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RAMBLIN' MAN
Posted by Rob Peterson on June 14 2004 6:30 p.m. ET

BROWN AND PISTONS PLAYERS FIND HAPPINESS IN DETROIT

When Larry Brown took the head coaching position with the Pistons on June 3, 2003, he must have liked what he saw, a team that he believed could play "the right way": A malleable, coachable squad that could suffocate opponents on defense, rebound, hustle, run the break and pay attention to detail.

Then again, maybe he had another reason to love this Pistons squad. After all, the Pistons roster consists of players whose real estate agents have been as important as the players' agents.

Like many of his players, Brown's been a ramblin' man. His supporters claim he's the best coach in basketball. Rasheed Wallace calls him "Pound-for-pound," as in pound-for-pound the best coach in basketball.

His detractors claim that Brown never finishes what he starts. With stints in Denver, New Jersey, San Antonio, Los Angeles (for the Clippers), Indiana, Philadelphia and now Detroit, Brown has made more stops than the 1/9 subway. An NBA title would make Brown and his friends beam, while his critics would need to shut their pie holes.

Still, who knew that in his seventh NBA home, Brown, with the Pistons leading The Finals 3-1 and Game 5 on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC), would be one win away from claiming the Larry O'Brien Trophy? And who knew it would happen in one year?

But the players on the Pistons roster have an intimate knowledge of change. Detroit's roster features only three players drafted by the team -- second-year players Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur and rookie Darko Milicic.

As for the remainder of the roster, renting, not buying has been the wise move. Chauncey Billups has played for five teams, Darvin Ham has played for six. Ben Wallace has played for three, as has Corliss Williamson and Mike James. Elden Campbell has played for three teams in the past two seasons and Rasheed Wallace has played for three teams this season. Then there's Lindsey Hunter, who has been on and off the Pistons roster on three different occasions.

So, if there was a coach and a group of players made for each other, these Pistons are it.

Brown, himself, is deflecting the praise and giving props to his charges.

"I think most significant thing is, I mentioned this about Philly, wherever I went, people used to tell me how hard our team played and how much they respected their effort in trying to do it the right way," Brown said during Monday's media availability.

"I sense this team and what they bring would be a testimony of how special our league is, because I think this team tries to play the right way and respects the game and respect one another, so that would be the most significant thing, the reward and the way it would show how when you do things the right way, these are the things you can accomplish."

Ah, the right way. When one reporter asked Pistons forward Corliss Williamson about Brown's insistence that the game be played "the right way," Williamson rolled his eyes.

"Not that again," Williamson said, half in jest.

"He expects a lot from us players," Williamson said. "Coach is all about doing things the right way and building mutual respect among the players."

Hunter agreed.

"He gets everyone prepared to play the right way," Hunter said. "Even Elden, a 14-year veteran, has been learning things from Larry Brown. You're never too old to learn."

And apparently, the Pistons have learned that anything can happen in a series, even if it's never happened before in a Finals series. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 Finals deficit. Detroit, however, knows that such a deficit isn't insurmountable. They pulled it off in the first round of last year's playoff series against Orlando.

So, going into Game 5 needing only one win to be the best team in the world, what could Brown be thinking? Who would know better than Larry's older brother and assistant, Herb.

"All he's thinking right now is that we have to win another game," Herb Brown said. "We have to win another game."

NATURE CALLS

What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on in the bathrooms of The Palace of Auburn Hills these days?

Using "the only space big enough," according to Rick Fox, and private enough for six people, five Lakers -- Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Fox, Devean George and Derek Fisher -- confronted coach Phil Jackson in the locker room loo last Friday.

The subject for this water closet coterie? Put the us, the original five starters, back on the floor for Game 4.
-- Los Angeles Times (Registration required)

Yet, when the Lakers took the floor on Sunday night, O'Neal, George and Bryant were there for the tip as were Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two guys, who right now, don't seem to fit the Lakers well. Fox said the meeting was meant as no disrespect to Malone and Payton, who sacrificed big contracts for a title, but that it was, "a call to the moment" to return to the guys who run the triangle offense the best.

"For us six guys who are left, it took some time," Fox said, "first we crawled, then walked, then ran. The triangle offense has won nine championships."

As for the other goings on, men going to the restrooms at the Palace get a little bathroom humor. Seems that when "warm" water hits the dark portion near the top of the mats in the Palace urinals, the message "Beat L.A." is revealed. When cold water is flushed over it, the message disappears.

Interesting. I'd rather have a TV over the stalls like they do at the ESPN Zone in Times Square, but that's just me. If you'd like to purchase (Yes, purchase!) one of the mats with a message, you can -- ahem -- go here.

