R. Wallace displaying soft touch in Detroit

Pistons forward has kept lid on his emotions while helping lead playoff drive

Pro Basketball

May 11, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - If ever there was going to be a blowup moment for Rasheed Wallace, Sunday night seemed to be it.

His Detroit Pistons had been booted all over Continental Airlines Arena by the New Jersey Nets in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, 82-64, and it wasn't even that close.

And Wallace, who spent most of the night in foul trouble, had just 10 points, missing all five three-point attempts, with just two rebounds and three turnovers in 22 minutes.

With a phalanx of reporters and cameramen hovering around his locker room space, this seemed like a great time for the seemingly always-volatile Wallace to blow, but the big explosion never came.

Instead, Wallace said evenly and matter-of-factly, "They [the Nets] won, but you might as well put an asterisk on it. I don't want to say for what reasons, because I don't want to get fined. You all can take it at that, and don't even waste your time asking me no more questions."

And that was it. No meltdown, no epithet-laced tirade, no nothing. That's the way it is and has been for the 6-foot-10 Wallace since he arrived in Detroit in a February trade.

Anyone who has looked for the Wallace who screamed and cursed his way into perhaps the worst reputation in the NBA hasn't found him, and certainly not his teammates.

"A lot of people get tabbed because of certain situations they've been in," said Pistons reserve forward Corliss Williamson. "But when you're in the locker room with a guy, you get to see the best of him. Rasheed is a great guy. He's gotten a bad rap. Maybe some of it was stuff he caused, but deep down inside, we know that Rasheed is a good guy, and we're happy to have him here."

By practice yesterday in Manhattan, Wallace's outlook had brightened to the point where he could be somewhat philosophical about his performance, saying his one bad night was just that.

"It's not a vengeance," Wallace said. "I just have to go out there and keep playing. I can't let one bad game keep me down. ... I only grabbed two damn rebounds. I haven't done that since junior high. I just have to come out [tonight]. I'm glad it's not a long wait. I just have to come out and go hard."

In many ways, Wallace, who set a record for most technicals in a year while with the Portland Trail Blazers, has been as cool as the icy water he parked his ailing left heel in the other night.

Since coming to the Pistons from Atlanta - where he had a one-game stay after being dealt from the Trail Blazers in February - Wallace has just seven technicals, including one in Game 2 of the Nets series.

More importantly, Wallace, Detroit's second-leading scorer behind Richard Hamilton, has given the Pistons additional depth along the front line, teaming with Ben Wallace to give Detroit the best center-forward tandem in the Eastern Conference.

Rasheed Wallace's presence at power forward has allowed Ben Wallace, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons, to go back to playing center, his more natural position.

"We just sort of read off each other," said Ben Wallace. "It's like second nature. If he makes a move or goes to try to block a shot, I try to take his man off the board. And if I try to block a shot, he's got to take my man off the board. Once you have two guys who play similar games like that, it all seems to click."

With the Pistons, Wallace is with a team of veterans where he can just fit in and not be the center of attention as he was in Portland, where the Blazers were the only big-time professional team in town.

And he is also teamed with a coach, Larry Brown, that he respects. Though Wallace attended North Carolina for only two years before he came into the NBA in 1995, he shares a Tar Heels heritage with Brown, who also played for former Carolina coach Dean Smith, then an assistant to head coach Frank McGuire.

"I had that [his trust] a long time ago, just because of my background and the way he feels about Coach Smith and North Carolina," said Brown. "Rasheed knows me and how important my relationship is with Coach Smith. I felt real comfortable with him from Day 1. I've said this numerous times: There's not a teammate that he's been involved with that doesn't love him and any coaches that have ever coached him that doesn't care about him. He's been terrific."

Indeed, like former Orioles Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray, Wallace has had problems dealing with the media, but never with his teammates.

"Sometimes, people don't have a lot to say, so they just draw their own conclusions because they don't talk to the media," said Ben Wallace. "I never judge a guy until I get to know him."

Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, who made the three-team deadline day deal to get Wallace, staked his reputation and team chemistry on getting the talented forward. So far, the move has paid off.

"The first thing I said to him, was `you play ball, I've got your back,' " Dumars told TNT analyst John Thompson in a recent interview. " `Don't worry about all the other issues that you might have some concerns about; I've got that ... you just come here and do what you do best.' "

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