Originally created 04/21/01

Grant gearing up for difficult defensive assignment



EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Horace Grant is about to embark on a most difficult mission, guarding Rasheed Wallace. He cringes at the thought.

"It's one of the most difficult assignments that I've had, a guy who can come off picks, shoot the `3,' rebound, and all that other stuff," Grant said. "Even if I was 100 percent, it's still going to be tough."

The Los Angeles Lakers acquired the 35-year-old power forward seven months ago to give them a player who can match up with the NBA's best at that position.

Despite his propensity for picking up technical fouls and ejections, Wallace certainly fits that description.

Grant sat out the final regular-season game because of soreness in his left knee, but expects to play extended minutes Sunday when the Lakers open defense of their NBA championship against the Portland Trail Blazers in a rematch of last year's Western Conference finals.

"With me being a decent post-up defensive player, they need me out there on the floor. I've still got a little gunpower," Grant said with a laugh. "There's no one in the league who can stop him one-on-one -- no one. The only guy that can stop Rasheed is Rasheed.

"We're going to have to double-team him, make other guys beat us. We've got to be a little physical with him, push him off his spot. That's off the floor, basically. He can score from anywhere."

Wallace averaged 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds this season, but was generally at his best against the Lakers, averaging 28 points as the teams split four games.

"He's one of the toughest because he does so many things," said Lakers forward Robert Horry, who will also spend time guarding Wallace.

"He's got a good matchup every night, against about anybody he plays," Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "But the idea is obviously to get him enough touches -- not necessarily shots, but touches -- because any team that comes and double-teams him, that opens up opportunities for other guys.

"Certainly, he shoots the ball over 50 percent a game, so the more times he has the ball in his hands, the better off you're going to be."

Wallace has drawn more attention for his run-ins with officials than for his All-Star talent. He was assessed an NBA-record 38 technical fouls last season, and surpassed that with 41 this season.

Wallace said during the 2000 All-Star break he would never get ejected from a playoff game, then did so in Game 1 against the Lakers last spring.

"I am not even thinking about that, he's not going to get ejected in the playoffs," Dunleavy said.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Wallace "just floats around in his own little world."

"We've all seen players unravel at times," Jackson said. "With this young man, he carries it on the edge of his sleeve all the time. He's a player I think who'll have a long, successful career in this league. His management of anger is something he's going to have to deal with."

The NBA fined Wallace $10,000 Friday for failing to make himself available for interviews. The Trail Blazers were fined $25,000 for failing to make their players available.

While the Lakers won their last eight games to become the second seed in the Western Conference, the Blazers lost seven of their final 10 to fall to seventh.

Nevertheless, the Lakers figure they're in for a severe test.

"This team is going to give us fits, and we know it," Jackson said. "They think they're better than we are, that's the general disposition of their team. They think they're going to come in here and kick our butts. We've got to be ready for that."

Portland's Scottie Pippen acknowledged the Blazers haven't come close to meeting high expectations.

"We didn't step up to any challenges, I felt like," he said. "So that tends to nag at you a little bit, but this is a new season, it's a chance for us to forget about what happened in the regular season. This is a new beginning for us."

Game 2 in the best-of-five series won't be played until Thursday night before the series moves to Portland.