the Bullets' 8-0 run for a 104-98 cushion with 18 seconds remaining.
Grant Long ended Miami's four-minute scoring famine (0-for-8) by swishing a three-point shot with 13 seconds left. But Pervis Ellison, who grabbed six rebounds in the last quarter, finally iced it by making the second of two free throws.
For close to 46 minutes, the Bullets flirted with a fourth straight loss, but Unseld finally found some bench help.
"We got a lift down the stretch from English and Ellison [13 points, 12 rebounds]," Unseld said. "If we had got that same kind of help from our reserves, we wouldn't have lost to Dallas and Indiana."
English has had a typical rookie season, filled with highs and lows. He started off impressively, averaging in double figures his first four games and displayed even greater potential with his 30-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 11.
But when Ledell Eackles ended his contract holdout, Unseld decided to play the veteran guard extensively in an effort to get him into playing condition.
English was on the bench as the fourth guard, and emerged only this week against the Detroit Pistons after Eackles became mired in a prolonged shooting slump.
Last night, the combination of Eackles' ineffectiveness and Workman's early foul trouble forced Unseld to turn to English, who made good use of his time.
"When I wasn't getting any time in the last few weeks," English said, "coach Unseld pulled me aside and told me to be patient. He said I should use the time on the bench to learn about the pro game, and that's what I've been trying to do."
For the first three quarters last night, English also watched as King (26 points), Grant (24 points), and Walker (15 points, 14 rebounds) carried the Bullets sporadic offense.
Only after Ellison began to assert himself on the boards and English started going to the basket did the Bullets turn the game in their favor.
If nothing else, English did enough to get his name spelled correctly in time for tomorrow night's road game against the New York Knicks.