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/ June 13, 2004

The Detroit Pistons lead the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals 2 games to 1. Game 4 is Sunday night in Detroit. Here's what various Lakers said to the media on Saturday.

PHIL JACKSON

Q: As under-sized centers go, how would you rank and what can you say about 6-9, 245-pound Ben Wallace?

Jackson: Oh, he's a great shot blocker, great timing for the ball, good rebounder, offensive, keeps the ball alive. He's been a real centerpiece for this team.

Q: How would you rank him among under-sized centers?

Jackson: So are you going back to Wes Unseld, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens?

Q: Yes.

Jackson: Well, he's not an offensive player like any of those guys. But defensively, I think he stands alone in a lot of areas, maybe not as good as Wes Unseld or Willis Reed, although Cowens himself was a ferocious defender. His activity is probably greater than those players and his athleticism certainly is. But, you know, he's gained confidence in his scoring this year, he's made improvements, he's getting to be a better ballplayer every year. I think that's the important part about his game.

Q: Forgive me if you've been asked this before, but when you were down in San Antonio 2-0, one of the things you did was sort of collapse the defense, if I'm not mistaken and forced them to beat you from the outside. Given the way Chauncey is playing, is there any thought of doing something akin to that in this series?

Jackson: Well, we're going to have to -- we are a team that revolves around the comfort zone of knowing the personnel we are playing against. And we've yet to really personalize and individualize what Chauncey Billups brings to this team and his personality as a player. We know that we've got him under, layups, all of those things have happened to us and we have to understand that. We are coming to terms with that, I think, as a team, so that identity and our ability to play with greater confidence and activity is increased.

We are trying to get that through to the players, because I think that's really the ultimate important part. I think Chauncey has developed as a ballplayer, where we always thought of him as a scorer or a playmaker. He's combined those abilities, particular in these playoffs.

We really do understand that this team has not shot the ball that well against us. We're shooting better than they were even going into the fourth quarter of that ballgame, but the key about the games and their activity on the offensive boards, second-chance opportunities and free throws, and those are the areas that we can clean up and those are the areas we want to clean up as we go through this next game in a hurry.

For us to be active -- a la San Antonio type of thing -- if we had played this team four times in a season and multiple playoffs like we played San Antonio over the years, yes, I think we could do what you're suggesting. Right now, we're getting close to knowing how to do this, but I don't trust the fact that intricate type of defensive activity like that might be capable with this team yet.

Q: Several of your players have said that they think that the Pistons are hungrier for this title than you. How disturbing is that and do you think that's just some media rhetoric that they are just throwing out there?

Jackson: I can't imagine that could possibly be true. I mean, we know that our players have played hard, gutted it out through the course of these playoffs. Obviously, there's some things talked about, lack of effort, those things are ridiculous, because players only play with lack of effort when they are confused or they don't know their assignments perhaps defensively or they are caught in between whether they should step out or retreat and as a consequence, they can't react to the ball the way they would like to.

What we do have is a team that's not quite as athletic as the Detroit team, but we know we can play up to that level. Once we are in clear purpose of what our goals and objectives are, we can do the job. That's -- I don't think there's any idea at all in our minds about who wants this more than anybody else.

Q: I asked some of your players yesterday, was Sunday's game a game of urgency, and one of the answers I got was, it's a game of opportunity. As a coach, do you think it's a game of urgency or opportunity?

Jackson: Well, I'm a person that probably wouldn't respond to either one of your definitions because that's just the way I am. I'm a contrarian. (Laughter) So I'm not going to give you credit for either one of them.

Q: Appreciate it.

Jackson: But I will say this: I have told this team that we have to go back with a victory from these three games in Detroit. That's all we came here to do, is go back here with a victory and bring it back to L.A. The game on Sunday is ultimately an important game to do that because then we can get two victories while we're here.

So I haven't stated this urgency or opportunity either way. I'm just saying, go get a win and do it tonight, and that's the way I play ball. I like to play ball.

Q: Given Karl's state, do you have any consideration to flipping the lineup and starting Slava at this point in the series or any other changes you might contemplate to the lineup or rotation or is it too soon?

Jackson: Yes.

Q: So you are considering changes?

Jackson: Yes, I am.

Q: And Karl is one of them?

