Wallace rises, but not in MVP talk

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

March 23, 2003|By MILTON KENT

So, what does a guy have to do to get some Most Valuable Player consideration around the NBA? If the guy is Detroit Pistons forward/center Ben Wallace, he apparently has to do some more scoring, because he's already doing everything else.

Wallace, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is leading the NBA in rebounds and blocked shots, and his streak of five straight games with 20 rebounds ended Friday against the New York Knicks, although he had 18.

But a five-game, 20-rebound streak hadn't happened since before Dennis Rodman started wearing dresses -- when he was a member of the 1994-95 San Antonio Spurs and pulled down 20 or more boards in seven straight games.

But when people tick off Most Valuable Player candidates, specifically the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Minnesota's Kevin Garnett, Philadelphia's Allen Iverson and Orlando's Tracy McGrady, Wallace's name is skipped over.

"I picked up a couple of votes last year," said Wallace, 10th in the 2001-02 voting. "People are starting to recognize guys for just going out there and playing their game and not trying to be anything else or be something that they're not. I think nowadays most teams put more emphasis on playing defense."

Wallace, generously listed as 6 feet 9 and 245 pounds, is the NBA's best defender since the Rodman days. Though he is seemingly undersized to be such a force in the middle, no one this side of Shaquille O'Neal alters a team's interior attack more than Wallace.

"He has good hands," said Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins. "He's relentless. He makes an effort to go every time. See, you can't get discouraged as a rebounder if you don't get one or two or three or four. You keep going, and pretty soon, you get the next three or four."

Or 10 or 20. But with McGrady and Bryant putting up gaudy scoring numbers, with Duncan posting consistent scoring and rebounding stats, and with Garnett and Iverson single-handedly lifting their teams into prime playoff position, it's been hard for Wallace's light to shine.

But Wallace should at least be encouraged by the fact that a player that he is often compared to, Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, won five MVP trophies, and Russell's chief rival, Wilt Chamberlain, won only four.

Wallace's coach, Rick Carlisle, is encouraged by the fact that Wallace was voted the Eastern Conference starter at center in this season's All-Star Game.

"It was a gradual process for Ben to get strong consideration to be an All-Star, and perhaps it will be the same process for him to get MVP votes," Carlisle said. "Over time, people gain more respect and admiration for what Ben brings to the table."

And Wallace is gradually adding things to his menu. He is working more on his offense, attempting to expand his range beyond getting quick stick-backs on the offensive glass. He even hit his first three-pointer of the season last week, when the Pistons beat the Wizards in Auburn Hills, Mich., as a part of a season-high 17-point performance that revealed Wallace to be, in his own joking words, an "offensive juggernaut."

"I was just playing my game and going out there and having fun," Wallace said of his scoring output against his former team. "I could do a lot of things that people don't know that I can do. Teams just haven't been asking me to do those things. ... Offensive juggernaut -- that's a good one."

Quiz

Shaquille O'Neal reached 20,000 points in the seventh-fewest games of any player in league history. Four other Lakers are on that select list, but two of the five Lakers are more distinct than the other three. Do you know what that distinction is?

Arrested development?

Ron Artest's streak of flagrant fouls for Indiana and resulting suspensions are getting wide notice, but a worse case of arrested development revealed itself last Sunday.

That's when the Cleveland Cavaliers' Ricky Davis attempted a shot at the wrong basket near game's end so he could get a 10th rebound and his first career triple double.

Utah Jazz reserve DeShawn Stevenson plowed into Davis after the play -- and was hardly apologetic.

`There's too many people who have done too much for this sport to act like that," Stevenson said. "This is the NBA, and you've got to be professional, and that's not professional. Yes, I think it was disrespect to the game and disrespect to me. You've got little kids looking up to him, and to see him do that isn't right."

Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who is known to brook no quarter as one of the biggest old-school guys in the game, said succinctly, "DeShawn fouled him, and I would have fouled him, too. I would have knocked him on his [butt]."

Davis, who perplexed former Cavaliers coach John Lucas with his me-first behavior, originally was going to emerge from this unscathed, with new Cleveland coach Keith Smart saying after the incident that he wasn't going to fine or suspend Davis.

"He has to live with what he did," Smart said last week. "Wherever he goes, people will remember it."

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