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Will Ben answer the bell?

The All-Star break is almost here, and it probably couldn't come at a better time for the Pistons. While their rivals for the best record in the league (SA and the Mavs) are peaking, the Pistons have dropped 4 of their last 8, equaling their total number of losses in the previous 32 games. Team performance has been up-and-down, but one factor has been constant throughout the last 8--toughness is lacking. A very telling stat: the Pistons have been outrebounded in all but one of those 8 games (with the lone victory on the boards being the February 1 win over the T-Wolves).

So what has happened? Well, you don't have to look much further than the most recognizable face on the team, Ben Wallace, to find a major factor in the team's troubles. While his fellow All-Stars--Chauncey, Rip, and Sheed--have stepped up their games heading into the break, Ben has been struggling. Over that same 8 game stretch, Ben is averaging 3.6 points and 10.9 boards and is shooting only 40% and 25% from the field and from the free-throw line, respectively. Statistically, Ben is having his worst stretch of the season, by far. And it is no coincidence that the Pistons team is also struggling at the moment.

Look, I imagine that being a 6'9" center is difficult enough, but consider the number of back-to-back and rivalry games that the team has played recently, and there has to be a correlation with the lack of spark. Ben's declining energy level has to be a concern to Flip and Joe as the team heads toward the final 32 games of the season, but with Antonio McDyess providing very little defensive relief, the Pistons have few options (short of relying upon Dale Davis for increased minutes). (Perhaps it is this quandary that has fueled the recent "Darko/Arroyo for Kelvin Cato & a 1st rounder" rumors that have been coming out of Orlando.)

The break should give Ben some time away from the physical pounding of playing the 5the center position in a small 4'sthe power-forward position body, but keep an eye on his workload and Flip's substitution patterns as the season wears on. For the Pistons to succeed in recapturing the crown (and make use of those awesome championship belts again), they'll need their primary inside presence to return to form.

Will Ben and the Pistons dust off their belts this season?

Magic may do deal with the Pistons [Florida Today]