Fisher: 'We aren't playing the right way'
And it's not strictly about points for the superstars or lack of the same for their teammates.
"When you start to see three guys or four guys or five guys as one in terms of intensity, other facets of the game will take care of themselves," supporting cast leader Derek Fisher said before practice Saturday. "We aren't playing the right way.
"We've always been able to figure out a way to score points -- it's not about a third guy or a fourth guy. It's not about this guy or that guy not stepping up. We don't have an offense that highlights key guys, per se. We just play the game."
The Lakers will have to play the game a lot better Sunday night in Game 4 or face being down 3-1 to the Detroit Pistons. No team has overcome that deficit in the NBA Finals.
While the Lakers credit the Pistons' defense, they believe their biggest problems are self-inflicted.
"I think we can do a better job of cutting. The ball has to be moved through the air more than the dribble -- make the defense shift," assistant coach Tex Winter said. "You can't take it inside on the dribble. We haven't done a good job off basic cuts. We haven't done a good job with our basic offense, not at all."
Bryant would seem to be the major culprit in that regard. But he's not alone.
"They're playing Kobe very well. We have to get him better looks," Gary Payton said.
"We're having really bad possessions," Fisher said. "A lot of them, we feel, are our fault."
There have been defensive breakdowns, too. And rebounding has been a major problem with the Pistons getting more than six more per game than the Lakers, who had only three at the offensive end in the first three quarters of an 88-68 loss in Game 3.
"We need one of those 20-, 25-rebound games from Shaq," Fisher said.
Easier said than done, considering what O'Neal seems capable of at this stage of his career and the Pistons' inside depth and strength.
O'Neal is averaging 8.7 rebounds in the finals, and isn't getting his normal help from the injured Karl Malone, who is playing despite having what he believes to be a torn ligament in his right knee.
"We can't get down -- they've still got to beat us twice," Payton said. "We haven't been playing good basketball. I don't think we've had a good game yet. We have to play together. They've been playing together and hustling a lot. We haven't been doing that."
O'Neal is averaging 25.7 points and Bryant is averaging 23.0. Devean George is the Lakers' third-leading scorer with a 6.7-point average, and nobody other than O'Neal or Bryant has reached double figures in any of the three games.
Fisher believes the Lakers don't necessarily need a third player to reach double figures as long as they're doing their job, the thought being several have the ability to contribute.
Winter said the Lakers might have to call upon "guys who know the offense more."
He specifically mentioned Fox, a starter in recent years and early in the playoffs who hasn't played much recently because of injuries and ineffectiveness.
"I'm better with inactivity and rest," said Fox, most recently bothered by a sore neck and shoulders. "I'm going to go to practice now, see if I can audition for some minutes."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he was considering starting Slava Medvedenko in place of Malone, who was limited to 18 minutes in Game 3, including only six in the second half.
Jackson also said Malone might ride a stationary bike at halftime Sunday night to try and avoid cooling off and experiencing stiffness in his knee, something that happened in Game 3.
"He ran the court relatively well in the first quarter," Jackson said.
Malone had three of his five points and all four of his rebounds in the opening period, when he played 11 minutes and did a terrific job defending Rasheed Wallace.
Jackson summed up his team's problems pretty well when asked if this was the least complementary team he's had in Los Angeles.
"I decline to answer that question on the grounds I may incriminate myself," he said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
MORE NBA HEADLINES
- Ellis helps Mavs sink Spurs in Rondo's debut
- Kings, Nets explore D-Will trade, sources say
- Silver on tanking: 'No team is trying to lose'
- Pierce: Wizards need to 'build better habits'