ONE-GAME WARRANTY

Walking to the bus after the Game 4 loss, Bryant told a report that Lakers' win in Game 5 was guaranteed.
-- L.A. Times (Registration required)

"I'm telling you right now," Bryant said. "We'll win Tuesday."

Forward Rick Fox concurred.

"That makes two of us," Fox said. "That’s two of us right there. Now we just need six more people."

Ben Wallace seemed bemused.

"Of course he can guarantee it," Wallace said. "They have to win."

MOST VALUABLE PISTON?

If the Pistons win the series (the Lakers could come back...), one writer said the whole Pistons team should be MVP. And while that would be perfect for this selfless Pistons team, the MVP isn't a plurality. It goes to one guy and the leading candidate right now is Chauncey Billups.
-- San Francisco Chronicle

If Billups does win, and that's an if, people, he'd be the first Finals MVP who hasn't been an All-Star since Boston's Cedric Maxwell won it in 1981 when the Celtics topped the Rockets.

TIP-INS

For the first couple of games, some writers had trouble believing that the Pistons could be the better team. Now, with a 3-1 lead, many have begun to see the light.

Michael Wilbon, Washington Post: At this point, one team remains

"All their flaws are so easy to see now that the Lakers are being beaten in every conceivable way by a better team," Wilbon writes. "Yes, Detroit is a better team, maybe much better."

Chris Broussard, New York Times: Pistons show fangs, Lakers show age

"One fourth-quarter play said it all. Ben Wallace, a notoriously poor free-throw shooter, stood at the foul line Sunday night ready to shoot. Chances were great that he would miss.

"But the thought to box out Wallace, one of the league's best rebounders, never occurred to the superstar-laden Los Angeles Lakers, even though it is one of the fundamental plays in basketball, even though by that point their fast-fading championship hopes hinged on every play.

"Wallace did miss, and keeping with Detroit's blue-collar ethic, he rushed in for the rebound. While the Lakers stood by, he grabbed the ball and put in a layup, giving the Pistons a 5-point lead with eight minutes left."

Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Forget the Lakers, this is all about the Pistons

"... [T]he Lakers are beyond redemption. They argue among each other and complain about the officiating when the real issue is Detroit. This isn't, as Shaq so boldly said two days prior, all about the Lakers. This certainly isn't about Malone's knee or Payton's decline, and it definitely isn't about Bryant. This is all about Pistons defense, their transition game, Rasheed Wallace going off in a positive sense and Detroit's ability to completely impose its will on the Lakers."

And finally, one L.A. writer is really, really, really mad at Kobe. I mean, really.
-- L.A. Times (Registration required)

BOARD TO DEATH
Posted by Rob Peterson on June 12 2004 2:45 p.m. ET

THE LAKERS DON'T DO WINDOWS ... AND IT'S KILLING THEIR CHANCES IN THIS SERIES

I could go on and on as to why the underdog Detroit Pistons have a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in The Finals.

But why go on and on when everything you need to know about this series so far is in the following paragraph from Tim Brown's " 'JV' Team Has Been Taking it to the Big Guys" in the Los Angeles Times:

"In three games played over five days, the Pistons have shot 35 more free throws and taken 21 more rebounds. Bryant hasn't figured a way over or around Tayshaun Prince, and O'Neal, despite two very sound medial-collateral ligaments, has two more rebounds than Karl Malone."

Stunning, isn't it? I knew about the free throw discrepancy and the Pistons' rebound advantage (we've been talking about it every game in The Finals Blog), but the Shaq stat knocked me flat. Not only that, Malone's knee injury has limited him to 30 fewer minutes than Shaq.

Therein lies the true difference in this series: rebounding. By boxing out, the Pistons have managed to box the Lakers about the ears for 143 of the 149 minutes played in this series. In turn, in order to rebound from their one game deficit, the Lakers will need to rebound better.

Right now, the Pistons' passion for the ball shows on the offensive glass where the Pistons have out-rebounded the Lakers 43-29. That's an extra 14 possessions for the Pistons right there. That's 14 more times to get Richard Hamilton or Chauncey Billups the ball. That's 14 fewer times to get the ball to Shaq or Kobe Bryant.

As a matter of fact, the stats across the board(s) bear out the Pistons' dominance so far, or as Sam Smith says: "The Pistons have so dominated every statistical category that a 2-1 lead seems to be an injustice."
-- Chicago Tribune (Registration required)

Maybe the Lakers should try harder, as this article suggests.
-- Detroit Free Press

That, and the Pistons are playing with a chip on their collective shoulders the size of the giant Uniroyal Tire that sits on the side of expressway on the way to the Palace. Check out Chauncey Billups' statement in Brown's article:

"All year long," Piston guard Chauncey Billups said, "they called us the junior varsity conference.

