So, they’re certainly confident their team concept will be successful against them now with only Kobe Bryant in purple and gold.
Rasheed Wallace paced five Pistons in double figures with 24 points and Detroit pulled away in the third quarter on its way to a 102-93 victory over the Lakers on Sunday night.
Bryant had 39 points on 12-of-28 shooting, a week after scoring 81—the second-highest point total in NBA history.
“We feel as though we have five superstars,” Detroit’s Richard Hamilton said. “If we want one guy to go out there and average 30, we can do that. But we know what we want at the end, a championship, and we know one guy can’t guard five guys.”
In the 2004 NBA Finals, the Pistons dominated Los Angeles—with Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal—in five games for the title with the same starters they have this season. New coach Flip Saunders has made a good defensive team equally effective on offense.
“They just have more sets now and more options,” Bryant said. “They are looser.”
With its season-high 11th straight win, Detroit improved to an NBA-best 37-5 and tied the fourth-best record through 42 games in NBA history.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who led those three Bulls teams, said the Pistons remind him of Chicago’s team a decade ago that won a league-record 72 games because they’re winning with ease. Jackson said the Pistons could have 70 victories if they don’t have injuries.
“We figured no one would break it for another 30 years, just like it took for the Lakers’ record to be broken,” Jackson said. “So, it is surprising Detroit is pushing for it.”
The Pistons have said—and repeated often—they’re not interested in chasing regular-season records.
Detroit is motivated, however, to have the league’s best record to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs after losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals at San Antonio last season.
“It won’t be fun or breathtaking until the end of the season,” Wallace said.
The Lakers are still reeling from their decision to deal O’Neal to the Miami Heat two years ago, leaving Bryant with a lackluster supporting cast. Jackson’s return after a year away from basketball has not managed to make much of a difference.
Chris Mihm, Bryant’s only teammate with more than nine points, had 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Bryant, the league’s leading scorer, did get loose for a 17-point second quarter against reserve Maurice Evans.
“It didn’t matter if (Bryant) had 50, 40, 20, 10—the idea was for us to win,” Saunders said. “The idea was not to try to expose our defense where all the sudden, you have other guys that have career games.”
Los Angeles had won two straight and five of its previous seven games.
Detroit’s entire starting lineup scored in double figures: Hamilton (20), Tayshaun Prince (19), Ben Wallace (14) and Chauncey Billups (10). Reserve Antonio McDyess added nine points and 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes.
Three Pistons had at least five assists, two more than any Laker. Ben Wallace grabbed 13 rebounds and Rasheed Wallace blocked three shots.
Detroit turned the game into a rout with an 18-4 run midway through the third quarter, giving them a 78-57 lead. The Lakers made a late surge to cut their deficit to single digits with 1:22, but it was much too late.
Detroit made a lot of wide-open baskets with good ball movement, finding gaps all over the court.
“Some of our players didn’t look ready to play,” Jackson said.
The Pistons have won four straight regular-season games against the Lakers for the first time since the 1973-74 season.
“What rivalry?” Rasheed Wallace asked. “It might have been one back in the day with Joe D, Magic, Kareem and those guys.”
Lakers PG Smush Parker had to fly coach to Detroit—with luggage for a seven-game trip—because he overslept and missed his flight. … Faces in the crowd included former Detroit Lions coaches Steve Mariucci and Wayne Fontes along with Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and athletic director Bill Martin, both guests of Pistons owner Bill Davidson. When Mariucci was asked if he planned to take time off from coaching, he said: “A long time off.” … Billups was cut on the chin in the fourth quarter, and play was stopped to give him a new jersey. When he changed jerseys, hundreds of women in the crowd squealed, leading to teammates teasing him during the ensuing timeout.