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Sunday, January 17, 2010
Wallace's return a big benefit

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- With Rasheed Wallace missing the past three games, one might think Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers would have envisioned last week as a vacation of sorts. After all, keeping Wallace from barking at officials is a full-time job in and of itself.

The irony, of course, is that Rivers picked up two technical fouls and was ejected from Monday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks -- the first game Wallace missed with a left foot injury. After the game, Rivers joked that Wallace chastised the coach for losing his cool.

But the Celtics truly missed Wallace's presence, particularly when compounded with the absence of fellow forward Kevin Garnett. Although Wallace's voice can get Boston into trouble at times, his teammates said they particularly missed his vocal leadership.

Wallace
Rasheed Wallace, who has missed three games with a foot injury, should be ready to go Monday against the Mavericks.

On Saturday, Wallace practiced for the first time since the injury; after a week's absence, he expects to be back on the court Monday night when the Celtics host the Dallas Mavericks at TD Garden.

"It helps a lot [to have Wallace back]," said center Kendrick Perkins, who has been forced to shoulder the frontcourt load without Wallace and Garnett. "Sheed's another defensive-minded guy. He comes in and does an excellent job of playing defense; it helps our team a lot. I think sometimes you need that veteran leadership, especially from another big guy, to get us going. We really need him."

Signed as a free agent to be the Celtics' sixth man, Wallace started five consecutive games while Garnett sat out with a hyperextended right knee, a stretch that culminated with a turn-back-the-clock 29-point explosion in a win over Toronto this past Sunday.

But Wallace played that entire time -- logging 35 minutes or more in four of those five games -- with what he dubbed a mild sprain in the front of his foot. On Monday, it swelled so badly that the training staff suggested some rest.

The Celtics went 1-2 without Wallace, his presence clearly missed in losses to Atlanta and Chicago. Wallace participated in a light workout Saturday, then competed in the team's intrasquad 3-point shooting contest. He deemed himself "definite" for Monday, but Rivers wanted to see how he reacted after Sunday's practice session.

"[Wallace] told me he feels good and says he wants to go through practice [Sunday] and then see how he feels," Rivers said. "Right now, I think he's going to play on Monday."

Given Boston's occasional defensive struggles without him, Wallace will be a welcome addition to the frontcourt.

"Just on the defensive end, I think there are some nights we look like we're in a rhythm in the defensive end, and sometimes we're not," Perkins said. "I know with Rasheed back in, there will be a whole lot of talking -- talking on defense that will help us get back on track.

"It's been kind of hard. You get on the same page as Kevin, then Kevin goes down. You get on the same page as Sheed, then Sheed goes down. Now we're working to get on the same page as [Brian Scalabrine] and [Glen Davis], but it takes time. It does help that we get to get reps with different guys, but I'll be happy to have Rasheed back. And when Kevin comes back, that'll be great, too."

Wallace heaped praise on Scalabrine for his offensive contributions the past three games. Limited to mostly first-half minutes, Scalabrine averaged nine points per game in three starts, hitting a Sheed-like six 3-pointers during that stretch.

Davis shouldered the other half of the load, often providing physical defense in the low post, particularly in the second half of games.

"We still have good shooters on this team, and I think Scal did a good job, especially in the first half, starting us out right," Wallace said. "Baby did a tremendous job, to me, rebounding and giving it his all down on the blocks. He was going up against some solid players, and it was tough for them to back him down because he's so strong."

But the fact that Scalabrine and Baby had to share Wallace's load shows just how much Wallace brings to the team. He can step beyond the arc, spreading the floor while keeping teams honest with his 3-point shooting. The Celtics are 15-1 when Wallace makes at least two 3-pointers (the lone loss coming at Golden State, a game in which both Davis and Garnett were injured and Paul Pierce did not play).

What's more, in recent weeks, Wallace has showed a greater willingness to go down on the blocks and battle. At times he seems unstoppable because of his height and athleticism.

Wallace is averaging 10.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1 assist per game this season. In January, with Garnett out, those averages have risen to 18 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Wallace, 35 years old and in his 14th NBA season, doesn't seem overly concerned with the injuries. Having won a championship with Detroit, he knows these are the bumps that teams endure.

"Eventually it's going to happen," Wallace said when asked whether all the Celtics will be healthy at the same time. "It's just the odds of it. Until then, we'll just mix and match."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.