"We traveled a tough path to get to the Finals and we worked very hard, just like the Lakers did to get here and [that] nobody, nobody, gave us a chance was disrespectful."

The numbers show you should respect the Pistons, even if the Lakers haven't ... yet: Lakers take blame, give Pistons little credit.
--L.A. Daily News

Considering the Pistons' average margin of victory in this series has been 16 points, maybe it's time for the Lakers to recognize what they're up against: A better team playing with more desire.

TIP-INS

Even Chuck Daly's impressed with the neo-Bad Boys.
-- New York Times (Registration required)

Where's Bryon Russell? Shaq would like to know.
--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ben Wallace, superhero?
-- Detroit Free Press

Who knew the best way for Grant Hill to help the team that drafted him was by leaving?
-- Detroit News

Another reason for the Pistons' edge: They got the soul. They do have the Palace rockin'.
-- ESPN.com

In SoCal, they hate the Pistons and they won't drive Detroit's cars, either.
-- Detroit Free Press

And finally, Pistons fans at the Palace on Sunday will get a treat. They will get a chance to pose with three trophies -- the Larry O'Brien (NBA), the Stanley Cup (NHL) and the WNBA's trophy, two of which (Tampa Bay Lightning -- NHL and Detroit Shock -- WNBA) Pistons owner Bill Davidson has in his bejeweled mitts. Davidson's Pistons are two games away from making it a permanent collection.
-- Detroit Free Press

OH, SO BAD
Posted by Rob Peterson on June 11 2004 6:00 p.m. ET

TO SOME, THESE PISTONS ARE BADDER

After Game 3, Lakers coach Phil Jackson made a curious statement.

When asked why Kobe Bryant had a rough night, scoring 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting, Jackson attributed it to the Palace's shooting background.

To that we say: Bah! What's bothering Kobe isn't in the background, it's in his face. Namely the Pistons' elastic small forward, Tayshaun Prince. Namely anyone wearing Pistons' red, white and blue.

One scribe suggested that Kobe's getting the same physical treatment the Bad Boy Pistons afforded one Michael Jordan a decade-and-a-half ago.
-- Houston Chronicle

Considering some of the Bad Boys -- Isiah Thomas, Rick Mahorn, John Salley, Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer -- were in the house on Thursday, there was a Bad Boys vibe to the proceedings.
-- Detroit Free Press

Even Pistons fans have been giving the Lakers' the business.
-- Detroit News

Speaking of which, with the Pistons' stellar defensive performance in Game 3, we decided to ask some of those in the know to compare the current Pistons' defense with that of the infamous Bad Boys championship teams in 1989 and 1990.

Rob Parker, columnist, Detroit News: "I remember the Pistons defense, the Bad Boys defense, but this is the best defense I've ever seen. This whole keeping guys under 70 points, the Bad Boys didn't do this. This is unbelievable to me. This Pistons team makes their opponents play ugly or get out of their rhythm and I don't remember the Bad Boys doing that and having that much of an impact on the other team as this Pistons team has.

"I think these guys are more about defense first, score second. I still think the Bad Boys could score, they had big-time scorers: Isiah, Joe D., they had scorers. This team is more about defense. We're gonna shut you down and we don't need to score that many points."

Terry Foster, Detroit News: "I think the biggest difference is the Bad Boys were much more physical. Their defense, they played in spurts. What Isiah Thomas always said was that he knew the defense was playing well when it was like a rubber band. What he meant was it was expanding on the floor and shrinking when it had to.

"With the Bad Boys defense, they could turn it up a notch when they had to. What they tried to do was play through a team's emotions. And once the emotion was done, they would clamp the defense on and take care of you. This team here focuses more on 48 minutes of defense and I think the Bad Boy played superior spurts of defense than this team here. Not only would they stop you, but they would create opportunities for the other side of the ball. That was the difference."

Ron Harper, Lakers assistant: "The old Detroit team, you had Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer, John Salley, if you tried to drive the ball, you were going get hit. You knew those guys were going to hit you.

"This team is more of a swarming basketball team. Everybody is the same size, has long arms and they get to the basketball fast.

"I found the old Bad Boys tougher to play against. This team isn't bad, but the old Bad Boys were the best."

Kurt Rambis, Lakers assistant "Different eras, different times, are always difficult to compare. The real difference is No. 1, what we were allowed to do and they were allowed to do back then versus what you're allowed to do now. They've changed a bunch of rules makes it probably easier to play defense now than it was then. Back then, we had all those defensive guidelines that determined how far you could be from the offensive player. So, we had to work under different restrictions.

