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Jackson Sticks With Usual Five

June 14, 2004|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Given nearly three days and a lot of help from his players, Phil Jackson went with his same starting five Sunday night against the Detroit Pistons.

As Jackson had promised, his lineup was a game-time decision. Ninety minutes before tipoff, he hinted he had made at least one change in his starting lineup, then started Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, Devean George and Gary Payton.

Though Malone's damaged right knee showed little improvement during Sunday morning's shoot-around and although the organization -- especially, apparently, Magic Johnson -- had grown impatient with Payton, Jackson stayed loyal to his five.

The process, Jackson said, "has been fruitful."

"I like involvement with the players," he said. "I like the proactive kind of leadership that the team gives.

"You know, I weighed the decisions about some things. I also talked to some players about their health. Those are all part of it. It was a process that didn't just happen last night sleeping on it. It happened this morning at the workout too."

On Friday, after a 20-point loss in Game 3, five veteran Lakers -- O'Neal, Bryant, George, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher -- approached Jackson about playing them as a unit, and perhaps from the outset.


On Saturday night, Johnson was critical of the Lakers' uninspired play, and cited Malone and Payton in particular, Payton for being unproductive and Malone for his encounter with a fan before Game 3.

Payton declined to comment. It is thought Johnson tried to reach Payton in the days before he went public, saying, in part, "Chauncey Billups is using him up."

Said Malone: "Somebody spits on you, you can make it like how you want to. That's just like a slap in the face. I'm from the South. I'm not going to allow those kinds of actions. ... I'm not even going to say anything. I just said what happened, and I'll go from there. But I'm not going to get caught up in it."

Jackson too gave Johnson his space.

"He's a guy who has a right to say something like that," he said. " ... The duress of the situation, all those things change, and things happen out there that oftentimes exacerbate situations. Nothing's really determined yet as far as what went on [with Malone and the fan]. We don't want any incidents to happen with the fans. There's no doubt about that."

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