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Perhaps it will take two losses to get Lakers' attention

Lacking offense and a sense of urgency, Los Angeles players blame themselves for losing Game 1.

By Associated Press
Published June 8, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Leave it to the Lakers to make light of a loss.

Coming off their low-effort virtual no-show in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Lakers all but laughed it off Monday and promised to try harder next time against the Detroit Pistons.

"You can probably blame it on the thong thing Shaq had on. It kind of traumatized everybody in the locker room," Kobe Bryant joked, one of two underwear references the Lakers came up with while discussing what went wrong in Game 1 and what needs to get better in Game 2.

Having been on this stage four times in the past five years, the Lakers have the luxury of knowing from experience that one loss at the start of a seven-game series does not foretell doom.

Two losses might get their attention, but they don't plan on allowing that to happen.

"We beat ourselves," Shaquille O'Neal said. "You know, we just didn't come out with that killer instinct. We didn't have a sense of urgency, way too many turnovers and didn't shoot the ball well. If we knock out all of those things or just one or two of those things, we could have won that game."

Los Angeles has shown a tendency throughout this season and over the past few years to bring out its "A" game only when pushed. It happened in the second round after the Lakers fell behind 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs, and again in the West final when their lack of focus in Game 5 at Minnesota was followed by a precision performance in Game 6.

Now that they realize the Pistons won't be bothered by butterflies or startled by the star-studded crowd, the Lakers know they'll need a different level of energy and focus tonight.

"It has gotten our attention," O'Neal said. "We realize that this team is not going to lay down because the Lakers are in the house."

Coach Phil Jackson tried to get his team's attention by replaying a clip from Game 1 in which Detroit coach Larry Brown was imploring his team to take advantage of the Lakers' indifferent attitude toward defense, telling them they could get any shot they wanted,

"Coach played it back about four or five times," Karl Malone said. "The truth hurts."

For Brown, the challenge Monday was getting his team to forget about Game 1 and turning its focus toward the opportunity of taking a 2-0 lead before the series moves to Detroit for Games 3, 4 and 5.

Never Has a home team lost the first two games of the NBA Finals and won the series.

The Pistons played what was for them nearly a perfect game, dictating the tempo, shooting 47 percent, committing only four turnovers in the second half and getting strong contributions from several players - both in the starting lineup and off the bench - while holding Los Angeles to 75 points, more than 14 below its postseason average.

The Lakers got 34 points from O'Neal and 25 from Bryant but no more than five from anyone else. Their two newest superstars, Malone and Gary Payton, were thoroughly outplayed by counterparts Rasheed Wallace (14 points) and Chauncey Billups (22 points).

Malone shot 2-for-9, Payton was 1-for-4, Derek Fisher was 1-for-9 and Kareem Rush was 0-for-3. O'Neal even sacrificed a few shot opportunities during the third quarter in an unsuccessful effort to try to get Malone involved.

"They know we let one slip away, and now we just have to get one back. We've been in this situation before, so it's nothing to get weird about," said O'Neal, adding that he had not offered any words of encouragement to Malone. "It's no time to be: "You need to do this, you need to do that.' We know what we have to do. I know I have to get up in the morning and put my underwear on first and (then) my pants. I don't need people to tell me that."

Detroit players did not seem to take offense at the Lakers blaming themselves for the loss, saying it's natural for an elite team to focus on its own shortcomings rather than on what an opponent did well.

The Pistons realize they surprised a lot of people with their victory - even if they didn't surprise themselves - and know they can expect a much different approach from the Lakers in Game 2.

Brown reminded the Pistons how his Philadelphia 76ers stunned the Lakers in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals but then lost the next four games.

"A couple people said on the bus: "This is a different team. You're not in Philly anymore. You're in Detroit,' " Pistons guard Richard Hamilton said. "So we know what's at stake."

[Last modified June 8, 2004, 01:00:38]


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