- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. It's time to add Detroit Pistons muscleman Ben Wallace the league leader in blocked shots to the list of Washington Wizards discarded power forwards who made good elsewhere.

Wallace is a force, something that was highly evident in the Pistons' 97-90 victory over the Wizards without Michael Jordan last night before a capacity crowd of 22,075 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Chris Webber, an All-Star, and Rasheed Wallace, whose pure talent had NBC analyst Bill Walton saying that he could be the best power forward in the league, are other players the Wizards gave up on.

Ben Wallace scored 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter last night. His physical play also produced a game-high 14 rebounds. Wallace notched five of the Pistons' 10 blocks. And even more surprisingly, Wallace, a notoriously bad free throw shooter, hit seven of eight in the fourth quarter.

"It's good to play against some of your old teammates, and it's always special to beat some of your friends," said Wallace, who is very close to the Wizards' Chris Whitney. "You get bragging rights for the summer. That was a team where I thought I would probably be. I thought I would probably retire there. They went in another direction, but there are no hard feelings."

That other direction did not include Wallace, who was entering the last year of his contract in the summer of 1999, but was thrown into a deal so that the Wizards could pry away Ike Austin from the Orlando Magic. That's the same Austin who is withering away on the bench in Memphis.

The Wizards (27-25), losers of four of their last five games, can look forward to the return to the lineup of Jordan, who stayed behind to nurse his ailing right knee. Washington plays New Jersey, the Eastern Conference's top team, tonight at MCI Center.

In Jordan's absence, Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 22 points but made just seven of 22 field goals. Whitney scored 19 and handed out six assists. Hubert Davis came off the bench to add 17 points, but the starting frontcourt totaled just 16 points.

The loss also marked the first time this season the Wizards lost a game after either leading or being tied at the end of three quarters, dropping their record to 26-1 in that category.

Corliss Williamson came off the bench to lead the Pistons with 22 points. Reserve guard Damon Jones added 17 points in 21 minutes and Detroit's bench outscored Washington's 51-33.

But the first words after the game from Wizards coach Doug Collins told the story.

"Ben Wallace was awesome," Collins said. "He controlled the basket area, blocked shots, and the ones he didn't block he changed. I give him a lot of credit. He's worked hard and he's stepping up and making the free throws now. Ben Wallace has really established himself as one of the best power forwards in the league."

A 44 percent free throw shooter this year, Wallace was unflappable down the stretch.

"Ben has improved in so many ways that it's not even funny," said Whitney, the first Wizard that Wallace called after the deal was made.

Even though the Wizards were without Jordan, the Central Division-leading Pistons might as well have been without their top scorer, Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse was shackled with foul trouble all night, went 2-for-11 from the field and finished with just five points.

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