|Wallace now tries to knock out Pistons|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2007 12:32|
DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Ben Wallace saw this coming as soon as the ink dried on his $60 million contract.|
He helped Detroit win a championship three years ago. Now, he'll be trying to get the Chicago Bulls closer to their first title since the Michael Jordan era when they face the Pistons in the second round of the playoffs.
If he was feeling a little giddy about facing the Pistons, if there were any good-natured jabs with his former teammates the past few days, he wasn't saying.
Big Ben brushed off the notion that this was more than an ordinary second-round matchup for him, saying, ``Nah, you're wrong.''
The Bulls swept defending champion Miami in the first round and now, they're trying to win another series.
That's all that matters to Wallace.
``We're trying to do something great here,'' he said Tuesday. ``In order for us to get to where we're going, we have to get through Detroit. They're on the top right now. For me, it would just be another second-round win.''
What they did against Miami was impressive.
Luol Deng and Ben Gordon followed up standout performances in the regular season by averaging 26.3 and 25.5 points, respectively, against the Heat. And Wallace harassed Shaquille O'Neal, who never was his old dominant self.
Now, Wallace meets his former team.
``Ben's a good story line for you guys to write about it,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. ``He's been here and been the face of the franchise and he's returning for someone else.''
Fans greeted Wallace with a mix of boos and cheers before his lone appearance at The Palace of Auburn Hills during the regular season, then booed him just about every time he touched the ball. The Pistons won that game by two points, but the Bulls took the other three. Wallace fared well against his ex-teammates, averaging 13.7 rebounds and three blocks in three games.
A four-time defensive player of the year, he emerged as an icon during his six seasons with Detroit - a run that included a championship in 2004 and four All-Star selections. But he clashed with Saunders last season, refusing to enter a game in the fourth quarter.
There were also reports Wallace wanted to be more involved on offense, but he has called that a misunderstanding, saying he was looking to set up his teammates - not for more shots.
Although the Bulls lacked a low-post scorer last season, it was no surprise they went after Wallace. He was the marquee free agent, and Chicago had salary-cap room so general manager John Paxson and coach Scott Skiles applied the full-court recruiting press.
They visited Wallace in Detroit and eventually reeled him in with a four-year, $60 million contract offer that was $10 million more than the Pistons were willing to pay.
``They were saying some good things,'' Wallace said. ``I thought it was a positive meeting for both of us - for me and the Bulls. They laid it out on the line and told me exactly what they were expecting and looking for, and we were able to get it done.''
It was a bold move for both sides.
For the Bulls, it was a big sign that they were serious about advancing past the first round and contending in the Eastern Conference.
``It let us know this organization is definitely trying to take a step in the right direction and that they're striving to get back to championship contention,'' said Gordon, who averaged a career-high 21.4 points in the regular season. ``You realize, 'I've got to work a little harder.'''
The Bulls had a 2-0 lead against Washington in the first round two years ago and lost the next four games. They gave Miami all it could handle last year before losing in six.
Now, with a young but mature core and a few veterans sprinkled in, they're in the second round for the first time since 1998, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led Chicago to its sixth championship.
Wallace's transition to the Bulls had its rough moments.
There was a 3-9 start and a strange controversy when he violated a team rule by wearing a headband, and statistically, this was his worst season in years.
``I think his numbers are down this year, but at the same time, he changes shots,'' Detroit's Tayshaun Prince said. ``You have to keep that as a factor.''
Wallace's 10.7 rebounds per game during the regular season were his fewest since 1999-2000, when he averaged 8.2 for Orlando. And his 6.4 scoring average was his lowest since 2000-01 - his first season with the Pistons. But in the biggest spot, Wallace delivered against O'Neal.
``I've admired Ben for a long time for what he's done with his career,'' Skiles said. ``I felt like I had a feel for who he was as a person before we went and talked to him. He's a quiet guy, he's a family man, he's a serious guy, a competitor. He was exactly what I thought he would be.''
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