"But the one similarity is that they cover each other's back, they are extremely aggressive and physical and they do a terrific job of collapsing and expanding their defense. Whenever we get the ball inside, they're all right there inside the paint. When the ball goes back out, they're always in position ready to help. There's never a situation where people have free reign to drive or go-step or turn situations into isolations because they're not playing one-on-one, they're playing one-on-two or one-on-three."

Horace Grant, Lakers' forward: "I don't know which one is better defensively, but back in the day, they'd let you get away with a lot more than what you can get away with these days.

"Back then, you could throw a punch and not get suspended or even thrown out of a game. Now, you get three or four games and you hurt your team.

"This year's Pistons defense is a lot faster, a lot quicker. Back in the day, they were a lot more physical."

Jack Haley, Fox Sports Net: "I actually think they're very similar. Back then, they had the Jordan rules, where they came out and double-teamed Michael Jordan and they played strong side on the defense and overloaded the strong side, where they would try to force Michael and Scottie Pippen out of the game and force the role players to beat them.

"They're basically doing the same thing here. The difference is they're really not attacking Shaquille O'Neal as much as I'm expecting them to, but they're attacking Kobe Bryant and taking him out of the game. This is a great rotating team. This is one of the best teams I have ever seen off the basketball. They trust in each other, they rotate and they really collapse in the painted area."

LETTERS, WE WANT LETTERS

Hey, we haven't asked you to scribble to us in a while, but with The Finals in full swing we're looking for some e-mail from our overseas fans. Send us an e-mail sharing your NBA Finals experiences. (You get up early. You gather friends. You stay up late. You watch alone, etc.) We'll print the best ones soon.

STEW DAYS OFF

The two days off between Games 3 and 4 is the longest break of this series so far. Some have suggested that the Lakers have two days to stew over their 20-point loss on Thursday.

While that's true, it also affords certain Lakers, such as the gimpy Karl Malone, time to rest. It also gives the Lakers time to regroup and figure out how to get back into a rhythm on offense.
--L.A. Times (Registration required)

"Our guys have to get back into a position of being comfortable with what we want them to do," Rambis said, "and having poise and patience and understanding what the Pistons want to do defensively and being able to have counters for it.

"Because there have been occasions we've done exactly what we wanted to do and we end up picking them apart, you see a guy drive, Ben Wallace will come over and you'll get a little armpit pass to Shaq and he gets a dunk. Or we execute the offense and we get a wide open shot, but that's been more of a rarity than the norm. We're looking for the norm and the consistency."

FRANK ADMISSION

When it comes to the Larry O'Brien Trophy, you've got to want it. And right now, Derek Fisher thinks the Pistons want it more.

"Overall, they're not necessarily playing harder than us, but they're playing like they want it more than us," Fisher said. "Their desire to be in this position, their desire to be champions is greater than ours at this point."

Fisher says he can never remember the Lakers being in a state of mind like that before. Still, Fisher is confident.

"This isn't going to be easy for us to do," Fisher said. "But at this point, we firmly believe it's a series we can win and believe that we will."

TIP-INS

The Pistons lead the series 2-1, but some have pronounced the Lakers dead.
-- Detroit News

Detroit's not only winning the series, but they're gaining R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
-- Detroit News

Ah, the Pistons are an example of the whole being more than the sum of their parts.
-- Washington Post

Feel sorry for the Lakers? This writer thinks it's possible.
-- Newark Star-Ledger

FOUL MOOD
Posted by Rob Peterson on June 9 2004 8:00 p.m. ET

SMACK-A-SHAQ

DETROIT -- Larry Brown's nightmare unfolded in real time at the end of Game 2 on Tuesday. Imagine Brown's horror now that he, his coaching staff and the Pistons have seen Kobe Bryant's game-tying 3-pointer on tape, in slow motion and every hour on the hour on ESPN and NBA TV?
-- ESPN.com

I shudder at the thought and so do Pistons fans who saw their team's potential 2-0 series lead fade away heading into Game 3 in Auburn Hills on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET).
-- ESPN.com

Everyone is talking about the things the Pistons should have done in those final 14.7 seconds.

Namely, foul Shaquille O'Neal once he touched the ball on the inbounds pass from Karl Malone.
-- Detroit News

And the shot from the San Antonio perspective.
-- San Antonio Express-News (Registration required)

(Here's a question I have: Granted, the Pistons had a collective lapse at the end of the game. But why in the world did Malone, with 18 years of NBA experience, throw the ball into Shaq, who can't shoot 3-pointers and can't shoot free throws, in that situation? Why was Shaq even on the floor in that situation? The Pistons' brain cramp and Bryant's shot let Phil Jackson off the hook. Big time.)

