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No Excuse for Lack of Laker Rebounds

June 13, 2004|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers may be two defeats away from losing the NBA championship to the Detroit Pistons, but they lead the league in excuses.

From Coach Phil Jackson's assertion that the background in the Palace of Auburn Hills was the source of Kobe Bryant's poor shooting in Game 3 to Shaquille O'Neal's postgame statement that he can still dominate but he's "got to get" the ball, the Lakers keep dodging this fact:

The Detroit Pistons are playing better team basketball and that's why they lead the best-of-seven NBA Finals 2-1 heading into Game 4.

Look no further than rebounding for proof.

Throughout the series, the Pistons have owned the boards against the Lakers, who have given nothing but inconsistent effort going after rebounds.

Lakers' move -- A good place to start would be defense. Except for a few good stretches, the Lakers have not communicated well with each other, and their inability to rotate consistently has hurt them against penetration drives by the Pistons.

Against San Antonio, the Lakers rectified this problem by having off-the-ball perimeter players collapse into the lane. But the Pistons do a better job with weak-side picks and they have been able to slow down the Lakers just enough to leave open lanes.

It's time for the Lakers to begin anticipating plays instead of standing around and reacting. By now, they should know the Pistons' offensive patterns. They have to play smarter and with more energy to stop them.

Offensively, the Lakers have a truckload of problems, and the best way they can get their game back is to rebound, especially O'Neal. He needs to return to the mind-set of getting his own touches through rebounding as he had earlier in the playoffs.

Bryant also needs to rebound better. Detroit's Richard Hamilton has been more aggressive in the paint than Bryant, who has been a perimeter player for most of the Finals.

Pistons' move -- In Game 3, Coach Larry Brown won another matchup over Jackson.

By going with reserve Corliss Williamson against Luke Walton, Brown took away Walton's effectiveness by forcing him to play defense in the paint. Walton, the Lakers' surprise hero in Game 2, was a non-factor Thursday.

Brown also cut down on Hamilton's minutes defending Bryant, turning to a combination of Tayshaun Prince and Lindsey Hunter. A big deal was made about the Pistons' double- and triple-teams on Bryant, but the key to their success was the defense they played on him when he did not have the ball.

In Game 3, Brown went to his bench early and often, and the Pistons' fresh legs seemed to wear down the Lakers early in the second half. Detroit had eight players log at least 10 minutes before the start of the fourth quarter Thursday.

Something to look for -- The best thing the Lakers can do today is get off to a fast start and get on top early against the Pistons. They can't worry about fancy dunks or statement plays because Detroit has too much heart to be discouraged. The Lakers have to outplay the Pistons as a team by getting the ball to the open man and playing defense.

If the Pistons enjoy the same type of shooting room they have had through the first quarters of the Finals, the Lakers will be in major trouble. The Lakers need to watch tape on how Eastern Conference teams Indiana and New Jersey defended the Pistons, because the Lakers' West Coast defense is not working too well.

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