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Newz Forum: BASKETBALL: Lakers host Pistons in opener of NBA Finals

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posted on Jun, 6 2004 @ 04:58 PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Phil Jackson is seeking No. 10. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are in pursuit of their fourth championship. Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined the Los Angeles Lakers to get their first. Not many are giving the Detroit Pistons much a chance to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals, which begins Sunday night at the Staples Center.

Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls to six titles in the 1990s and won three straight with the Lakers from 2000-02. Red Auerbach is the only other coach to win nine championships.

Detroit's Larry Brown has been in this position before. Three years ago, the Hall of Fame coach went to the NBA Finals for the first time with the Philadelphia 76ers, who won the first game at Los Angeles before losing the next four to the heavily favored Lakers. The 7-1 O'Neal earned Most Valuable Player honors in the NBA Finals for the Lakers' last three titles. This time he will be up against a pair of tremendous post defenders in two-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace and the highly versatile Rasheed Wallace. Brown also has two 7-footers off the bench in Mehmet Okur and Elden Campbell.

Detroit's defense is the best in the NBA, a unit that is coming off a conference finals series in which it allowed less than 73 points per game to Indiana. Brown most certainly will alternate the Wallaces on O'Neal, hoping Ben's brute strength and Rasheed's length will force O'Neal to change his approach throughout the game. However, one thing Brown said he will not do is employ "Hack-a-Shaq" - the overanalyzed strategy of intentionally fouling O'Neal and forcing him to the free-throw line, where the only weakness in his game is exposed.

In the postseason, O'Neal has made just 82-of-199 foul shots, a shade above 41 percent. When Brown coached the 76ers against the Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals, he did not resort to "Hack-a-Shaq," instead opting to rely on 7-2 Dikembe Mutombo, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year. O'Neal averaged 33.0 points, 15.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.

The most intriguing matchup may be on the perimeter between Bryant and Pistons shooting guard Richard Hamilton. The two grew up competing against each other in Pennsylvania as high school rivals with Bryant leading his Lower Merion squad over Hamilton's Coatesville team. Bryant is expected to have the upper hand, although Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince will likely guard him. The Lakers have indicated that Bryant will chase around Hamilton, who averaged 23.7 points in the Eastern Conference finals.

Malone and Payton signed discount contracts with the Lakers in the offseason for the purpose of getting a championship ring. Malone went to the Finals twice with the Utah Jazz and Payton made it once with the Seattle SuperSonics. Detroit is making its first appearance in the NBA Finals since 1990, when the Pistons defeated Portland for their second straight championship.

Game Two is Tuesday in Los Angeles.

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