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  •   Wizards Sweep, Home and Away

    By Ric Bucher
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, February 3, 1998; Page E1

    Whatever emotional lift the firing of Coach Doug Collins provided the Detroit Pistons last night at MCI Center got swatted aside, literally and figuratively, by Washington Wizards forward-center Ben Wallace.

    Wallace provided an array of defensive highlights as the Wizards rolled to a 113-101 win, completing a home-and-home sweep of the Pistons in front of 20,124.

    Wallace, after making the most of the first three starts of his career last week, returned to his reserve role last night. He checked in with 4 minutes 2 seconds left in the first quarter and 78 seconds later stuffed a jump shot by veteran Rick Mahorn, the first of a career-high four blocked shots. A few minutes later, Wallace rejected a driving dunk attempt by rookie Jerome Williams that left Williams crumpled on the floor.

    Combined with his eight rebounds and a ferocious dunk off Calbert Cheaney's missed jumper that bounced high off the rim, Wallace had the crowd roaring intermittently and received a standing ovation when he left with his sixth foul and 1:40 left in the fourth quarter.

    "A lot of guys get in the zone on offense," Cheaney said. "He gets into it at the defensive end. I only could sit out there and laugh. He always does it in practice, but it was finally good to see him do it where someone might recognize him."

    The sour note for the Wizards (24-23) was that forward Chris Webber spent the last six minutes in the locker room getting treatment on a strained right shoulder. Webber, who had surgery earlier in his career to repair a dislocated left shoulder, did not know how he suffered the injury or if it would prevent him from playing Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    "Hopefully it'll be all right," Webber said.

    The Pistons (21-25) also were hurting, with all-star forward Grant Hill injuring his right arch when he slipped driving to the basket in the second quarter. Hill played 34 minutes but the combination of the injury and the defense of Cheaney and Juwan Howard limited Hill to a season-low nine shots and 16 points, 5o below his average, including only four in the second half.

    With Wallace denying layups down the stretch, point guard Rod Strickland shredding the Pistons' defense for a team-high 26 points, Howard handing out a career-high nine assists and Webber contributing 23 points and 12 rebounds, the Wizards jumped out to a 35-20 first-quarter lead and never let Detroit get closer than nine in the third quarter.

    "We kept that killer instinct," Howard said. "We remembered the last time we played in Detroit and told ourselves, 'Don't relax with the lead at all.'"

    Wallace played a big part in maintaining the intensity, dunking Cheaney's missed jumper to open the fourth quarter, and then recording two of his blocked shots and drawing an charging foul within a span of 90 seconds midway through the period. Most of his defensive work came against another returnee to the bench, shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse. Former assistant coach Alvin Gentry, promoted to interim coach when Collins was fired, put his immediate mark on the team by replacing Stackhouse in the starting lineup with point guard Lindsey Hunter and moving veteran Joe Dumars to shooting guard.

    The move didn't do much for Dumars, who missed his first six shots and finished with four points, but it appeared to motivate Stackhouse. After taking an array of long jumpers to score 10 points on 10 shots against the Wizards Friday night in Detroit, Stackhouse drove to the paint nearly every time he touched the ball last night, resulting in eight points in nine first-half minutes and a team-leading 22 points overall.

    But Wallace thoroughly frustrated him down the stretch. Their personal mini-battle began when Stackhouse, having faked Cheaney into the air, attempted a jump shot and Wallace swatted it into the stands with about 6o minutes left and the Wizards leading 101-85. Stackhouse, clearly hoping to pay Wallace back, drove hard to the basket two possessions later, only to have a dunk attempt spiked before the ball left his hand.

    "I saw it in his eyes," Wallace said. "I knew what he was trying to do."

    Stackhouse made one more attempt, driving to the basket on Detroit's next possession, but Wallace blocked his path, resulting in a foul on Stackhouse. When Wallace finally fouled out, the crowd stood applauding in appreciation as Cheaney hugged him and the rest of his teammates gave him high-fives. That's a long way to come for a guy who was nearly cut in training camp and didn't play in 12 games simply because Coach Bernie Bickerstaff chose not to use him.

    "As a kid I envisioned this happening," Wallace said, smiling shyly. "But as for this year? Not in my wildest dreams."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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