Trainer John Lally calls them the world's only interracial sumo wrestling team. Opponents call them the Beef Brothers.

Whatever names they answer to, Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland are the solid-rock foundation of the Washington Bullets.

Mahorn has been likened to the man he replaced, Wes Unseld, a comparison from which he shies.

"Wes is Wes and I'm Rick Mahorn," said Mahorn. "I can't do some of the things he did, but I do some other things he didn't do, too, like look for my shot more."

Ruland comes off the bench to pick up the team, much like Mitch Kupchak did, only Ruland has proved to be more durable.

Mahorn, 24, is 6 feet 10, 235 pounds; Ruland, 23, is 6-11, 240. Mahorn averaged 12.2 points and 8.8 rebounds in 80 games last season and Ruland 14.4 points and 9.3 rebounds. Ruland played the full schedule and was named to the National Basketball Association all-rookie team.

They do it with muscle. Mahorn sets picks like Unseld did and Ruland sends defenders sprawling when they try to stop him inside.

Mahorn was fined a total of $1,500 for elbowing and fighting last season, proving it's expensive to have a reputation for being rough and tough.

"On the court, I'm not responsible for me," he said once after a couple of opponents were staggered by his stonewall picks.

"I know I have the reputation for being an enforcer, but all I'm doing is my job," he said after practice one day last week. "I like contact. I'm taking my share of hits when I set those picks, too, you know."

Mahorn and Ruland are interchangeable on the court, each capable of playing center or power forward. Off the court, they are close friends. They are two reasons why General Manager Bob Ferry says he has never seen a team that enjoyed togetherness as much and attributes that as a key to the team's success last season.

"I've never seen 16 people be so open and have such a good time at training camp and still accomplish all of the things we've accomplished," Ferry said.

"For years we had good teams here, but the personalities were dry. It wasn't cool to show emotion. We had the old-pro attitude. This team isn't that way at all and Ricky and Jeff are right in the middle of everything. It's just fun being around this group."

Mahorn is the mainstay of the defense and is starting to assume more of an offensive load this season. Ruland is the team's main scoring threat inside.

The Bullets surprised their fans when they made Mahorn a second-round draft choice from Hampton Institute in 1980.

"The first time I saw him play I thought he had all of the tools, but was lazy and didn't want to run," said Ferry. "I was a bit skeptical, but I checked out his background and saw he was a late bloomer and had been a football player before he was a basketball player. I like to take a chance on potential in the second round, so we drafted him.

"During his rookie year he showed enough improvement that when Wes (Unseld) retired, he became our center. I think he's made the first big step because he's proved he can play in the league. Now it's just a matter of how quickly he can develop into a powerful and smart player," said Ferry.

Shue appreciated Ruland when he (Shue) was coaching the San Diego Clippers.

"I remember Jack McMahon scouting him as a freshman (at Iona) and liking him and Ferry scouted him as a junior and really liked him, too," said Shue.

The Bullets acquired Ruland for a second-round draft choice and other considerations on draft day in 1980, after the Golden State Warriors had picked him in the second round.

He played one year in Spain before signing with the Bullets.

"He's such a good rebounder because he is so quick to the ball," said Shue. "He goes after it. He isn't a great leaper, but most of the really good rebounders aren't, look at Wes. The good ones get the position and then attack the ball. They don't wait for it to come to them.

"Jeff can score so well because he knows how to post up. It's that simple. He came here knowing how to post up, but he's gotten even better at it and so we put in plays to take advantage of it."

Shue said he hasn't made Ruland a starter because "it's a comforting feeling to have him on the bench with me, knowing I have a player of that magnitude to put in and possibly turn things around."

Mahorn and Ruland are so comfortable with each other, they communicate on the court with body language.

"When Jeff is out there, it's just like having another me on the floor at the same time," said Mahorn.

"This team can be as good as it wants to be," said Mahorn. "I have a confidence and a gleam in my eye. We don't have a star, we're a team. We aren't going to let any team sit on us or walk over us, I don't care who they have playing for them."

"We'll win 50 games, maybe more," Ruland said.

"We just have to play hard. The fact that we play defense the way we do will prevent us from getting blown out so we'll always be in the game."