The hyperbole regarding Bryant's shot has begun in earnest. One writer called it "the biggest shot in NBA history."
-- Miami Herald (Registration required)

Discuss among yourselves.

Others have noted that the Pistons will have a tough time overcoming the loss.
-- Detroit Free Press

This I can't buy. Yes, Brown called the loss crushing and Tayshaun Prince said the Pistons were devastated. Crushing? For the moment. Devastating? At the time.

Yet, consider this: The Pistons defeated the playoffs' only undefeated home team in Game 1 and rallied back from an 11-point deficit to take a six-point lead with under a minute to play, again on the road.

Someone, sometime during the next 24 hours will tell them this: All is not lost, and the series is tied at 1-1 with three consecutive games at home. That, and Malone's status for Game 3 is uncertain.
-- L.A. Times (Registration required)

Regardless, Detroit's desire to wash Game 2's sour taste out of their collective mouth and L.A.'s desire to maintain the momentum should make for a battle on Thursday.

EVERYONE LOVES LUKE

Look at what one great game on the world's biggest stage can do for a guy. People begin asking questions such as: Is Luke Walton the Lakers' newest superstar?
-- ESPN.com

We answer: For one game, at least.

Then again, who saw Walton being a factor in the first place?
-- Philly Daily News (Registration required)

TIP-INS

Does this mean Larry and Isiah are finally even?
-- ESPN.com

I knew the New York writers had a reason to be in L.A. besides covering the series: To raise the hopes of Knicks fans.
-- New York Post

No doubt you've been following the NBA Legends Tour, which includes an NBA Legend (duh!) and the NBA's holy grail: The Larry O'Brien Trophy. Like Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," the O'Brien is A Girl Named Larry.
-- New York Times (Registration required)

Pining for the good ol' days? Bah! These are the good ol' days!
-- Sacramento Bee and L.A. Times (Registration required)

GONE, GARY, GONE
Posted by Rob Peterson on June 7 2004 6:23.32 p.m. PT

BE AGGRESSIVE, BE-E AGRESSIVE!

LOS ANGELES, June 7 -- He didn't address the media after Game 1, and Gary Payton was still missing during media availability on Monday morning.

Some would say the Lakers' point guard missed Game 1 as well, but that would be piling on as the league office today fined Payton for jilting us. You see, we have a job to do, too: Which is ask Payton why he didn't do his very well on Sunday.
-- Orange County Register (Registration required)

(One writer even went as far as accusing Payton and Karl Malone of dogging it. That just ain't right.)
-- Fresno Bee

But because this Click and Roll is all about adjustments, the media adjusted well to Payton's absence, moving in a pack across the STAPLES Center floor like six-year-olds chasing a soccer ball when a new player appeared at a podium.

(Editor's note: Um, Rob. We're not talking about the media's adjustments. We want to hear about the Lakers' and Pistons' adjustments.)

That's right, that's right. I lost my place there. Where were we? Oh, yes, adjustments. The Lakers must make many, especially now that they have two opposing backcourt scorers for whom they now must account.
-- Detroit Free Press

Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons said the Lakers' adjustments could depend on how the Pistons start out in Game 2 on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

"Chauncey's a good basketball player," Cleamons said. "It depends how Larry [Brown] wants to use him. In the Indiana series, it looked like he saddled Chauncey to make sure he got into an offense and didn't want Chauncey to get in to his own personal offense until late in the shot clock or the fourth quarter.

"In Game 1, he was a primary option. He went to [Billups] early on. He got off to a wonderful start, a great first half and he kind of picked his spots. If he's going to be a primary scorer for them, we're going to need to play him as such."

It's no mystery (especially after I give you the numbers) as to why the Pistons went to Billups like Chicago voters go to the polls -- early and often. In his last four games against the Lakers, including Game 1, Billups is averaging 27.0 points per game and shooting .561 from the field. You would be a knucklehead not to go to him.

If Payton or Derek Fisher, who was 1-for-9 from the field in Game 1, can't hang with Billups, look for the Lakers to have Kareem Rush chase Richard Hamilton around while the taller Kobe Bryant tries to get into Billups' grille and put pressure on the ball.

The Pistons, meanwhile, feel that maintaining the status quo would be a good idea. And why not? Look at how well the Pistons played defense, especially Tayshaun Prince's defense on Kobe Bryant.
-- Detroit Free Press and L.A. Daily News

"I don't think we need to do a whole lot of anything," Pistons assistant Mike Woodson said. "Our game plan was pretty solid last night. We know this team can score points, they have four guys who are capable of beating you and we know that. We have to cut down on their attempts, not let them get into their comfort zone."

