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Tuesday, June 8, 2004
Updated: June 11, 3:58 AM ET
No need for 'Sheed's scoring (yet)

By Joe Lago
ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Now, the Detroit Pistons can ask the question "What if?" out of their own curiosity, not as a response to an annoying media-type who still can't comprehend why Larry Brown didn't call for a foul to avoid Kobe Bryant's clutch 3-pointer in a Game 2 meltdown.

The new query in question: What if Rasheed Wallace was actually doing something other than picking up questionable fouls? Where would the Pistons be now?

The short answer: They'd be one victory away from holding New Year's Eve in the middle of June instead of being two victories away.

Wallace logged his lowest point total of these NBA Finals: three points in 26 minutes. He attempted only four shots -- one in the second half -- and scored all of his points in the first quarter when the Pistons tried to establish him as a low-post threat. Twice, he didn't even get to shoot as Karl Malone slapped the ball away.

In response to these offensive shortcomings, Wallace's frontcourt brethren uttered the same response: "So what?"

"Our concern is about winning," Corliss Williamson said. "We're not concerned about stats or whether [his] shots are falling."

"He can definitely help this team in a whole lot of ways [without scoring]," Ben Wallace added.

Said Elden Campbell: "We win as a team."

Unfortunately for Rasheed Wallace, he collects fouls like an entire team.

For the third straight game, Wallace picked up two fouls in the first quarter that limited his first-half minutes to 10 or less. You can't score if you're not on the floor, but Larry Brown has given up trying to lobby the referees for calls for the former problem child of Portland. Brown would have an easier time achieving peace in the Middle East.

"I see the way he's reacted and handled it, and I think it's pretty incredible," Brown said. "I hope people around the league see that."

What's not being missed by Rasheed's teammates are his defensive contributions. He's the only Pistons starter who provides an approximation of a 7-foot presence in the paint, keeping the Lakers off the boards in addition to pulling down rebounds.

He's averaging a modest 8.3 rebounds a game in the series, but is as responsible as any Piston for the team's 54.7-47.7 advantage on the boards.

"He brings so much to the game," Williamson said. "He's able to rebound. He's able to help on the defensive end as well as score when he's called upon. That puts a lot of pressure on the other team. It's just hard to prepare for a guy like that especially with the players we have around him."

"We just need to keep Rasheed out of foul trouble," Ben Wallace said. "If he gets into foul trouble, we've got a lot of other guys on the bench who can step in and take up the slack. I think that's been one of the keys to our success all season."

The Lakers have seen the real Rasheed Wallace, the one-man nightmare of a matchup who can dominate down low one possession and sink a 3-pointer the next. Wallace has seen how vulnerable the Lakers can be, helping put them in a 15-point hole with six minutes to play in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals with Portland.

"They're human," said Wallace, when asked about his lack of Laker-phobia. "They bleed just like us."

Problem is, the Pistons would have the Lakers on life support if their starting power forward wasn't averaging a meager 9.3 points a game in the Finals.

"If he's not making shots, he's happy with somebody else making shots," Campbell said. "He's not concerned about it. He's here for a ride."

Ideally, sitting in the back of a convertible cruising downtown Detroit amid confetti.

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.