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  Sun, June 6, 2004


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Putting on a brave front
Bill Harris writes that despite what the Pistons say, they ought to be afraid of the Lakers
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN

The Detroit Pistons are talking bravely in the face of danger. "A lot of people don't give us a chance," said Pistons forward Richard (Rip) Hamilton, whose club plays the mighty Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA final tonight at the Staples Center.

"They say the Lakers are hungry because they have a couple of guys (Karl Malone and Gary Payton) who haven't won rings. Well, they aren't the only ones who haven't won championships. There are a lot of guys in our locker room who haven't won, either."

And a week and a half from now those yearning Pistons still will be ringless. And Hamilton's nickname may be changed from Rip to R.I.P. if Kobe Bryant feels like racheting up his game against an old Philadelphia high school rival.

Still, given the Lakers' lack of attention to detail in non-essential situations, we're betting things will drag out a bit.

Without question, the Lakers are heavy favourites to win their fourth title in five years, and rightfully so.

First of all, they have 7-foot-1 centre Shaquille O'Neal. Through the regular season we often forget how important that is, but we usually get reminded at this time of year.

"Why should we (be intimidated by O'Neal)?," Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace said, rather ludicrously. "Look at Michael Jordan. He was the most dominant player in his time. Was Joe Dumars scared of him?"

Well, maybe. And if Dumars, a former Pistons great who serves as the club's president of basketball operations, wasn't scared, he should have been. It was just common sense.

For Shaq's part, he believes the turmoil surrounding the Lakers this season has been overblown by the media, although it's tough to fathom how the media could "overblow" Bryant's rape trial in Colorado.

"Everybody wants to see (the Lakers) fail," Shaq said. "That's why you put that stuff in the papers. That sells and you want to make your bosses happy."

Well, there's a first time for everything.

Second of all, the Pistons can't score, even when they're not playing against Shaq. They averaged only 75 points per game as they disposed of the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference final. Yes, the Pistons are capable of playing smothering defence, but can they hold the Lakers to fewer than 75 points in any circumstance?

Coaching-wise, neither Phil Jackson of the Lakers nor Larry Brown of the Pistons will be found wanting. It's a virtual draw. Brown's strategic instincts may be slightly better, but Jackson's team has the talent to make up for that.

And by the way, if the Lakers win, Jackson will break two records: His 10th title as a coach will move him past Red Auerbach, and his 12th title overall as a player and a coach will move him past Bill Russell.

So, what does all this mean?

ON THE MONEY

Given our abysmal history when trying to predict everything from post-season results to mortgage rates, we'll take the rare opportunity to point out we're on a prognostication roll. In the conference finals, we were bang-on in both series: Lakers in six, Pistons in six. We even pegged the Lakers to beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in six games, back in the previous round.

Which only means whatever we say now is destined to be hopelessly, embarrassingly wrong. Nonetheless:

The Lakers will flex their muscles and win the first two games at home before taking a mental nap in the middle three games in Detroit. The Pistons will win two of those games, forcing things back to the West Coast for a coronation and, inevitably, a riot.

Lakers in six.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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