Saying "it's just time to quit," Wes Unseld, center, captain and team leader of the Washington Bullets, announced last night that he will retire at the end of this season.

"I'm retiring basically because of the way my legs are acting, especially the good one," said Unseld, the mainstay of the Bullets for the last 13 seasons. "I don't know if I'd be able to play next season even if I wanted to. There are other things I want to do, anyway. It's just time for me to stop playing basketball."

Unseld said he informed owner Abe Pollin of his decision two weeks ago.

"I explained my reasons to him and he understood," Unseld said. "I told him it was up to him to announce it whenever he thought the time was right."

The Bullets are expected to formally announce the retirement at a press conference Wednesday.

Pollin was unavailable for comment last night but sources said he held off on the announcement because he didn't want anything to affect the club's drive to the playoffs.

Unseld, who turned 35 last Saturday, has been bothered much of this season by arthritic knees and has already missed 14 games. The only other time during his career he missed that many games was during the 1973-74 season, when he had major surgery on his left knee and was told by some doctors that he would never play again. He played in all 82 games last season.

Unseld was unable to practice yesterday because of a painful right knee, but he will try to play tonight against the Boston Celtics at Capital Centre at 8:05.

"When I started having trouble with my leg during Christmastime is when I started thinking about quitting," Unseld said, "especially when I wasn't playing. There's something about getting paid and not playing that bothers me.

"I'm going to miss it and I know I'll have some sort of withdrawal because I've been a part of basketball for so long, but I've been working hard at getting myself ready for the time when I could retire. I'm looking forward to it."

Unseld survived in the NBA because of his strength, his court sense, his leadership -- and his incredible outlet passes. He has always been listed at 6-foot-7, but says he is really only 6-5 1/2. He said he was afraid to tell the Bullets his true height when he was at Louisville because he thought they wouldn't draft him if they knew.

The Bullets made Unseld the first pick in the 1968 draft. That season, he was named rookie of the year and most valuable player, becoming only the second player in league history to with both honors simultaneously. Wilt Chamberlain was the other.

The Bullets had never had a winning season before Unseld's rookie season, but they have made the playoffs every year he has been with them and had a winning record of 10 of those seasons. He also played a major role in their NBA championship season in 1977-78 and led the team to the finals three other times.

Unseld is the all-time Bullet leader in games played, minutes played, rebounds and assists and is second in points scored and blocked shots.

The Bullets would love to keep Unseld's playoff streak alive, but they will need a near-miracle finish to do so. The Celtics are battling the Philadelphia 76ers for the best record in the National Basketball Association. The 76ers (58-17) lead the Celtics (57-17) by one-half game and they have two head-to-head meetings left.

The Bullets' playoff hopes were severely damaged by their 101-100 defeat to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday afternoon at Capital Centre. It was their third straight defeat and dropped them three games behind the Chicago Bulls in the race for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls (38-37) have seven games remaining, four at home. The Bullets (35-40) also have seven games left, five at home. The Bulls won the season series between the two, 5-1; if they finish in a tie, the Bulls will go to the playoffs. Thus, Chicago's magic number -- Chicago victories or Bullet losses -- is four.

Coach Gene Shue, who has seen his team come out flat in each of the last three games with the entire season on the line, conceded, "We're probably out of it now. Even though we really don't have much of a chance at this point, I'll continue to try and get the most I can out of this team, even if that means using different combinations of players."

If Unseld cannot play tonight, Shue will probably start rookie Rick Mahorn at center because of Boston's big front line of Robert Parish, Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell. In some of the games Unseld has missed, Shue has started Elvin Hayes at center and used two small forwards.

Before tonight's game, a team of Bullet alumni, featuring Gus Johnson, Walt Bellamy, Fred Carter, Mike Riordan, Fred Carter, Jim (Bad News) Barnes, Bailey Howell, Bob Ferry, Shue, Kevin Loughery, Jack Marin, Paul Hoffman and Stan McKenzie will challenge a team of media stars.