The Pistons did a wonderful job of cutting the Lakers' options in half and, in turn, cutting the Lakers down to size.

As for Game 2, Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince sees the Lakers being more aggressive on offense.

As for the Lakers themselves? Cleamons said Tuesday night is not the time for talk, it's the time for action.
-- Sacramento Bee

"With the game tomorrow night, you can't ask any questions," Cleamons said. "You just need to go out and play."

PINE-TIME PERFORMERS

Another factor in Detroit's Game 1 triumph was the Pistons bench, which outscored the Lakers' reserves 19-4. According to one writer, the Pistons' depth could be a boon.
-- Sacramento Bee

Even Elden Campbell, who averaged a mere 7.0 minutes in the Eastern Conference finals, played a solid 18 minutes against Shaquille O'Neal in Game 1.

Pistons assistant Mike Woodson feels the Pistons bench will be the difference.

"Our bench has to play a major role for us to win this series," Woodson said. "Last night, they were pretty good."

The Lakers, however, weren't good. Rush admits as much.

"The role players didn't have good games," Rush said. "We need to knock down shots to make it easy on them. I think the first game jitters are gone now."

HISTORY REPEATING?

Much is being made about the Pistons being up 1-0 in comparison to Larry Brown's Sixers holding a 1-0 lead against the Lakers in the 2001 Finals. Don't put too much stock into that, Woodson said.

"The bottom line is, you can't compare them," Woodson said. "That Philly team, that was years ago. This is an entirely different ballclub that this guy (Brown) is coaching. It's a much deeper ballclub than he had in Philadelphia. And that's not the same Lakers team, so I don't look at it in that regard."

History may be the only thing on the Lakers' side right now. Three times the Lakers have lost Game 1 of a Finals series at home. Three times (1972, 1988 and 2001) they've gone to win the NBA title.

Or as this article states: Meet the team that issued the wake-up call
-- Los Angeles Times

TIP-INS

I could link to all the "Pistons Stun/Shock/Surprise Lakers in Game 1" stories, but then I'd need to link to almost every story. So, here are some other Game 1 subplots

Bryant-Hamilton matchup fizzles
-- Newark Star-Ledger

Fit for a ring? Hello? Anyone there?
-- San Diego Union Tribune

Jackson: Pistons controlled the tempo
-- Detroit News

Malone takes responsibility
-- L.A. Daily News

WHAT, ME WORRY?
Posted by Rob Peterson on June 5 2004 7:33.32 p.m. PT

WE INTERRUPT THIS BLOG...

LOS ANGELES, June 5 -- OK, OK, had to get this out of the way first. We're at The Finals in Los Angeles. We know Click and Roll readers are discriminating and require proof of our claim. Here's your first peek at the head Click and Roll knucklehead.


Click and Roll, your pass to The Finals.
Randy Kim/NBAE Photos

Yeah, that's me and my five-head (not a forehead, but five-head) at the Lakers' training facility during media availability.

And now back to our regularly scheduled 2004 Finals Click and Roll.

WHAT, ME WORRY?

And while the other 27 teams mainly worry about how they can improve enough in order to make it to The Finals, two teams have one on-the-court worry: Your opponent. What about them gives you pause? What keeps you up at night? Which player or foe's characteristic will make you curl up in the fetal position and cry for your momma?

So, yes Lakers and Pistons, it may be a question with an easy answer, but we asked it regardless. We had to. What worries you about your respective opponent? Derek Fisher, we first turn to you.

"Worry is a tough word for an athlete to own up to," Fisher said. "Definitely some of the things we're focusing on is the fact that they are a good defensive team but they have guys who are capable of putting the ball in the basket at the defensive end.

"As far as us being able to score, we haven't had a problem with that before. Obviously, there'll be a game or so where you don't shoot the ball well and a team defends you well, you don't have a good game offensively. For us, with the offensive abilities that we have, we feel we can score enough points to win, it's just a matter of stopping them."

OK, what about you, Gary Payton?

"Their defense," Payton responded. "They're a great defensive team. They like blocking shots and they start all their offense off defense because they block shots, they get steals, they pressure you up the floor.

"We can't let them pressure us. They want us to start our offense with 10 seconds on the clock so we have to take rushed shots. We're going to have to get the ball up and be in our offense around 16 or 17 seconds so that we can get ourselves in tune. We can't get Shaq the ball and try to force it into him over the top and let them get steals.

"We'll need to be patient with them. We've been doing that lately. Hopefully, we'll keep the pressure off of us."

Gotcha, Glove. What about you, Tex? I mean, Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter.

