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Published: Tuesday, 5/16/2006

Rasheed opens mouth, and doesn t back it up

CLEVELAND Guaransheed, indeed.

The Cleveland Cavaliers stunned the Detroit Pistons for the second game in a row, rallying in the fourth quarter for a 74-72 victory last night at Quicken Loans Arena and making Rasheed Wallace s prophecy a fallacy.

After this latest dismal effort, Wallace (seven points on 3-for-13 shooting and six rebounds in 33 minutes) should be made to wash his mouth out with soap. Better still, coach Flip Saunders should tape his power forward s mouth shut.

Wallace s prediction that Detroit would win Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was all hot air, signifying nothing.

That s cool. I m not worried about these cats, Wallace said after Cleveland tied the series 2-2.

They won tonight, can t take nothing from them. Even the sun shines on a dog s [backside].

Ain t no way they re going to beat us in this series.

The only thing worse than Wallace needlessly guaranteeing victory over an opponent the Pistons were supposed to defeat was his failing to back up the boast.

Just as in Game 3, Wallace and his playoff-tested teammates inexplicably collapsed in the fourth quarter. Wallace, who limped noticeably after suffering a sprained ankle in the second quarter, wasn t even on the court during crunch time, replaced by small forward Maurice Evans. Maurice Evans! I don t know. Ask Flip, Wallace answered to why he was on the bench late in the contest.

What used to be winning time is becoming worry time for the Pistons, who scored 13 points and shot 4-for-13 in the fourth quarter.

Detroit led 59-53 after three quarters before wilting under the heat of a 12-1 Cleveland run to open the final period. The Pistons missed their first seven shots and committed five turnovers before scoring their first basket at the 5:38 mark.

I think maybe we played a little bit more not to lose, than to win, Saunders said. We re in a dogfight.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has nothing to lose, and is playing like it.

The Cavaliers respect the Pistons. But they no longer fear them, as they did in the regular season when they lost three of four contests.

One thing that s helping us right now is we re feeling no pressure, said Cleveland s LeBron James, who barely missed another triple-double with 22 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. James said the Pistons are the ones under pressure. Everybody counted us out, he said.

As for Wallace s prediction that Detroit wouldn t return to Cleveland for Game 6, James jokingly offered the use of his home if the Pistons were unable to locate a hotel.

I ll lock them all in so they can t come to the game, James said.

Give the Cavs credit. They re beating the Pistons at their own slowdown game. And they did it for the second straight game without shooting guard Larry Hughes, who remained with his family in St. Louis following the death of his brother.

In truth, the Cavs are already winners, taking back-to-back games against a heavily-touted opponent when one win was supposed to be cause for celebration.

Everybody keeps waiting for the veteran Pistons to take charge, deliver the knockout punch and put the young whippersnappers from Cleveland in their place. The wait continues.

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