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NBA FINALS / LAKERS VS DETROIT / SERIES REPORT | TRANSITION
GAME

Name of Game Is Still Teamwork

June 15, 2004|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Over the years, the knock against Detroit Coach Larry Brown has been that he could coach the heck out of a team filled with committed, hard-working players, but he had trouble coaching one filled with self-absorbed superstars.

Based on how the Pistons have manhandled the Lakers in taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, it's obvious that Brown finally has a team that fits his coaching style.

The Pistons support each other and work together as a unit. Throughout the Finals, Detroit has been relentless with its approach that every play matters. Whether it's hustling back on defense or unselfishly making the extra pass for a better shot, the Pistons have had the look of a winning team.

Lakers' move -- If the Lakers gained any confidence from Sunday's Game 4 loss, it's because their triangle offense occasionally worked. But they did not exhibit great spacing and crisp passing for easy baskets nearly often enough. There are still too many times when the Lakers look confused in their offense and end up with bad shots just to beat the 24-second clock.

As usual, the key to their execution is Kobe Bryant, who can't shoot much worse than he did in Game 4. Against a team such as the Pistons, Bryant can't attack the basket enough, and he did that better in the fourth quarter on Sunday. He just can't keep settling for jump shots. Bryant has to be assertive with his moves and set up teammates for open shots if he can't get clear himself.

In the second half of Sunday's game, Coach Phil Jackson assigned Derek Fisher to defend Richard Hamilton, and the backup point guard did a decent job. It also may be time to give Gary Payton the job of chasing Hamilton and leave Bryant on point guard Chauncey Billups. Whenever the Lakers have had success slowing down the Piston backcourt, the tempo of play has been in their favor.

Pistons' move -- Whenever Detroit does not get the ball to Rasheed Wallace in the post, a great scoring opportunity is lost. Unless the Lakers move Shaquille O'Neal over, they do not have anyone to defend him. Karl Malone, even with his knee injury, does the best job. But Malone can't elevate with Wallace.

When Wallace scores, it opens things up for Hamilton. Throw in Billups, who has made numerous big shots in the series, and the Piston offense has one scoring weapon too many for the Lakers.

The Pistons know that their defense will be ready every night; it's their offense that will determine tonight's outcome. Detroit's approach is simple: Pick-and-roll plays with Billups and Wallace, with Hamilton running around multiple screens. It's the short breakout runs that win games for the Pistons, who know how to run efficient fastbreaks.

Something to look for -- The Lakers relish the role of underdog, and they certainly are one heading into Game 5. The Lakers know that a win tonight sends the series back to Staples Center, where their role players usually perform better.

Knowing that Bryant should have a better shooting game and that it's unlikely that the Pistons will get strong offensive games from Hamilton, Billups and Wallace at the same time, the stage could be set for a dramatic Laker comeback.

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