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As Lakers pout, Pistons one win from title

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

June 14, 2004 | ESPN.com's NBA Finals coverage

In all my years of coaching and covering basketball, I have never seen a team in a championship round that pouts and sulks as much as the Los Angeles Lakers. I've seen shots of them time and time again on TV, and this doesn't look like a team that's competing for the world championship.

Larry Brown
The strategy of Pistons coach Larry Brown has helped produce a 3-1 series lead. Brown is trying to become the first to coach an NCAA and NBA champion.
After an 88-80 victory over the Lakers on Sunday night in Game 4, the Detroit Pistons have a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.

I didn't have the guts to pick the Pistons to win the series, but I did say it wouldn't be Cupcake City and predicted it to go seven games. I wrote that in this space a little more than a week ago, and look at what has happened since.

Yes, the Lakers are a team in turmoil right now, and it doesn't help when you shoot 11-of-22 from the foul line. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal haven't received much scoring support from the rest of the team -- so far, they're the only two Lakers to score in double figures in the Finals -- and Kobe struggled with his shooting in Game 4.

The credit should go to the Pistons. If it wasn't for a great spurt at the end of Game 2, this series would be over already! Coach Larry Brown has done an outstanding job, and GM Joe Dumars deserves credit for hiring Brown and rebuilding the Pistons.

Pistons owner Bill Davidson could be celebrating a unique double, because he also owns the Tampa Bay Lightning, who already won the NHL's Stanley Cup. Now his Pistons are one game away from the NBA title.

The Pistons have clearly been the better team in this series so far. They really know how to play defense and they work hard as team on every possession, led by two-time NBA defensive player of the year Ben Wallace.

Speaking of hard work, I can tell you firsthand that plenty of Detroit's success is due to its dedication. I saw Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince working out all the time during the offseason at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. (near where I live). Those guys wanted to improve -- they honed their skills and got stronger in the weight room. That kind of effort is paying big-time dividends now.

Detroit probably will win the world championship. That would give Brown the unique distinction of being the first coach to win both the NBA and NCAA championships (he won the NCAA title with Kansas in 1988). What an incredible accomplishment that would be, baby!

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he has been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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