Pistons face a tough challenge in L.A.

Updated: June 3, 2004, 11:25 AM ET
By Joe Lago | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Their defense was good enough to win the East.

Now the Detroit Pistons get to find out if their D is good enough to win a championship against the NBA's most dominant offensive force -- otherwise known as Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal.

Shaquille O'Neal
"The biggest obstacle, of course, is the big man in the middle. He's the main focus," Rasheed Wallace said. "We're just waiting on LB [coach Larry Brown] to come up with a scheme. Come up with a scheme and just follow it to a T."

Only if stopping O'Neal was that easy. The way Corliss Williamson figures it, Detroit will need a tag-team effort of all of its bigs to slow down The Diesel. Their first crack at O'Neal comes Sunday when the Pistons travel to Los Angeles for Game 1 against the Lakers.

"We've got about six guys over 6-foot-10. Six times six is 36, so that's 36 fouls we've got," Williamson said. He was only half-joking.

"We're going to work hard. It's not going to be one guy on Shaq. It's going to take a total team effort. You can't focus on Shaq as well. You've got other guys on the team who are great as well."

The Pistons split their two regular-season meetings with the Lakers over a four-day span in mid-November, losing at Staples Center 94-89 and winning 106-96 at The Palace. O'Neal averaged a modest 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds as the Lakers had their full complement of future Hall of Famers.

The Pistons, however, were three months from adding the piece that would make them a championship contender -- 'Sheed, acquired in a deadline deal with Atlanta.

"The bottom line is that they've got Shaq and they've got Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton," said Lindsey Hunter, who won a ring with the Lakers two years ago. "It's going to be tough. But that's why we play the game to go out and see what happens.

"It's a big challenge. But we didn't get here not facing challenges."

Scoring enough points will be the Pistons' toughest task. They averaged just 75.2 points and shot just 37.3 percent against Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals. And scoring 69 points and shooting 32.9 percent -- which they did in their series-clinching Game 6 win on Tuesday -- simply won't cut it against the Lakers, who are averaging 90 points a game in the playoffs.

"I feel like we are going to shoot the ball better," Williamson said. "We just have to play the way we always play, and that's to play hard and play tough defensively and make them take tough, contested shots. That's how we play. That's how we win. We're not going to do or change anything."

The Pistons didn't take long to warm up to the idea of being the underdog against a franchise shooting for its fourth ring in five seasons.

"A lot of people don't expect us to win but in our minds and our hearts, we feel like we're going to win a championship," Williamson said. "We're looking forward to this challenge and win a championship so we can stick our tongue out at all the naysayers."

Added Hunter: "Of course, they're beatable. They put their pants on just like us."

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE