He's sharply reduced his technical fouls

Rasheed Wallace's on-court behavior and relationship with the referees has improved this season. That much is certain. By what degree remains an item of debate.

The Trail Blazers' volatile tri-captain, who is serving a seven-game NBA suspension for a postgame incident involving referee Tim Donaghy last week, has only five technical fouls this season. That is well off the pace he set in leading the league in each of the last three regular seasons, with 27 in 2001-02, 41 in 2000-01 and 38 in 1999-2000.

'I believe Rasheed has made major changes,' says his coach, Maurice Cheeks. 'If he is going to change, I think the officials have to do some changing as well. I don't believe it's all on Rasheed É two people had that exchange. It wasn't just Rasheed.'

It would appear, however, that referees have been cutting Wallace more slack this season. The Blazer forward continues to argue a great portion of his personal-foul calls Ñ and sometimes those of his teammates. Sometimes he is more demonstrative than at other times, but he rarely allows a call to go against him or his team without coming at the officials with 'logic,' a word he has used to explain how he speaks to the referees.

'Rasheed is better this season,' one NBA referee says privately. 'Instead of just yelling and screaming at every call, he has learned to pick his spots. But he is still a train wreck waiting to happen.'

Though the NBA's operations department has given its referees no directives in their handling of Wallace this season, his name comes up often in review sessions. The referee says it is 'human nature' that he and his peers have been more lenient in calling technicals on the Blazer forward.

'When there is a player who has gotten lots of technicals, you are going to be more careful in making a (technical) call against him,' the referee says. 'You want to make sure it calls itself. I think that cuts Rasheed a little slack. You want to make sure you're not hitting him again because he's an easy target.

'He is actually harder to hit. The thinking is, 'Be sure if there is a T, that it couldn't have been avoided.' You don't want to open yourself up to criticism. You are kidding yourself if you don't think it's being watched more closely (by the operations department).'

The NBA levied its suspension against Portland's leading scorer and rebounder after his tirade last week against Donaghy. The incident happened after the Blazers' victory over Memphis at the Rose Garden. Donaghy had whistled a third-quarter technical against Wallace, and even after a near-career game in which he scored 38 points on 16-of-20 shooting, Wallace was still steamed enough to confront the referee as he walked to his car in the Rose Garden loading dock.

Two eyewitnesses told KEX (1190 AM) that Wallace had been standing near the exit when the referees left the Rose Garden, and that it appeared the Blazer forward had been waiting for Donaghy. After a verbal exchange, with a string of obscenities from Wallace, the veteran forward brushed past Donaghy's working partners Ñ Steve Javie and Scott Wall, who tried to restrain him Ñ and got nose to nose with Donaghy. When Donaghy flinched, the witnesses say, Wallace mocked him and made some threats before several people intervened.

'I wasn't there, but I don't think it was Tim heading toward the parking lot, yelling and screaming at Rasheed,' the referee says. 'If Rasheed comes at him, what is Tim supposed to do Ñ jump in the trunk of his car and tell the other refs to peel out of there?'

Stu Jackson, the NBA's senior vice president of operations, won't specify what Wallace did to prompt such strong disciplinary measures, other than to say the player 'accosted' and 'threatened' the official.

Jackson says Wallace's 'prior indiscretions' with referees were considered when deciding on his punishment. That may explain why the suspension is for seven games when a player with a lesser track record might have been banned for four or five games.

The message: NBA referees can't be messed with, especially off the court well after a game's final horn has sounded.

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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