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NBA FINALS|LAKERS VS. DETROIT Game 2 at Staples Center,
Tonight at 6, Channel 7

It's as Simple as All Get-Out

Aware that Brown told Pistons they could 'get any shot' they wanted during Game 1, Lakers identify staying up on Detroit shooters as a Game 2 priority.

June 08, 2004|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

When pressed on the particulars of how they arrived at an 0-1 deficit in an NBA Finals they were supposed to win in a light jog, the Lakers dutifully detailed their lapses against the Detroit Pistons, who in one game have made a nice transition out of overlooked and into a handful.

So, Karl Malone flogged himself for the benefit of every news organization from here to Italy, and Shaquille O'Neal came in on the side of ball movement and high-percentage shots, and Rick Fox insisted the series would be won on the Lakers' defensive end and not the Pistons', and Kobe Bryant mentioned something about rhythm and smiled his all-is-well smile.

There were particulars that would hold their attention for a while -- Tayshaun Prince on Bryant and Bryant on Richard Hamilton is working defensively for both teams, Gary Payton on Chauncey Billups needs work from the Laker perspective, O'Neal wasn't stopped by any three Pistons, and where, exactly, were Malone and Payton -- but as the Lakers prepared for tonight's Game 2, Phil Jackson's theme rested in a few seconds of Sunday night's telecast.

Piston Coach Larry Brown apparently had told his players during a timeout that right here, in the NBA Finals, all they had to do was knock down a few shots, because the Lakers weren't up to them defensively.

"Yeah," Malone said after Laker practice at Staples Center on Monday afternoon. "That's what he said. He said, 'You can get any shot you want.' You don't know it until after the game, obviously.... But we should know that. We found that out this morning, after we watched it, that, 'You guys can get any shot you want. These guys aren't guarding anybody.' So then Coach played it back about four or five times. Not that he had to tell us."

The Lakers had a lot to think about on their off day, starting with how O'Neal made 81.3% of his attempts and why his coach and teammates managed to get him only 16 shots. Yes, the Pistons double-teamed O'Neal away from the ball in the second half, and O'Neal was so devastated he made seven of eight shots.

They also would consider why everyone but O'Neal was 16 for 57 from the floor, while the pretty average offensive team from the Eastern Conference shot 46.2% in Game 1, and 50% in the breakaway third quarter.

Privately, a lot of Lakers are hoping for a lot less dribbling and shooting from Bryant, whose attempts to terrorize Prince led to most of his 17 misses and many of their one-shot-and-out possessions.

So, although the Lakers didn't blow anyone away with how smart they played, their malfunction more often was on the side of effort, getting out on the pick-and-roll, cutting harder and trying not to act surprised when the Pistons didn't fall dead away at the sight of them.

"I think it has gotten our attention," O'Neal said. "We realize this team is not going to lay down because the Lakers are in the building. We really have to go out and play."

Of all the luck. They had said as much in what amounted to their bye week, the five days between games, but apparently didn't really believe it, and now they have paid with their first home loss of the postseason.

"This is a team that I've -- a lot of people have -- a lot of people have wondered what team is going to show up," Jackson said. "They say, 'Which Laker team is going to show up tonight?' "

A decent question, Jackson granted.

"I was not surprised by [Sunday night's] basketball game," he said. "I wasn't happy with it, and we'd like to have a better effort, but this is a team that grows in their abilities as the series goes on and as they understand the territory."

Which led everyone, for a moment, to Malone and Payton, who'd spent most of the last year plotting for the NBA Finals, only to combine to score seven points in 75 minutes once they got there.

Malone's jump shot was off, which really bothered him, and Payton, once one of the great defensive guards in league history, suddenly can't defend Chauncey Billups without getting into foul trouble, an issue of respect as sure as slowing feet.

Malone said his deep disappointment after Game 1 had little to do with his journey to it, and that he had not yet framed it as a last-chance series. Payton did not show up for interviews Monday.

"This is a return, for both of those guys, to a time in their careers which I'm sure ended in a lot of pain," Fox said. "And this is an opportunity to redeem yourself, and when you're faced with those opportunities, sometimes when the pressure mounts you tend to make more of the moment than it actually is."

When the pressure comes, Fox implied, he'd prefer they'd go with something more than a bounce pass to O'Neal and a step back.

"We have to win four games, as do the Detroit Pistons," he said. "And [Sunday] night was one opportunity to do that. I come from the school of thought of go out with your guns a-blazin' and if you're going to take a bullet and have to go down in a fight, then hey, man, don't hesitate. Throw it out there, leave it out there and you can live with your effort and be happy regardless. Having failed in this before, [it] doesn't mean that that is going to be the outcome for them this time. It's just being confident to know that hey, this is an opportunity again."

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