Jackson: Yes.

Q: How likely is that?

Jackson: You know, we're going to go through a practice this afternoon. We're going to see how the players play. Karl may not be able to practice. We have to consider that. We have to consider his urgency. What I've told him is we like what he's doing with Rasheed Wallace. He's played him well enough so that he has not become a big factor in this series. It's neutralized him as far as I'm concerned and has done some good things for us regardless of his activity level. His ability to rebound and all of those things, we do need to move forward.

As he goes through this series and he improves, he has to make that call and help us out. It's a consideration, as you mentioned.

Q: Did you get as much as you possibly could the other night in terms of both minutes and production, or can you get anything more, longer minutes, more out of him? Is there anything else that he can do?

Jackson: I think we can. I think we may use a bicycle in the locker room at halftime so he doesn't cool and get as stiff as he did in the second half. It was noticeable that he could not do the things and react to the things he wanted to do rebounding-wise, defensively and offensively out there on the floor.

But he ran the court relatively well in the first quarter, if you remember, he had a fast-break layup that he got knocked out on and didn't get a call on. He did some nice things passing the ball, hit a shot. He held his own out there and that's basically what we need from him.

Q: You were talking about cleaning up your game and the rebound differential, is that an X and O thing or is it a thing where you have to realize that they are crashing boards all the time and you have to do something about it?

Jackson: Well, it's both an X's and O's thing. It's an understanding of what's required of them as players and what they have to do. It's focus, basically. It's concentration.

Q: What's the X and O part?

Jackson: The X and O part is where we get help from and how we stay in front of the man so the guys are not loose to get offensive rebounds and get clear space to go to the boards. That's the X and O part of it. Where are you getting help from on your screen roll; are you going to go through your weak man out on the path; are you going to throw your guards and wings; that's the X and O's.

Q: Is this the least complementary of the Laker teams you've had inasmuch the parts don't fit together under your vision as well as the other Lakers teams you've had have?

Jackson: I decline to answer that question on the grounds I may incriminate myself.

That's a great answer. Thank you. (Laughter).

KOBE BRYANT

Q: Having known Rip Hamilton as long as you have and knowing his game as well as you do, is there anything you've seen over the last three games or just in this post-season that you feel like you haven't seen before or that's surprised you or in any way, you said, wow, and raised your eyebrows a little bit?

Bryant: No. Like I said before, he does -- he plays exactly the same way he played when he was in high school. He's just gotten much better at it. But it's exactly the same.

Q: So when people talk about the quantum leap he's made in these playoffs as going from a very good player to perhaps a great player, what is that? Is that perception?

Bryant: He's gotten better. It's not perception. He's gotten better. That's all there is to it. He's just improved and continue to improve because he works extremely hard. He's just gotten better.

Q: Has there been thoughts of putting you at the small forward to guard Tayshaun, save a little bit of energy on the defensive end and get you to rebound more?

Bryant: No. No. My energy is good. I feel fine. So, no, there hasn't been any talk about that, at least not to my knowledge.

Q: At the start of the season series, it seems like it was the Lakers' series to lose, the anticipation was so great of you guys getting the tenth championship for Phil and you guys getting back on top. Losing two of the first three as it happened, do you see that now there's just a sense of urgency to get back into the series?

Bryant: You know, just take it one game at a time. We have a big game coming up tomorrow. Some things we want to do differently than we did in the previous game. You know, see if the result won't be any different and just take it from there.

Q: Sometimes after the losing badly you just want to go back on court and here you have the two-day layoff, but maybe with you guys hobbled a little bit, has that been good for you?

Bryant: It's been real good for us. We get a chance to get healthy and make our adjustments. So these couple of days have been very good for us.

Q: You watched some film yesterday?

Bryant: Yeah.

Q: Didn't like it?

Bryant: No, it was okay. I mean, it's always good when you struggle in a ballgame for us to sit down and watch film and then you could see why and break it down to X's and O's and make our adjustments.

DEREK FISHER

Q: This team has the heart of a champion. Is it time for that heart to show?

