Detroit believes in upset of Lakers

Updated: June 6, 2004, 12:25 PM ET
Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Chauncey Billups knows that few people outside the Detroit locker room think the Pistons can beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

"That doesn't bother us because we're ready to shock the world," the point guard said Saturday.

Count the oddsmakers in Las Vegas among those expecting the Lakers to win their fourth title in five years. A $100 bet on the underdog Pistons would return about $600 if they win the series, while a gambler would have to wager about $800 for a $100 return on the Lakers.

In Game 1 on Sunday at home, Los Angeles is almost a 10-point favorite.

"We know very few people believe we can win this series," Pistons reserve Corliss Williamson said. "But the people who really know the game can see where we have an opportunity to win."

Clearly, Detroit does not have a player as great as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

"I don't think there's a more dominant player than Shaq, and probably not a better player than Kobe," Pistons coach Larry Brown said.

The Pistons, however, believe their 11-man rotation can help them pull off a stunning upset.

Detroit's depth overcame the star power of the Lakers in a 106-96 victory at home in the regular season. Six Pistons scored in double figures, and their reserves outscored Los Angeles' 45-14.

"If we utilize our team the way we're capable, we'll have an opportunity to win," Williamson said. "I don't think we can win this series with just five-to-seven guys, it's going to take our whole team.

"I think you're going to see Coach Brown utilize his bench a lot more this series."

Granted, Detroit's victory over the Lakers was played in November when they weren't as motivated as they are now.

But they did have the "Big Four" of Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton in the lineup, and the Pistons were three months away from acquiring Rasheed Wallace.

The vast majority of those picking the Lakers in the series point to Detroit's awful offense, and rightfully so.

Against Indiana, New Jersey and Milwaukee, the Pistons played in some of the lowest-scoring games in NBA playoff history.

They have made just 40.7 percent of in the postseason, and haven't shot better than 44 percent in more than a month.

Numerous times, Detroit has gone about four minutes without scoring -- sometimes more than once in a game.

"We have to make shots and avoid those long scoring droughts," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said.

Dumars, who led Detroit over Los Angeles as the MVP of the 1989 NBA Finals, is growing tired of hearing the Pistons play ugly basketball.

"That's why they have beauty pageants, we're not here for that," Dumars said.

The Pistons have been able to overcome their rim-clanging shots because of their defense, which has set several records in both the regular season and the playoffs.

"We feel we can offer something they haven't seen so far in these playoffs," former Laker Elden Campbell said.

Other than "playing the right way," which means playing unselfishly on offense and aggressively on defense, Brown said there are three keys for success.

"We have to stay out of foul trouble; we have to make sure we take great shots; and we can't allow them to get easy baskets," Brown said.

Jalen Rose of the Toronto Raptors, who was working as a television reporter on Saturday, said there's one way his hometown Pistons can beat the Lakers.

"We've got to kidnap Shaq," Rose joked. "It's going to be harder in L.A., but when he gets to Detroit, we have to find a way to get him from the hotel to the airport, instead of the arena."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press