"Their defense," said Winter, architect of the triangle offense. "They have an eraser inside [Ben Wallace] who can really support and consequently they can put a lot of pressure on the outside. And if you break them down, you still have to contend with that force at the basket." Yes, even the Lakers fear The Fro. All right, Pistons. We know what concerns you, but we'd like to hear it from you.

"What concerns everyone about the Lakers," a tart Tayshaun Prince responded rhetorically. "Shaq, Kobe and how the other guys feed off those two. If [Shaq and Kobe] get going, then you really need to start helping on those guys, but you leave the other guys open and they can make plays.

"It'll be important for us to communicate on the defensive end and make some smart decisions."

Thanks, Mr. Prince. Mr. Lindsey Hunter, we turn to you, the only Piston with a ring, which you won with the 2002 Lakers. What worries you about your former team?

"I think that the fact that they've won so many championships and know what it takes," Hunter said. "That's something we lack is that type of experience. I think we're hungry enough and these guys really want it.

"There's nothing to really worry about. It is what it is. They're a super team. They have four future Hall of Famers. What more can you say? Everybody knows everybody. They're gonna get the ball to Shaq. Kobe's going to do his thing. We just have to be focused on what we do."

And finally, we cornered Pistons assistant Mike Woodson.

"Their big four, that's a big concern," Woodson said. "You're talking about maybe four future Hall of Famers on the same ballclub. That's a big concern.

"And O'Neal is a major concern because he's so dominant. I think Kobe, next to our guy, Rip Hamilton, is the best two guard in the league. There's a lot to be said about the Lakers keeping it all intact and getting to The Finals, there's a reason why and that's because they have four players who have been great players in our league."

DUMARS LIGHTS IT UP

If you see Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars with a smile on his face in the next few days, you can understand why. Dumars, who went to three Finals with the Pistons, winning two and earning Finals MVP honors in 1989, has brought the Pistons back to prominence. So, we wanted to know how that felt.

"What's the sense of accomplishment that you have rebuilding a team that you played for and getting them back to The Finals?"

Take it away, Joe.

"It's a great sense of accomplishment," Dumars said. "It's much more gratifying to do it this way than as a player. As a player, you drive to the arena and get taped and you go out and score your 20 points and it's incredible you won.

"In this position, you're trying to hire a coaching staff, you're trying to hire a scouting staff, you're trying to acquire players, you're trying to create a championship aura. To be able to do that and have it all together and be here is a great, great feeling.

"I don't care who you are. People can say whatever they want to say. You start putting teams together and you start putting your stamp on a team, it becomes a referendum on whether you can do it or not. You can say otherwise, but at the end of the day, when you're driving home by yourself, that's what's on your mind: 'Can I get this done or not?'

"So, that's why the feeling becomes more gratifying. When we lost the first time we went to The Finals against the Lakers, it wasn't a referendum on me. It was just our team wasn't ready to win at that time."

Another reporter followed up: "Is that especially true for you, Joe, because of where the franchise was when you took over?"

"Absolutely," Dumars said. "Those lights at the Palace were starting to flicker."

And another, "There were a lot of other options you could have taken. With the lights flickering, why?"

"How do I say this without sounding wrong?" Dumars asked. "I thought I'd be real good at it. I'm sorry. That's as bold as I'm going to get. But I thought I could be good at it and that I could make a difference. I really did. Because I didn't think it was rocket science.

"I took a year after I retired to study and immerse myself in the salary cap and the collective bargaining agreement. Then after a year on the phone with the league office, with the attorneys at the league office, asking them, having skull sessions, 'Can I do this? Can I not do this?' And this was before I took over, in preparation. And then I took over the following year.

Another question: "Was there anyone specific who you turned to for advice?"

"Rod Thorn," Dumars said. "Rod helped me out a lot. He's been good through the entire time. I still talk to Rod on the phone. He's been tremendously helpful to me."

And, about the team he's built into a Finals participant?

"I like my team, it's not a typical team of superstars that feels privileged."

Sounds like Dumars' team -- and Dumars -- all right.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

One of the stresses of The Finals that often goes unnoticed is taking care of family and friends while you're trying to win a title. Payton, who last made The Finals with the Sonics in 1996 and is showing a touch of grey around his temples, noted that his house is full right now.

"I have nephews and nieces, everybody's here," Payton said. "They're getting picked up right now. It's going to be crazy when I go home and I have to see all of them.

"But this is the day to do it. I told 'em that after 7 o'clock everyone is going to have to shut it down. I'm going to watch a movie with my family and I'll even take the kids and put them away somewhere and let my cousin take care of them. And my mother's cooking right now. It'll be fine, it'll be OK."

"What's she making," came the question from the gaggle.

