Lakers already have ‘Phil’
of Larry

Jun 8, 2004 6:14 AM

The best of seven NBA Finals are underway and began with a shocker.

The Detroit Pistons played an impressive second half to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers to take a 1-0 lead heading into Tuesday’s second game. For the Lakers, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant played well but there was virtually no contribution from the rest of the roster.

Whether or not it was the strategy of Detroit coach Larry Brown, the effect was to take everyone else out of the game for the Lakers. Detroit played excellent defense and claimed home court advantage, needing to win three more games to become NBA champions.

The Pistons will host the middle three games of the series, which unlike earlier rounds in the playoffs, is played in a 2-3-2 format. Detroit has a solid frontcourt and as such can be expected to test the Lakers’ ability (and perhaps desire) to play a physical game.

Game 2 will give us a true indication of whether the Lakers are vulnerable to being upset in the series. This is pretty much a ”˜must win’ situation for the favored Lakers. A loss means looking at three straight games in Detroit down 0-2.

The Lakers have opened an 8-point favorite in Game 2, the same as they were favored in Game 1. It will be tempting to lay the price with Los Angeles, which can be expected to give its best effort of the season. Should the Lakers struggle to win but fail to cover, it may be a sign that the value in Games 3 through 5 will be with the Pistons. Even in Detroit, we can expect the Lakers to be slight favorites. Detroit will be attractive if even or behind in the series.

Before there is too much excitement in Motown, go back three seasons to when Larry Brown coached his Philadelphia 76ers to an opening game overtime win in Los Angeles. That turned out to be Philly’s high point in the series and the Lakers stormed back to win the next four games and the NBA Title in five for the second of their three consecutive championships.

The pick here is still for the Lakers to win the title in six games with Detroit likely to capture one of the three games at home before the Lakers clinch the title at Staples Center in Game 6. From a wagering standpoint the Pistons will be the choice as an underdog at home if they return home tied 1-1.

Should the Lakers lose Game 2, they would be the choice in Game 3 even though the line may well be inflated. Surprisingly, down 0-2, the Lakers might be required to lay as many as 4 in Game 3. At 1-1 in the series the line would more likely be in the 2-point range.

Next week we shall reassess the NBA Finals at which point four games will have been played and, barring the unthinkable of a Detroit sweep, there will still be some basketball to be played.