Fisher: It’s past time. It’s one thing to have a heart of a champion and come out on the court and try and play like the heart of a champion, but there are still certain things that you have to be capable of doing in terms of removing the emotion, the excitement and enthusiasm. And there’s a certain poise and composure that we’ve always been able to play with that we haven’t consistently shown. Definitely, in terms of our effort and how hard we need to play and how much tougher we need to be in terms of our intensity in different areas, we do need to show a little heart. At the same time, I think we need to also kind of step back and let loose a little bit, really free ourselves of playing such a tight game. I think we need to loosen some things up and be aggressive but also relax and shoot the shots we’re capable of shooting and enjoy being in this position.

Q: The Lakers have always been successful when that third scorer steps up. Is it imperative that a number three scorer step up?

Fisher: Yeah. I think it just points to the fact that you have to have balance to beat good teams. In the playoffs, and you get to The Finals and teams spend hour after hour figuring how to slow Shaq down, how to slow Kobe down and as a team in the past, we’ve been able to make certain adjustments to still allow other guys to be successful on the offensive end. So I think that’s why we’ve been really saying over the last couple days is that although you give the Pistons a lot of credit for the way they’re defending us, we’re still putting a lot of blame and responsibility on ourselves for not executing the things we work on every day. So, that would allow us to have some better balance if we do some things better on the offensive end.

Q: Do you think you need to be that third guy or you can be that third guy?

Fisher: I can be. I’ve definitely shown up before and even at times in this postseason. If we execute properly, that third or fourth guy just kind of automatically appears. Our offense really isn’t designed to necessarily feature any one of two or three guys. The best offensive players end up just kind of getting most of the opportunities. Shaq and Kobe, obviously being our two best offensive players, most of the opportunities are there for them. But myself, Karl, Gary and Devean George, each guy on our team has shown the ability to get points. But it relies on good offensive execution. When you’re playing against a good defensive team, then you have to be willing to sustain your offensive execution even more and we failed to do that.

DEVEAN GEORGE

Q: What are these guys bringing that perhaps San Antonio and Minnesota didn’t bring?

George: Obviously, I think there’s a lot of debate going on on how good of a defensive team they are. They are a very good defensive team. They help each other out. I think the other teams that we played, Minnesota and San Antonio, I think they were just as good a defensive team as this team that we’re playing right now. They have a good reputation, so they have to play harder and do some other things. They’re putting us in places where we’re unfamiliar. They’re not letting us into our key spots, and I think they’ve got us not running the triangle, we’re not running our offense. Once we get back into that, I think we’ll be fine.

Q: They’re up and playing in their home building. Does the pressure shift to them?

George: The pressure shifts from team to team as the series goes on. I think the pressure could be on them because they have to hold down home court. We get another win here and we’re going back home. So I think the pressure could be on them to get a win here.

Q: You guys are obviously pretty battle-tested. Will your Finals experience, and the lack of their Finals experience, come into play sooner or later?

George: Hopefully, it will be, but I don’t think it really matters how much experience. Guys have been here. I think we just have to come out with effort and play with a lot of emotion and play like it’s our last time being here. I think we’ll be fine with that.

Q: So many times this year, somebody other than Shaq and Kobe has stepped up for you guys. Is that a key for you guys now?

George: It’s always a key for somebody else to step up because those guys might not be able to have it every night because, obviously, their whole defensive scheme and everything revolves around stopping those two guys. They’re sending two and three guys at them at a time, so it’s only right for somebody else to step up and try to open things up more.

KARL MALONE

Q: Notice any significant improvement in your knee? Are you tired of getting asked about it?

Malone: No. With all due respect, yes.

Q: How much easier it for a veteran team to get over something like Game 3?

Malone: Well, I’ll just go back to the year we’ve had. You name it and it happened to this team. At some point in time, we’ve always made it a little harder than we should. Not a lot harder. But we’ve always believed in what we tried to do as a team. I don’t think, I know, we didn’t get here by a fluke. We earned the right to be here. We’ve gone through a lot of tough things and always bounced back. That’s what this team is about and that’s what we’ll do.

Q: They’ve hurt you with offensive rebounding.

Malone: Offensive rebounding is all about responsibility; it’s not all Shaq’s. I said it the other night, yesterday I think, I’m caught up in the surroundings at time with the big fella, and I say, OK, he’s got that ball, or Devean’s got or Kobe’s got it, instead of just going and getting the basketball. And, that’s something we have to do, because, a couple of times the ball just bounced on the floor and if we would have made the effort, we would have gotten the basketball.

