In the end, same starting five for Game 4

Updated: June 13, 2004, 10:21 PM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Lakers coach Phil Jackson considered changing his starting lineup for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, then went with his usual unit, including the injured Karl Malone.

Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Devean George, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher -- all members of the Lakers' championship teams from 2000-2002 -- met with Jackson on Saturday to suggest the coach start them as a unit because of their experience with the team.

"I like involvement with players," Jackson said 90 minutes before Sunday night's game against the Detroit Pistons began. "I like the proactive kind of leadership that the team gives."

Jackson refused to announce his lineup at that time, saying: "You'll see at game time."

O'Neal, Bryant, George, Malone and Gary Payton got the call, as usual.

Jackson said he spoke to some players about their health and made his decision based on that issue as well as practice Saturday and the shootaround earlier Sunday.

"We need some revitalization in our lineup. We need to get going," the coach said. "We've got some game guys that really want to perform and do the best job, but right now, that's not good enough, unless they can play above 80 or 85 percent of their capabilities."

Jackson said the main problem in the first three games of the finals was rebounding and second-chance points. The Pistons averaged 6.3 more rebounds than the Lakers in the first three games and had 16 second-chance points to three for Los Angeles in winning the third game 88-68.

"We think that if we solve those kind of problems, we'll be fine," he said. "That's all reaction to the ball."

Fisher seemed surprised word of the players' meeting with Jackson filtered out -- it was reported in Sunday's Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee.

"I don't know, but I doubt it," he said an hour before the opening tipoff when asked if he was going to start.

He refused comment about the meeting.

Jackson said at Saturday's news conference he was considering starting Slava Medvedenko in place of Malone, who has what the team has called a sprained right knee ligament but what Malone believes to be a torn ligament.

Malone was late coming onto the court before Sunday night's game, apparently receiving treatment from trainer Gary Vitti.

Payton, slowed by an illness the past few days, said he felt better.

"I'm good," he said.

"Don't ask me about that," he replied when asked if he knew whether he was going to start.

Payton has started every game in his first season with the Lakers -- 82 in the regular season and 21 in the playoffs.

The Pistons led the Lakers 2-1 entering Game 4. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the finals.

Magic Johnson, a part owner and vice president of the Lakers, criticized the team's effort in the series on Saturday. He singled out Payton, saying among other things that at age 35, Payton isn't the same player he was 10 years ago.

"I don't care about that," Payton said of Johnson's remarks.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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