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NBA FINALS | FIRST LOOK

No. 2. Lakers Vs. No. 3 Detroit Pistons

June 02, 2004|Mike Bresnahan

Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn are long gone, but the Pistons aren't a bad retrofit of the "Bad Boys" teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Lakers have home-court advantage and are favored to win the series, but they should expect to see a defense as good as San Antonio's. The Pistons have given up more than 95 points only once in 18 playoff games, a 127-120 loss to New Jersey in triple overtime. The Pistons had 19 blocked shots against Indiana in Game 2 of the conference finals, the second-highest total in league playoff history. Detroit Coach Larry Brown went head-to-head as Philadelphia's coach with Laker Coach Phil Jackson in the 2001 NBA Finals, won by the Lakers in five games.

A closer look at the matchups:

FRONTCOURT

Rasheed Wallace, acquired from Atlanta, isn't scoring as often as he did in eight seasons with Portland, but he has become a steadier, headier player (read: fewer technical fouls). Karl Malone, who has faced Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in the last two rounds, will probably draw Wallace, a relative breather that should boost Malone's scoring. Ben Wallace, no relation to Rasheed, is a bit undersized at 6 feet 9 when he plays center, but he was second in the league in two categories, averaging 12.4 rebounds and 3.04 blocked shots. For a second consecutive series, Shaquille O'Neal won't face anybody as imposing as Duncan or Yao Ming. Detroit small forward Tayshaun Prince, who attended Compton Dominguez High, has cooled down since averaging 17.4 points in the first round against Milwaukee. Former Laker first-round selection Elden Campbell, on his fifth team in the last seven seasons, will get some time against O'Neal, a matchup that has favored O'Neal heavily in recent seasons.

BACKCOURT

The Lakers have been known to make playoff heroes out of guards (see Tony Parker, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson), and Chauncey Billups is a strong candidate to be next in line. He averaged 16.9 points and 5.7 points during the regular season, but he burned the Lakers for 26.5 points and 6.5 assists in two games. Gary Payton, who has had to face Steve Francis, Parker and, at times, Sam Cassell, will be kept busy. Richard Hamilton made a statement in the defense-minded Indiana series with a playoff career-high 33 points in Game 5. Kobe Bryant played well defensively against Hamilton, holding him to a 10-point average in two games this season.

HEAD TO HEAD

Tied, 1-1

* Nov. 14 at Staples Center: Lakers 94, Pistons 89. O'Neal and Payton each had 21 points. O'Neal made seven of 11 free throws, including two with 20 seconds left for a 92-87 lead. Billups had 29 points and Campbell had 12 for Detroit.

* Nov. 18 at the Palace of Auburn Hills: Pistons 106, Lakers 96. The Pistons broke open the game by outscoring the Lakers in the fourth quarter, 33-22. Billups led the Pistons with 24 points and eight assists. Hamilton and Corliss Williamson each had 14. Malone and O'Neal each had 20 for the Lakers, who never led by more than two points.

* Last playoff meeting between the teams: The Lakers were swept by the Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals, ending the possibility of a Laker three-peat. Guard Joe Dumars was selected Finals most valuable player. The Lakers beat the Pistons in seven games in the 1988 Finals.

-- Mike Bresnahan

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