He has tendonitis bruised ribs and his knees ache chronically. He doesn't shoot too well and he is slow. His teammates get most of the credit while he does most of the less glamorous dirty work.

Yet, Wes Unseld, according to coach Dick Motta, is the key to the Bullets.

"Day in and day out, Wes is as consistent a player as there is," Motta said. "The only thing I worry about with him is that he might get hurt. We would miss him a lot more than people thing.

"He is a steadying influenced out here," Moadded. "He is so damn unselfish. I know he is really proud. He's had his glory. He was the Most Valuable Palyer and the rookie of the year in his first year in the league. Now he is totally involved with the team. He knows how the other players think and how to play with and get along with all of them.

"He's not the dominant force he once was, but there is no one I would rather have for that spot than him."

The 6-foot-7 Unseld, shortest center National Basketball Association, downplays his role and says he is just doing his job. But there is more to it than that.

The Bullets play the Milwaukee Bucks tonight at Capital Centre at 8:05 and as usual Unseld will be called on to rebound, pass, set picks and disrupt the opposition's offense.

Unseld also can score - if he has to - and Motta says it is strictly up to Unseld when he wants to shoot. "If the defense is playing off him, he has to take the shot."

Motta has also put in an option for some of the Bullet plays that calls for Unseld to take a short hook shot. It's no sky hook, mind you, but Unseld knocks it in with some regularly.

Unseld is averaging 7.8 points a game, but only Elvin Hayes has played more minutes, only Hayes has more rebounds and only Tom Henderson has more assists.

"He probably gets as much pleasure from an outlet pass as he does from a basket," Motta said. "His personality is perfect for the role he has to play here. If I were a player, i'd like to be like him - unselfish, set picks, throw outlet passes, find the open man . . ."

Where Unseld's value is less noticeable to the fan; but most noticeable to those playing the game, is on defense.

He isn't a shot-blocker or intimidator, but Unseld does a workmanlike job on the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier.

By sagging into the middle on defense, Unseld is capable of disrupting opponents' offense.

Most offenses depend a great deal on players cutting through the middle. Unseld, virtually eliminates such cuts. The fear of baning into his 245-pound body causes many players to think twice.

"He's got a mystique," Motta said of Unseld. "You know, wherever he goes there is great respect for him. He is a fine human being and that is about as fine a compliment as you can pay a person."

The Bullets are 10 games above .500, in first place in the Central Division and playing their best basketball of the season. But Motta is still concerned with the lowly Bucks.

Only the New York Nets have won fewer games than Milwaukee this season, "but they (the Bucks) can still beat, you," Motta said. "I just hope we don't go to sleep on them."

The Buck's big guns are forward Bob Dandridge and guard Briab Winters. Center Swen Nater also has been playing well. Dave Meyers and rookie Quinn Buckner are the other starters. The sixth man is high-scoring swingman Junior Bridgeman.

The Bullets will go right back into action Sunday afternoon wiith a 1:45 game at Capital Centre against the Buffalo Braves.