In an effort to emulate Wes Unseld, Rick Mahorn has earned a dubious distinction: he is second in the National Basketball Association in fouls committed with 303 in 67 games. Recently, his play drew comment from Darell Garretson, chief of the NBA's officiating staff.

"He's developing some reputation," Garretson told the Boston Globe. "His reputation precedes him by now . . . I've seen him play good, honest defense with four or five fouls. But he's heading for trouble . . . almost assured of causing some kind of problem down the line."

Reputations are easy to come by in the NBA and almost impossible to lose. Bob McAdoo always will be a sulker, World Free a gunner and Adrian Dantley selfish, although they have changed considerably from their younger days. Most reputations are made in the first or second year of a player's career, before he matures and develops a greater understanding of the game.

Mahorn is faced with the same problem. He became the Bullets' starting center when Unseld retired after last season, and Mahorn began his second season in the NBA determined not to let anybody push him around. In Unseld's eight seasons in Washington, he averaged 10 points a game only once, yet was held in high esteem because of his ability to rebound, set picks and play physically.

Mahorn admits he wanted to let opponents know they couldn't push him around, but denies he has gone out of his way to rough up anybody or acquire a reputation as an enforcer.

"I came from a small college (Hampton Institute) and probably nobody ever heard of me," the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder said. "People test you right away in this league and you can't let them shove you around."

Boston's Robert Parish was ejected from a game here Nov. 10 for taking a swing at Mahorn, and nine days later Mahorn was ejected for fighting with John Long in Detroit. There have been other confrontations since then, but no more fighting.

"I'm more relaxed now," Mahorn said yesterday while preparing for tonight's game with Detroit (WTOP-1500, 8:05) at Capital Centre. "I had to go through a rookie stage, trying to get the feel of the game, but I think I'm doing better now. They (the officials) are getting used to me."

Coach Gene Shue has talked to Mahorn about trying to reduce his fouling. However, the coach says he hasn't had any complaints from the officials about Mahorn's style of play and doesn't think the officials are singling him out.

"I'm not going to comment on what Garretson said," Shue said. "I don't want any controversy. I just want to get my team into the playoffs."

General Manager Bob Ferry said he wasn't going to call the league office because nothing has happened to affect Mahorn or the Bullets since the statement was made.

Garretson, reached at his home in Mesa, Ariz., said he was not in the habit of singling out players, but merely had been answering direct questions from a Boston writer.

"I can't say I've had any big, big problems with Rick," the official said. "I think he's a nice guy. He's probably just doing what his coach tells him.

"Rick has come on the scene with pretty much of a rush," Garretson continued. "He got very little playing time last year and now all of a sudden he's expected to fill Unseld's spot.

"It appears, from a referee's standpoint, he might have a misconception of what really goes on in the league--that instead of jumping for rebounds, you push. We don't pick on rookies, but we have to let them know how the game is played. Wes set some of the most brutal picks in the league, but not in a manner to harm anyone."

Garretson, 50, has officiated in more than 100 playoff games and usually can be found in the final games of a championship series. He's been in the NBA for 15 years and often will talk to and advise young players during a game.

"I talked to Rick just before the second half started one night in Chicago," Garretson recalled. "He had picked up three fouls early and sat most of the second quarter. I tried to talk to him like a father. I told him to take it easy, that he can't just knock people around, that he has to use a little finesse. Well, the first time down the floor, he almost took some player's head off."