"She's got my favorite: chicken, greens, yams, cabbage, potato salad. Kool-Aid, too," Payton said to laughter. "You know we always gotta have Kool-Aid. You got to have that. It'll be a real party this afternoon with my whole family."

THE PISTONS' ANGLES

This Finals series will feature subplots galore. Let's give them a look, shall we?

Low expectations for the Pistons
No one expects them to win, so the Pistons have nothing to lose but The Finals themselves.
-- Detroit Free Press

Only the name Pistons links them to the past
Don't you dare call this version of the Pistons "Bad Boys II" or this writer will send Rick Mahorn after you. Then you'll realize what a Bad Boy is.
-- Detroit News

On second thought, another opinion about Bad Boys
Let's get physical ... and then copy it.
-- Seattle Times

And from the files of Norman Vincent Peale
From the author of "The Power of Positive Thinking" (I deserve a raise, I deserve a raise... Whoops, sorry.) by way of Mitch Albom, Detroit's View: Beginning of End for Lakers Era
-- Detroit Free Press

THE LAKERS' ANGLES

Sheed, there are so many. Here's a sampling.

The Lakers are popular. No, really!
The cold, hard numbers showing why the Lakers draw your attention.
-- Los Angeles Times (Registration required)

Sage advice and wisdom in the form of former players
In order to complete this fantasy season, the Lakers needed their versions of Obi Wan Kenobi and Gandalf the Wizard. Phil Jackson refers to them in a less preternatural vein as, "My alumni."
-- Los Angeles Times (Registration required)

Shaq's comedy stylings
And now, we'd love to give a warm Click and Roll welcome for this comic out of Los Angeles. He keeps 'em in stitches at work. Forget the Kings of Comedy, this is the King-size of Comedy, Shaquille O'Neal.
-- Detroit Free Press

Subplot No. 23
According to this scribe, Michael Jordan's still with us and his fingerprints are all over this series.
-- Los Angeles Daily News

And finally, the Los Angeles Times has an excellent 2004 Finals section. Check it out. (And just register already. It's free.)
-- Los Angeles Times

THE TALLY

At media availability during Finals practice, a high-profile hierarchy emerges. The head coaches and the superstars (Shaq, Kobe, Ben Wallace and Richard Hamilton) get swept into the interview room while the rest of the poor souls who just want to play basketball get thrown to us wolves. Some players make sportswriters salivate more than others.

Here's the breakdown from packed to friendly gathering to lonely at today's practices.

Los Angeles Lakers
Packed: Derek Fisher, Karl Malone, Gary Payton
Friendly gathering: Rick Fox, Horace Grant, Devean George, Kareem Rush
Lonely: Brian Cook, Luke Walton

Detroit Pistons
Packed: Rasheed Wallace (and it was a treat!), Chauncey Billups
Friendly gathering: Lindsey Hunter, Tayshaun Prince, Corliss Williamson, Elden Campbell
Lonely: Darvin Ham, Mehmet Okur, Darko Milicic

Check out NBA.com's The Finals Blog, which gives you the chance to interact with hoopsters and entertainers, as well as getting a real feel for what's happening in L.A. and Detroit.

One more win and Larry Brown's Pistons will be No. 1.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant
NBAE/Getty Images)

2003-04 ARCHIVE
June 1 -- Love 'Em, Hate 'Em
May 24 -- Three's Magic
May 17 -- Unsung Heroes
May 10 -- Kero-Whacked!
May 3 -- Fugazy Like a Fox
April 26 -- Click Gets Randy
April 19 -- Playoffs CW, IQ
April 12 -- Give Them Away
April 5 -- Fight for First
March 29 -- Prime Time
March 22 -- East Bests West?
March 15 -- Very Scary Bears
March 8 -- Sick and Tired
March 1 -- West Side Story
Feb. 24 -- Surfing the Nets
Feb. 17 -- City of Angles
Feb. 13-15 -- All-Star Blog
Feb. 9 -- Git Up, Git Out
Feb. 2 -- Lobbying for L.A.
Jan. 26 -- Midwest is Best
Jan. 19 -- More Central
Jan. 12 -- Grand Central
Jan. 8 -- Starbury Time
Dec. 29 -- American Rookies
Dec. 22 -- The Greatest Gift
Dec. 15 -- Hail the Kings
Dec. 8 -- Spurs Sportsmen
Dec. 1 -- Holiday Exchange
Nov. 24 -- Hive Talkin'
Nov. 17 -- Clip and Save
Nov. 10 -- Short People

BACKCOURT
Check out NBA.com's "Destination Finals" and The Finals sections for a complete recap of all of the 2004 postseason action.

FRONTCOURT
The week that will be:
June 14-21: What we live for: The Finals