Q: Phil said he was thinking about lineup changes. Did he talk to the team about that?

Malone: You’ll have to talk to Phil about that. He’s the coach and we’ll see what he says.

Q: But as he talked to you about it?

Malone: I’m the player. I’m not the coach, I’m the player. I always have been. If I decided to coach one day, then I would make all those decisions. I don’t think I’d let an athlete make those decisions for me. Same situation here: Phil’s the coach; I’m the player. And we’ll go from there.

GARY PAYTON

Q: Cleamons was saying that a lot of Chuncey Billups’ success has come off failures in the (Lakers) team defensive system. What specific failures was he talking about?

Payton: If you look at their defense and look at ours, (when) we cover the pick and roll everyone is helping. We’ve got three or four guys in the paint. We’ve let him get penetration; we’ve let him shoot jump shots. I think that we should be more of a team-oriented defense with those guys, because he’s getting a lot of free looks. He’s doing a lot of things that he’s very comfortable with. I think that if we stop that, I think we’ll be okay. If we can eliminate him from scoring 19 or 20 points, I think we’ll be okay.

Q: How much easier is it for a veteran team to not be phased by what’s happened so far?

Payton: We can’t get down. They still have to beat us twice, and we’ve just got to come out and just play basketball like we’ve been saying. We haven’t been playing basketball. I don’t think we’ve had a good game yet. Out of three games, I don’t think we’ve played well yet. So I think that if we just come in and focus in on what we need to do … we’ve been looking at a lot of video and knowing what we’ve been doing well. We have to play together. They are playing together and hustling together, and we’re not doing that right now. I mean, we’re not getting rebounds; we’re not getting to loose balls. We’re not doing anything. So we have to do that for us to win basketball games, and I think that we’ve established that we have to know that now. And we’re doing that and we’re coming out and we’re going to try to practice today about how to help each other and support each other.

Q: Karl Malone mentioned that you guys had talked in the locker room about some things from yesterday. Can you talk about the mental state of this team right now, heading into Game 4?

Payton: We have a good mental state, I think. We know what we have to do. I think we know we have to come out and play. We can’t just lay down against this team. This team is a hustle team. They’re more of a team that’s well put-together. They hustle, they help each other a lot, so we’ve got to understand that, and we’ve got to try to neutralize what they do. Once we look at that and try to neutralize what they do, we can’t get into their strengths. Their strengths are they help and they do a lot of things. They’re playing Kobe very well, so now we have to adjust to try to get him to get easier looks. They’re playing Shaq really well. We’re not passing the ball well. We’re letting them jump around and knock balls loose, and they’re getting loose balls. So we have to adjust to everything. Because they’re going to adjust to it, so we have to adjust to it. So that’s why I think we have to come out here and practice at how we can do to make it easier. Kick the ball, rotate the ball, make it easier to get a shot. Not get double teamed, forcing the ball onto one side. Let’s kick the ball, let’s rotate it and make them have to play defense a little bit longer than what they do.

LUKE WALTON

Q: Can you talk about the importance of a third scorer stepping up and helping Shaq and Kobe?

Walton: It’s important, but I don’t think it’s important enough for that third scorer to start forcing shots. If we stay within our offense and take the open shots and move the ball when we’re not open, then we might not have a third or fourth scorer with a lot of points but a third, fourth, fifth, sixth scorer that all have between 6 and 14 points. We definitely have the players that can score the bucket, but we’re not getting the same good looks that the Pistons are getting.

Q: Is there more pressure on you since your break-out performance in Game 2 and your increased role?

Walton: A little bit, yeah. It’s the NBA Finals, there is a ton of pressure and the only reason I feel more pressure now is that there is a greater chance I will play. When I step on the court though I am not feeling that pressure, I’m just trying to get into a flow and read what is going on.

Q: After Game 2, much was expected out of you for Game 3, what happened?

Walton: I think I just got a little too anxious. I was so jacked up for the game that when I came in I rushed things and wasn’t letting the offense come to me; I was just forcing some things. I picked up a couple fouls early, so it never allowed me time to calm down and get into the flow. I sat back and talked to the coaches and watched a lot of the tape, so I know what to do different.







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