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Wallace's slow immersion in NBA becomes a dunk Bullets' top draft pick gets responsibility now


MEXICO CITY -- There wasn't supposed to be this much responsibility for Rasheed Wallace, at least not this soon. When the Washington Bullets made him the fourth pick of the 1995 draft, the intention was to bring him off the bench, filling in for any members of what was to be an impressive front line.

But then Chris Webber went down a week ago with a separated shoulder that will keep him sidelined for at least another four weeks. And Wallace is well aware that the expectations have suddenly changed, with many expecting him to be a big-time contributor right away.

"Some people want me to step right in and fill Chris' shoes," Wallace said. "But I can't be Chris Webber. I've got to try to fill the spot the best way that I can."

Wallace hopes that the final two preseason games, last night and tonight at the Sports Palace here in the NBA Challenge '95, will help demonstrate that he'll fill the power forward position. He's hoping to show it here because the preseason has been a bit of a struggle for the former North Carolina star.

He has had his bright spots. He scored 15 points off the bench, after Webber was injured, in last week's win over the Indiana Pacers. And he was solid a game later against the Toronto Raptors, scoring nine points and grabbing seven rebounds.

But the three games since have been a struggle, with Wallace hitting five of 20 shots in losses to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday (three of 11 from the field, eight points and nine rebounds) and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday (two of nine from the field, four points and six rebounds). Last night in Washington's 125-107 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Wallace picked up two fouls in the opening minutes and had one point in the first half. He finished with 12 points and five rebounds.

"Yes, it's been tougher for him the last couple of games. But before that I thought he had been doing well," said Washington coach Jim Lynam. "He's played a lot [team-high 41 minutes against Detroit], but I've got to get him minutes. At times, my options are a little limited."

Wallace runs the floor well for a big man and has shown he'll be a force defensively and on the boards. But he's had a little difficulty getting into an offensive flow.

"So far the main adjustment is basically getting used to the plays and making snappy judgments," Wallace said. "Sometimes I hesitate out there, and I have to get to a point where everything is fluid."

Surprisingly, Wallace said that playing an increased number of minutes has not caused any fatigue problems.

"I've found that in the NBA, there is actually more times to relax on the court," Wallace said. "You have set plays and, me being a rookie, most times I'm checking a rookie or a younger player. So since a lot of the offense isn't running their way, I've had a chance to catch my breath."

Wallace could face some problems this weekend. Lynam said he's noticed an effect on the players who are playing at such a high altitude.

"When we practiced [Friday], the guys were dragging at the end," Lynam said. "After a while, it starts to get to you."

Last night was probably not the right time for the Bullets to be playing at altitude. With Doug Overton (sprained left ankle) and Calbert Cheaney (pulled hamstring) not suiting up, the Bullets had only nine players available.

Which could mean more minutes for Wallace over the weekend. And whatever the results, he said he'll be fine as the season progresses.

"So far, I think everything is going all right," Wallace said. "It can get better, and it will get better. I'm not upset or worried right now."

* NOTES: Juwan Howard scored 20 points to lead the Bullets. . . . Spurs C David Robinson scored 30 points, 22 in the first half. . . . Bullets F Don MacLean had the highest three-point field-goal percentage in the league in the preseason before last night (.750) but hit just one of four from beyond the arc last night. . . . Attendance last night was 13,751.

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