Saturday, June 12, 2004

Wallace's defense is slowing O'Neal


Pistons' smaller center is steady

The Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - After two games in cornrows, Ben Wallace's hair is back to its full, glorious height. The undersized Detroit center is measuring up to Shaquille O'Neal as well.

Wallace's steady defense against O'Neal has been a quiet factor in the Lakers' ineffectiveness for most of the NBA Finals.

A two-time league defensive player of the year, Wallace's reputation as a bruising low-post player has only been enhanced in the finals, even if he isn't blocking his usual share of shots.

"Nobody can really block Shaq's shot most times," Wallace said after Detroit's practice Friday. "There's no one with advice on how to play Shaq. You've got to know that you're going to be in a fight for 40 minutes. You've just got to be willing to take some blows and just stand in there and play."

The Pistons held O'Neal to 14 points in Game 3, and Wallace did most of the work.

Though only 6 feet 9, Wallace's muscle and smarts have allowed him to hang in where larger players fail.

Detroit hasn't swarmed defenders around O'Neal in the same way Los Angeles' previous playoff opponents did. Wallace spends much of his time in one-on-one coverage - and his tenacity prevented Shaq from taking over any of the first three games and earned Wallace a well-deserved break before Game 4 on Sunday.

"I'm sure if you had to go out there and guard Shaq for 40-plus minutes, you'd like the two-day layoff, too," Wallace said.

Wallace kept his hair down for the series openers in Los Angeles, but his wife, Chanda, raised it back to skyscraping dimensions for the games in Detroit. Wallace's 'do is copied by fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

"That's why I do it, for the fans," Wallace said, rubbing his hand through his hair. "It's fun."

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JACKSON JOCKEYS: Lakers coach Phil Jackson criticized the series' refereeing on Friday, saying the free throw discrepancy is due to a double standard.

"I'm going to have to make a stand with the officials, and we have to be able to play defense the way (the Pistons) play defense," Jackson said. "In the bodies, up against arms, contesting shots and not getting caught for the foul. If we attempt to play this type of defense, it's ridiculous the foul calls that are (made), the disparity in this."

The Pistons have shot 91 free throws in the series to Los Angeles' 56 - including 28 by O'Neal, who's averaging nearly 12 free throws per game in the postseason. The Lakers have been called for 80 fouls to Detroit's 56.

Jackson credits Detroit for superior aggression on both ends of the court, which often leads to favorable officiating - but the coach also believes a series of key calls have gone against his team.

"(In Game 3) in all four quarters, we were in foul jeopardy within the first three minutes of the quarter," he said. "We have to start backing off because we're in a foul situation. As a consequence, our defense has to be soft."

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DEAFENING DETROIT: Both teams' ears were still ringing Friday from the enthusiastic crowd at Game 3.

"I love the fact that the fans get involved in the game," Wallace said. "We completely feed off that. That's what being a fan is all about. It's always loud in here, but (Game 3) was unbelievable."

There are no official statistics kept on the decibel levels in the NBA's buildings, but The Palace generally is considered one of the loudest, along with Sacramento's Arco Arena, Utah's Delta Center and Minnesota's Target Center.

Los Angeles' Derek Fisher compared The Palace favorably with Sacramento and Minnesota, where the Lakers inevitably draw the loudest crowds.

"They do a nice job supporting the team," Fisher said. "Is it the loudest? Nobody can say, but Detroit is up there. We don't really mind that."

Jackson claimed the building is tough on shooters - not because of the crowd, but because of its sight lines near the basket, where the seats slope backward more gradually than in most buildings.

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BARKLEY BACKS BIRD: Larry Bird ruffled a few feathers when he said the NBA needed more white superstars, but he didn't bother Charles Barkley.

"I've got no problem with that," the player-turned-analyst said Friday while in the Pittsburgh area for the Mellon Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational golf tournament. "I've got nothing but love for Larry Bird."

The former Celtics superstar made his comments when an ESPN interviewer asked him about the small number of white stars in the league. Barkley defended Bird, now the president of the Indiana Pacers.

"Every time somebody says something about race, it's not always bad, and the politically correct police are getting out of hand," Barkley said. "Every time somebody says something about race, doesn't mean they're racist. I know Larry Bird's not racist."

Bird also said he considered it disrespectful when an opposing coach would have a white player guard him - which tickled Barkley, who played the early portion of his career with Philadelphia, Boston's longtime Atlantic Division rival.

"I'll tell you what was really funny was ... we always thought it was an insult when they put (Bird) on one of us, because he was the worst defensive player ever," Barkley said.

Schedule

TV: Ch. 9, 2.

Thursday: Detroit 88, Lakers 68; Pistons lead series 2-1

Sunday: L.A. Lakers at Detroit, 9 p.m.

Tuesday : L.A. Lakers at Detroit, 9 p.m.

Thursday, June 17: Detroit at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m., if necessary

Sunday, June 20: Detroit at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m., if necessary




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