MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—That swagger the Detroit Pistons gained through six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals has been mysteriously absent most of this season.
If anyone can help them find it, it’s Rasheed Wallace.
Looking like the ‘Sheed who helped the Pistons to the title in 2004, Wallace tied a season high with 25 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Detroit Pistons to a 98-89 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
“We really needed it. I think we needed it more than them,” Wallace said. “They were pretty hot here in the month of January. I think we just wanted a little more to get off this (darn) slide we were on.”
Al Jefferson had 24 points and six rebounds for the Wolves, who entered the night with the best record (10-2) in the NBA in January and a three-game winning streak.
Rookie Kevin Love had 17 points and 10 rebounds, but Minnesota had no answer for Wallace most of the game.
Bothered by a foot injury earlier in the month, Wallace scored seven points total in games against Dallas and Toronto last week. But he scored 22 in a loss to Houston on Sunday and looks to be getting healthy once again.
“He’s been much better the last couple games,” coach Michael Curry said.
Too big for Love and Craig Smith and a bit too quick for Jefferson, Wallace got his shot nearly whenever he wanted it. He scored seven straight points—two free throws, a fallaway jumper and a 3-pointer—for Detroit during a 13-3 run to close out the game.
“He releases his shot so high,” Jefferson said. “The best thing you can do is just run out and contest it, but he knocked them down.”
Minnesota led by 11 points with just over four minutes to play in the third quarter after an 11-2 run.
But Wallace threw down a weak side dunk and then hit a 3-pointer from the wing to help the Pistons close the period with a 13-3 spurt to make a game of it going into the fourth.
After Iverson hit one of his trademark floaters in the lane and Rodney Stuckey scored on another drive to the hoop, Detroit cut the lead to 84-83 with just under five minutes to go before Wallace took over.
“He put us on his back and carried us,” Iverson said.
It was Wallace’s 11th double-double of the season. He had 10 last season.
“We had a chance to put it away and we just didn’t do it for some reason,” Jefferson said.
Coach Kevin McHale was equally dumbfounded after watching his team struggle to get out in transition and lift itself out of a fog that seemed to cloak it all game.
“That hasn’t been our M.O. for a while,” McHale said. “Sitting there, it just felt like we couldn’t get out of second gear.”
This was the first meeting between the teams since a hallmark moment for both squads on Nov. 23 at The Palace. That’s when a struggling Minnesota team came to Detroit and embarrassed the Pistons with a 106-80 romp for just their third win of the season.
The Wolves won once in the 15 games following that victory, but have turned things around in 2009 behind McHale, Jefferson and Randy Foye.
The Pistons, meanwhile, are still trying to figure out how best to utilize Iverson since acquiring him in a trade with Denver in November.
Iverson was vocal in his disappointment for watching most of the fourth quarter from the bench as the Pistons lost at home to Houston.
He played the entire fourth quarter on Wednesday night and scored nine points in the period.
Before the game, McHale called it a “travesty” and “utterly ridiculous” that Love was not named to the rookie team for the NBA for the NBA rookie challenge at All-Star weekend. … Wolves PG Sebastian Telfair was limited to 20 minutes by a sore thigh he injured against Milwaukee on Monday. … Both teams have some tough games coming up. Minnesota hosts the Lakers on Friday before heading to Boston on Sunday. Detroit has the Celtics and Cleveland at home this weekend.