Originally created 05/08/99

Long, Laettner face mixed emotions against former teams



ATLANTA -- Atlanta's Grant Long must keep his emotions in check, which won't be easy facing his former team in the first round of the playoffs.

Ditto for Detroit's Christian Laettner.

Long and Laettner, who switched places after last season, come together again when the Hawks meet the Pistons in the best-of-5 first round. The first two games are at the Georgia Dome, beginning Saturday night.

Long spent two miserable seasons in Detroit, averaging less than five points per game with limited playing time. He signed with the Hawks after the lockout and became one of the team's most valuable players, filling in frequently for the injury-plagued Alan Henderson.

"I'm glad we had Grant Long," Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens said. "Without him, we would have been in deep trouble."

The 33-year-old Long was grateful for another chance to play in Atlanta, where he spent two seasons before a trade to the Pistons nearly scuttled his career.

"I never doubted myself, but it's just great to run and shoot and do all the things I like to do on the court," he said. "I'm in a situation where I'm appreciated. I never got a chance to do those things in Detroit."

Long doesn't want to take his personal feelings onto the court in the playoffs.

"It was kind of frustrating playing for them. There were a lot of emotional times," he said. "I've got to harness that emotion."

Laettner was an All-Star for the Hawks in 1997 but lost his starting job to Henderson the following year. He was never close with his Atlanta teammates, who seemed relieved when he was traded to the Pistons after the lockout ended.

"I was tight with the team trainer," Laettner said dryly when asked whether he had any friends on the Hawks.

Like Long, Laettner insists that he won't turn the playoffs into a personal vendetta.

"Not at all," he said. "The goal is to go down there and win both games. I've heard talk about us trying to steal one down there. I want to win both games down there."

Still, the history of these two players is impossible to ignore.

"Both guys have left their respective former teams and will probably have something to prove," Detroit's Joe Dumars said. "That could be a key matchup for us."

If not, the key matchup certainly will be Atlanta's Steve Smith vs. Detroit's Grant Hill.

Despite gimpy knees that sent him to the injured list twice, Smith led the Hawks with 18.7 points per game. Hill does it all for the Pistons, pacing his team in scoring (21.1), rebounding (7.1) and assists (6.0).

"You have to pay attention to Grant Hill," Long said after the Hawks practiced Friday. "But you can't let your concentration slip on guys like Joe Dumars and Lindsay Hunter. They've had great years."

Hunter averaged 11.9 points and hit nearly 39 percent from beyond the 3-point stripe. Dumars, who is retiring at the end of the season, averaged 11.3 points and connected on more than 40 percent of his 3-pointers.

"You can't leave Dumars and Hunter," Wilkens said. "Their 3-point shots are like a layup."

Don't expect a high-scoring series. The Hawks allowed only 83.4 points per game -- lowest in the league -- while the Pistons also ranked among the defensive leaders at 86.9.

"We're a good defensive team," Wilkens said. "Offensively, we've got to move the ball. We don't have a superstar like Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) that we can throw it to. Our shot selection has to be good."

If the series goes beyond Game 3, scheduled for Detroit on Wednesday night, both teams will be scrambling to find a home court.

The Palace of Auburn Hills is booked for a sold-out rock concert on May 14, the same day the Pistons are scheduled to play host to Game 4. Other possible sites are the Pontiac Silverdome, the Pistons' former home, and Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit.

If the series returns to Atlanta for Game 5 on May 16, it probably will be played at Georgia Tech's 9,300-seat coliseum.

An oldies concert will be held at the Georgia Dome on May 15, and officials say it would be too difficult to convert the building back to basketball for a game the following day.