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NBA FINALS: DETROIT 88, LAKERS 80 | Xs and O's / HENRY
BIBBY

A Meeting Isn't the Answer

June 14, 2004|HENRY BIBBY

Henry Bibby has coached the USC men's basketball team for the last eight seasons, the highlight being the Trojans' advance to the Elite Eight in 2001. He was the point guard and an eventual All-American on three consecutive national championship teams at UCLA (1970-'72) and directed the Bruins to an 87-3 record as a starter. He played for nine seasons in the NBA, one of them with the title-winning '73 Knicks. He will serve as The Times' guest columnist for the NBA Finals.

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I think the Lakers' problems began before they took the court Sunday. I think their problems began in that men's room when the five players -- Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Devean George, Derek Fisher and Rick Fox -- held that meeting with Coach Phil Jackson and asked him to start a lineup consisting of that group. I think that kind of thing really separates a basketball team. I really do.

If I'm a player, one who is not in that meeting, and the other players go to the coach, I would feel a little strange about that. I would feel a little left out.

I don't think players need to do that. Jackson knows what he wants to do with his team. I don't like the idea of guys going to a coach and saying, these are the guys you should play. If they felt that strongly, maybe they should have sent O'Neal alone to tell Jackson what they thought. A team has to stay together, and this kind of thing can separate it.

Jackson is doing what he thinks is best for the team, and he calls the shots. Obviously, he is starting the people he is starting for a reason. He's doing what he thinks is best for the team. He wants to keep everybody in the game. He hasn't given up on Gary Payton. He hasn't even given up on Karl Malone although he can play him only limited minutes because of Malone's knee injury. Jackson is a great guy to play for because he sticks with his players.

I don't know exactly what Jackson told the players in that meeting, but, if it were me, I would have listened to them and told them I would talk to the staff, but stay with my plans.

It's not like Jackson hasn't thought about the same things the players were thinking about. You know he has.

He finally had to give in and take Malone out early in Sunday's game because he is obviously hurting. You know if he could be in there, he would be. And that's a shame from the Lakers' point of view because, as I've been saying from Game 1, Malone can be the difference maker in a game. Now Jackson has to depend on guys who haven't played a lot all year.

As for Payton, I'm not saying I wouldn't still start him, but the guy just doesn't have any confidence at this point, even when he gets open looks. I might make a change there early in Game 5 if things don't improve.

The Lakers scored 80 points, and that should have been enough to win if they had played better defense at the end. They were struggling to score while the Pistons would come down and get layups or shoot free throws.

I know this is an old problem with the Lakers, but they still can't seem to decide how to play the pick-and-roll. They were approaching it three ways Sunday. You've got to be consistent.

One idea might be to back off on Tayshaun Prince. Who needs to guard Prince? Make him try to beat you.

The Lakers also have to maintain their defensive intensity for the whole game. O'Neal has to be dominant inside. He has to say, "This is my paint. It's not Ben Wallace's paint." O'Neal is doing that on the offensive end, but he also has to do it on the defensive side.

A big problem Sunday night for the Lakers was the free throws. I thought the officials were calling way too many fouls. You've got to let the players play. Let Jackson coach. Let Larry Brown coach. Let O'Neal play. Nobody comes to see the officials.

They called Phil for stepping across the line. I have never heard of that being called in the NBA.

I thought this was the game where Jackson should have gotten himself tossed out to make a point.

Sometimes, you have to make a point in a basketball game. Then, perhaps, your team gets some calls.

Bryant also had a tough night because he wasn't making his shots. He was drawing a lot of defenders and he kicked it out a lot to his shooters, but they weren't making their shots. That works only if they make those shots.

Toward the end, the Lakers were playing like a defeated team. They are not a defeated team. I would tell them that heading into Game 5, remind them that they've been here before in pressure situations.

They are going to hear over and over again that no team has come back in the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. That doesn't mean anything for this team. Yes, they have a tough game ahead of them, but they still have a chance to win the series if they can bring it back home. But to have a chance, they can't feel sorry for themselves.

And they can't have any more meetings in the men's room.

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