PORTLAND, Ore. - His teammates with the Portland Trail Blazers, in particular Scottie Pippen, have tried to point out how effective he can be when he keeps his head in the game and his body on the court. His coach, Mike Dunleavy, has learned that there is only so much he can say to Rasheed Wallace.
It's not that Wallace doesn't understand the obvious: the fewer tantrums he throws, the less technical fouls he receives and the more minutes he plays, the better the chances that the Trail Blazers will win. Nor is Wallace simply ignoring Dunleavy's pleas to show a little more decorum.
It is merely Wallace being the kind of player he has always been. While there are bigger names on each team, Wallace has become one of the biggest focal points of the NBA's Western Conference finals between the Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, which resumes tonight with Game 3 at the Rose Garden.
Wallace epitomized his team's self-destruction in a 109-94 loss in Game 1 Saturday at the Staples Center. He played only 16 minutes, scoring 11 points, and was ejected in the third quarter after his second technical. Referee Ron Garretson said that Wallace was staring at him and trying to intimidate him.
In Game 2 on Monday night, won decisively by the Trail Blazers, 106-77, Wallace played a team-high 46 minutes and finished with playoff career highs of 29 points and 12 rebounds. During a 20-0 game-breaking run in the third quarter, Wallace hit three straight three-point shots.
Asked yesterday before practice if he could tell a difference between the way he played in the first game and in the second, Wallace shook his head.
"The bottom line is just going out there playing, no matter who it is, you just got to go out and play," said Wallace, giving an often-repeated answer to a often-asked question. His teammates and coaches disagree. They have watched Wallace evolve from a talented, yet erratic player earlier in his five-year career into the team's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder who this season was chosen for his first All-Star Game.
But his maturity has only gone so far, as evidenced by the NBA-record 45 technical fouls he has amassed this season.
Pippen, who has been accused by some of playing with too little emotion at times during his 13-year career, said that the kind of performance Wallace gave in Los Angeles in Game 2 is what the Trail Blazers need if they are to advance to the NBA Finals.
Not necessarily in the production, but the lack of combustion.
"That's definitely the way everyone would love to see Rasheed play, including himself," said Pippen, who added 21 points and 11 rebounds. "It's kind of hard to get that same result every night. But we need him on the court to be successful."
Backup point guard Greg Anthony, who has carved out his own nine-year career by playing with a lots of energy, sees Wallace starting to show signs that, at age 25, he might finally be growing up. Anthony points to the difference in Wallace's emotion and intensity between the first two games against the Lakers.
"You do want to have a happy medium," Anthony said. "The best way to develop that is with experience and over time. I think that's something Rasheed is doing a better job of, even from Game 1 to Game 2. Initially, I'm sure he was frustrated with a few calls, but he didn't allow that to deter him from doing his job."
His job is of particular importance against the Lakers, who match up well with nearly every player on the Trail Blazers except Wallace. Los Angeles doesn't have many deficiencies, but power forward has been a glaring one this season. Nearly 7 feet tall, Wallace has the ability to post up inside or shoot perimeter jumpers.
But what Wallace has done against the Lakers is not that much different from what he has demonstrated throughout his career, dating back to Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia. In fact, his former coach there has had some flashbacks in watching Wallace on television the past few days.
Bill Ellerbe recalled one game, the semifinals of the city championships back when Wallace was a senior in 1993. He put on a similarly dominating performance against Olney High School, right down to the three-pointer trifecta.
"Emotion is one of those things that will drain you," Ellerbe said yesterday. "The way he played the other night, that's when you'll see the best come out of him. He was calm and intense. When he played for me, sometimes it was better to just calm him down."
While Wallace's nine technical fouls during his two seasons at North Carolina were an unofficial school record, legendary coach Dean Smith said in a recent story that Wallace was quite coachable. "The guy's a jewel," Smith told Slam Magazine. "He puts the team first, practices hard and is a great influence."
It showed when he learned of his All-Star selection this season.
"It's cool, but nothing for you to jump over because it's not my ultimate goal," he said at the time. "The only thing to do is win and to help the team win. Winning a championship is my bottom line ... Once I've won a championship then I'll feel like I accomplished something."
Those are the kind of words Dunleavy likes to hear coming from Wallace, who was fined $10,000 by the NBA earlier this week for not talking to the media after Game 1 or the following day. Yesterday, Wallace could be seen being quietly spoken to by Brian McIntyre, the league's vice-president for communications.
Dunleavy, who is in his second year with the Blazers, seems a little exasperated about still trying to reach Wallace about channeling his emotions in a positive way.
"I'm not going to try and fool anybody, I can talk all I want to Rasheed and say all I need to say to him, to say all the right things, but it comes down to him wanting it," Dunleavy said yesterday.
Given his performance in Game 2, maybe it has.
Given his history, maybe not.