Rasheed Wallace almost good to go

35 ? RASHEED WALLACE Forward/center Years pro: 15

35 — RASHEED WALLACE
Forward/center
Years pro: 15
Brings his championship pedigree, toughness, defense and shooting to the Knicks. May be some rust from sitting out the last two years for personal reasons, but he’s still fiery and competitive. He says he’s less hot-headed. We’ll see.

(Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Now that Rasheed Wallace is back behind the wheel after two years of retirement, the time for cruising is over.

"When I first came in, I was in good shape, but it wasn't 'basketball shape,' " said the 38-year-old power forward, who practiced for the first time Tuesday since signing a one-year deal with the Knicks on Oct. 3. "I could go out there and run a couple miles, but in basketball shape, it's more sprint-and-stop, almost like a car: city driving, stop-and-go."

Wallace, a 15-year veteran, is building up his endurance to fill a part-time role with coach Mike Woodson's team, which concludes the preseason Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets at Nassau Coliseum. Wallace didn't scrimmage and won't play -- neither will Amar'e Stoudemire (ruptured cyst in knee), J.R. Smith (ankle/Achilles) or Marcus Camby (calf) -- but he is edging closer.

"It was the first day he actually ran with the team [before practice], he did all the conditioning that we do at the top . . . he got through that, then he got some shots up," Woodson said. "It's just a matter of time, probably a couple days."

A strong post defender who spent most of his career in Detroit and Portland, Wallace is concentrating on drills. "A lot of solo work, up and down the court," he said, "but I know once I get out there, take some elbows, take some shots across the head, it's a different type of conditioning."

Wallace stroked plenty of unguarded three-pointers and insisted that he would be "ready when they need me . . . I told him [Woodson] I'm feeling good, but it's on him."

The 6-11 Wallace, a 35-percent shooter from the three-point line, can also provide "an outside threat," said Tyson Chandler. "He can stretch the court."

In his backup role, Wallace, who will be tested in scrimmages between tomorrow and the season opener against the Nets on Nov. 1, is expected to bring toughness and some mentoring. He has already spoken with some younger players to "try to get them to play defense, rebound more, defend your man more," he said. "We have two defensive players of the year in Marcus and Tyson. Kurt [Thomas] plays defense . . . we'll be all right. Like coach Woody says, nothing to panic about."

Notes & quotes: Woodson plans to play guard Ronnie Brewer, who logged 16 minutes in the 98-90 loss to the 76ers on Monday, 20 to 22 minutes against the Nets . . . Depending on whom the Nets start, Carmelo Anthony could play power forward, Woodson said.

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