The balance of power in the Eastern Conference shifted last week,
just as the Nets were placing point guard Jason Kidd (recurrent
left-knee bone bruise) on the injured list, probably for the
remainder of the regular season. Hours before he was sidelined
last Thursday, a hobbled Kidd and his supporting cast were mauled
by the Pistons 89-71. Detroit's bench watched with delight as New
Jersey celebrated a last-second tip-in to end Detroit's record
run of holding teams to fewer than 70 points at five games.
"Their focus was on stopping our streak instead of winning the
game," said Pistons backup guard Mike James. "That made us really
The Pistons have long been miserly--earlier this season they went
a league-record 38 games without allowing 100 points or more--but
they got a huge defensive upgrade when they stole Rasheed Wallace
from the Hawks last month in a three-team trade that cost Detroit
two nonlottery picks and three role players. While former coach
Rick Carlisle was strictly a man-to-man man, Wallace's mobility,
length and mouth have enabled coach Larry Brown to vary his
schemes. "Last year we didn't double-team nobody, so talking
wasn't as important," says point guard Chauncey Billups. "But
Rasheed is so vocal that it's contagious. Now everybody's talking
when there's a pick coming."
Almost everything Wallace was criticized for in Portland now
seems to be earning him praise in Detroit. While the Blazers
wanted him to post up more, the Pistons relish his versatility as
a frontcourt scorer and passer to complement Ben Wallace. While
Rasheed's yapping got him in trouble in Portland, it's a welcome
distraction in his new home. "We told him, 'We want you to play
the way you play,'" says G.M. Joe Dumars. "He's opened up our
locker room and livened up our bench by adding an element of fun
to our team."
Instead of trying to slow tempo and avoid mistakes, which was
their M.O. the last two years, the Pistons are now attacking at
both ends. Says Billups, "We have three guys--me, Rip [Richard
Hamilton] and Rasheed--who can score at any time, and other
guys--Tayshaun [Prince], Corliss [Williamson] and Mehmet
[Okur]--who can go for 20 points. I don't think anybody is better
defensively, we've got a coach who can adjust on the move, and
our morale is unbelievable."
The quickness of backup guards Lindsey Hunter and James has
allowed Brown to extend his pressure full-court. And with the
long-armed small forward Prince, Rasheed and two-time defensive
player of the year Ben Wallace, no team is tougher around the
basket. "Ben is a good weakside shot blocker, and Rasheed is a
great on-the-ball shot blocker," says Hornets assistant Alvin
Gentry. "You have to be able to make 15-to 18-foot jump shots
because it's hard to get it to the rim against them."
In the 14 games since the trade through Sunday, the Pistons are
recalling the Bad Boys defensively, limiting opponents to 76.6
points on 37.8% shooting while blocking an outrageous 8.1 shots
per game. "You can tell that the team is enjoying playing great
defense," says Dumars. "But I played on teams that went to the
Finals three years in a row, and we won two of them. I can be
proud of what the guys have done so far, but let's just see how
high it goes."
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN The shot blocking of Ben (3) and Rasheed has opponents asking,Where's Wallace?