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NBA FINALS: PISTONS 87, LAKERS 75 | Mark Heisler /
ON THE NBA

Meet the Team That Issued the Wake-Up Call

June 07, 2004|Mark Heisler

Do you think it's too soon for Phil Jackson to remind all the free agents that they may be near the end of their, and his, Laker careers?

You couldn't actually say the Lakers looked past the Detroit Pistons, because they knew they had to play someone in the NBA Finals.

On the other hand, the Pistons' victory over Indiana in a low-scoring Eastern Conference finals didn't keep the Lakers up at night, although there's no truth to the report Jackson wouldn't let them watch on TV, lest they become overconfident.

What, them overconfident?

"Those guys realize that at times it's tough for them to score but they make it up," said Karl Malone, the house grown-up, of the Pistons last week. "Seems like over here in the West, you score 33 points, you're down by 30 at halftime."

In what looks like a sign of things to come in this series, the Lakers scored 41 points in Sunday's first half and led by one, and scored 34 in the second and lost by 12.

Not that this was unexpected, but even Piston Coach Larry Brown said he was surprised.

"You know, to hold them to 75 points, I think, is pretty incredible defense," Brown said. "We got in early foul trouble, with Rasheed [Wallace] playing eight minutes in the first half and Rip [Hamilton] struggling. But we played great. I don't know if we could ever defend better. We contested shots. We did an incredible job, but I think that's what it's going to take."

Seeing as how this series is sure to last longer than a week -- the Lakers hope, anyway -- you may actually want to know something about the Pistons.

* Chauncey Billups: Right, the Lakers are supposed to be worried about someone named Chauncey?

Oh, he scored 22 points? Nevermind.

On the bright side for the Lakers, maybe Gary Payton can reprise his rant after the Lakers fell behind the San Antonio Spurs, 0-2, if a lot of people mention he just got singed again.

* Richard Hamilton: He's the Pistons' best player but Kobe Bryant held him to 12 points Sunday, five for 16 from the floor -- and the Pistons still won by 12. If you're a Laker fan, you should find this worrisome.

* Ben Wallace: They like to say "Fear the 'Fro." Of course, the 'Fro isn't as fearsome when it only comes up to your chin, as it does with Shaquille O'Neal. Otherwise, it's Wallace or Dennis Rodman for the greatest defender under 6-8 ever.

* Tayshaun Prince: Local guy from Dominguez High, with a 72-inch wingspan to go with great quickness, which is why Bryant kept shooting moon balls. Threw a kink into Ron Artest's game last series too.

* Rasheed Wallace: Old Laker foe from Portland, fondly remembered here for missing several shots as the Lakers came from 15 down in the fourth quarter of the 2000 Western Conference finals, and for throwing a towel in teammate Arvydas Sabonis' face in another game here. Now rehabilitating his image, which needed it. Can still really defend though.

* Elden Campbell: Another local guy from Morningside High and the Lakers. Known as Rip Van Campbell here before leaving to play for the Hornets, SuperSonics and Pistons. One more big body for Brown to throw in O'Neal's path anyway.

* Lindsey Hunter: Another former Laker, whose salary they dumped two seasons ago, in the Kareem Rush deal.

Of course, Laker fans love Rush, although they may now be starting to figure out he's not going to hit six three-pointers every game.

OK, would you believe six more threes the rest of the season?

Oh, by the way, Hunter can really defend too.

* Corliss Williamson: Local fans may remember him from the UCLA romp in the 1995 NCAA finals when he played for Arkansas and the Bruins neutralized him with George Zidek.

Happily for Williamson, he seems to have gotten over it. Sunday he came off the bench to outscore the entire Laker bench, 7-4. Add the other Piston reserves and it was 19-4.

Then, there's Brown, former coach of the Clippers, UCLA and who can remember all the others? Sunday he greeted half the guys in the interview room personally, since they'd all been on the beat with him at one time or another.

Of course, you may also remember Brown taking a UCLA team with four freshmen in the rotation to the 1980 NCAA finals, Brown winning an NCAA title with a Kansas team that was 12-8 at midseason, and Brown's 76ers shocking the Lakers in the opener of the 2001 Finals.

It's not true that Brown can slay giants with five guys off the street, it just seems like it.

"I had the same kind of feeling going into the game" as in 2001, Brown said, "that if [the Lakers] take four, five, six days off, you have a chance. You know, they were sitting here, waiting at home.... I thought it would take a little bit to get into it."

The good news for the Lakers is they shouldn't have any trouble getting up for Game 2. Except for the final score, it was just one positive sign after another Sunday.

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