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Friday, June 11, 2004
Lakers' vision blurred by injuries, distractions

Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- As if the Los Angeles Lakers don't have enough to worry about with the Detroit Pistons, they're also dealing with injuries and outside distractions.

Karl Malone is playing despite having what he believes to be a torn ligament in his right knee, and Derek Fisher and Devean George have also been slowed by injured knees.

Perhaps that at least partially explains the limited contributions from the so-called supporting cast to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant through three games of the NBA Finals. The Lakers haven't had a player score in double figures other than their big two.

Meanwhile, an unidentified fan's allegation that Malone poked him in the face before Game 3 was being investigated by police Friday.

And several other fans have made it difficult for the Lakers to get their rest by harassing them in the wee hours at their hotel in nearby Birmingham.

The Lakers can't get out of this area soon enough, but they've got to win Sunday or Tuesday to send the best-of-seven series back to Los Angeles.

No home team has won the three middle games of the finals since the 2-3-2 format went into effect in 1985, but the Pistons are playing like they might be the first.

"It seems like their desire to be in this position to be champions is greater than ours at this point," Fisher said a day after the Pistons beat the Lakers 88-68 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

"I'm not worried," George said. "I won't be worried until there is two seconds left and we're down."

Malone was limited to 18 minutes in Game 3 by what the Lakers have called a sprained ligament in his right knee. He missed 39 regular-season games with a torn ligament that was originally called a sprain.

Malone believes he has another tear, but as he seeks the first championship of a 19-year career, he plays on.

He said the team's medical staff is doing everything they can to get him ready to play.

"It's just how I respond. Go figure -- the same injury twice. It's just one of those things," Malone said.

Malone was still upset about his encounter with a fan before Game 3.

"To me, he was really out of line," Malone said. "Just because you buy a ticket doesn't mean you should be able to get on the court and degrade somebody."

Asked whether the confrontation occurred, Auburn Hills police Lt. James Manning said, "It's on tape on national TV."

The man was at the edge of the court during the Lakers' layup drill before Game 3. Malone, the NBA's second-leading career scorer, said the fan had obviously been drinking and spit in his face while heckling him.

Malone jabbed his right index finger toward the man. Whether he made contact, Malone said, "Maybe I did, but he was in my playing field. He was on the court. Where was the security in the arena?"

The man complained to the Auburn Hills police.

"At this time, the investigation is going on and we are not releasing any information about the case," Manning said, declining to comment further. He said police would release more information Monday.

Manning said police have talked to the fan and that "he is a complainant in the case."

"I'm not going to let a guy spit on me, I'm not going to take that. I've never had that happen before," Malone said.

Malone and teammate Horace Grant also said fans have bothered the Lakers at their hotel.

"They did it all night long until the cops came," Malone said.

"A little crazy, overzealous fans screaming at the top of their lungs at 4 o'clock in the morning," Grant said. "Just screaming, 'Go Pistons,' stuff like that. Management at the hotel called the police. It was taken care of."

The Lakers sure could use Grant right now, what with the injury to Malone and the ineffectiveness of other inside backups. An injured hip that will require surgery kept the 6-foot-10 Grant off the playoff roster.

Malone has repeatedly said there will be no excuses for the Lakers. Nevertheless, with so much going wrong, maybe it's just not their year.