Rick Mahorn, who says, "I can already feel the pressure starting," will be the Bullets starting center next season, according to Coach Gene Shue.

Wes Unseld, who retired Sunday after 13 seasons as the starting Bullet center, believes Mahorn, a 6-foot-10-rookie from Hampton Institute, can do the job. Shue became convinced of it over the last five games of the season.

The Bullets ended their season on a high with a 138-103 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday at Capital Centre. Mahorn scored a career high 28 points and had 16 rebounds and a blocked shot. He improved in each game he played the last two weeks of the season.

"The last five games, Rick had a chance to play and he handled himself beautifully," Shue said. "And let's face it. For the Bullets to succeed, we need to find a replacement for Wes Unseld. Rick Mahorn appears to be it.

"But we can't expect him to do the same things Wes did because they're different kinds of players. Next year we'll try to develop into a scrappy, hustling team. Rick has to develop into the type of center who runs the court and gets back on defense."

Mahorn said one of the biggest things he has going for him is that Unseld will work with him this summer.

"I'll try to learn everything I can from him because he's a willing teacher and it's a great honor to have him want to help me. I don't mind being his protege."

Although the Bullets failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, they finished with a 39-43 record, the same as a year ago. Kevin Porter also won his fourth NBA assist title.

"Of course, the assist title means something to me because it proves that what I do best is still effective," Porter said. "I would have liked to have made it to the playoffs because that's why we're out there, but it just wasn't to be this season.

"We tried to accomplish some things this year. We hung on as long as we could, but we just didn't have the strength down the stretch. Maybe next year will be different."

Shue has already decided that the Bullets will be a wide-open, fast-breaking team next season, using the open-court skills of players like Porter and Don Collins.

"Running has to be the style if you want to succeed," he said. "We'll really work on our delayed break, and once we refine it we should do all right offensively."

The Bullets started running at midseason what they call a delayed break. It used the penetrating ability of Porter and the outside shooting of Greg Ballard and Kevin Grevey.

"The way teams play defense in this league now, if you set up on offense, they'll kill you," said Shue. "By running a secondary break, it prevents a team from trapping you and prevents them from playing a zone.

"If we don't have a clear fast break, we go into a system that gets us a shot before the defense sets up. It has a lot of options to it that we never got to this year. We'll work on it this summer and in training camp and I expect us to run it better. And even though K. P. led the league in assists, I expect him to do even better next season."

Shue also said he would rather not comment on who would be back next season, or what steps the Bullets will take in the draft and the free-agent market.

Unseld was honored at a luncheon and reception at the Capitol yesterday hosted by Sen. Walter D. Huddleston (D-Ken.). Unseld said he would take a week off and report to work next week as vice president of the Bullets and of Capital Centre, a position created for him by Abe Pollin, owner of the Bullets, when Unseld announced his retirement two weeks ago.