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Pistons Didn't Let Role Players Turn Into Roll Players

June 08, 2004|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

During Coach Phil Jackson's first three NBA championship runs with the Lakers, role players were difference makers in the Finals because of the attention opponents paid Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Often when the Lakers needed a big basket, Ron Harper, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox or Robert Horry stepped up and produced. That's something Detroit Coach Larry Brown is determined not to let happen this year.

Led by the closest thing to a Kobe stopper in lanky Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons proved in Game 1 that they can play the Lakers straight up. With the Lakers running a simpler pick-and-roll version of their triangle offense, Detroit was able to get role players out of their comfort zones by forcing them to make plays off the dribble.

Lakers' move -- The Pistons are not expected to start double-teaming O'Neal or Bryant, so the Lakers will have to start incorporating some of the triangle's main principles to get everyone involved again. That means more ball movement and back cuts to make for better spacing.

On Sunday, Bryant shot 27 times, missing 17. He made one of six three-point shots. That played right into the Pistons' game plan. Bryant needs to take easier shots and attack the basket more against Prince, who made Bryant shoot one fadeaway jumper after another.

The Lakers, especially power forward Karl Malone, also have to stop depending so much on Bryant to create offense. Detroit's defense works best when teams hesitate and miss shots. That has to change for the Lakers in Game 2 and that should start with Malone and fellow veteran Gary Payton.

On defense, don't be surprised to see Bryant get some time on Detroit's Chauncey Billups, who scored 22 points Sunday. Bryant is at his best when he's playing the ball, and Billups is the key to the Pistons' offense. Richard Hamilton may be Detroit's go-to guy, but Billups makes everything work.

Pistons' move -- Brown outcoached Jackson in Game 1, especially when it came to getting the matchups he wanted.

That was the case in the second quarter, when Corliss Williamson dominated Rick Fox, and in the fourth, when Rasheed Wallace successfully stepped outside on Malone.

Brown also pushed the right button with reserve Elden Campbell, who did OK against O'Neal and helped offensively with four assists. And let's not forget the defensive efforts of Prince and backup point guard Lindsey Hunter, who frustrated Payton and Fisher with his full-court pressure.

An important aspect of Detroit's man-to-man defense is the shot blocking of their big men, Campbell and the unrelated Wallaces, Ben and Rasheed. Nearly every time a Laker penetrated into the lane, he found a tall, long-armed Piston in his face. That's how Detroit held the Lakers to 39.7% shooting and 75 points.

Detroit's defense also gave the Lakers' perimeter shooters problems as they made only three of 13 three-point attempts.

Something to look for -- The Lakers have turned to Malone to shake things up whenever they have struggled. Against Houston, San Antonio and Minnesota, the Lakers rallied behind Malone's physical play. Look for that to happen again tonight after Malone's lackluster performance in Game 1.

Malone understands better than anyone else that the Lakers play better when they play with passion.

It's a good bet that Malone will try to stir up some in Game 2 with anything from a hard pick to an aggressive foul. Then it will be up to his teammates to follow, and if that happens, the series could get ugly.

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