Originally created 06/16/04

Team Dysfunctional blown out



AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - These Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be one of the best teams in history. In the end, they looked old and tired.

A fourth championship in five years was thought to be a foregone conclusion last summer when the Lakers added Karl Malone and Gary Payton to go with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

How could any team beat one with four all-time greats?

The Detroit Pistons did, and with relative ease.

Malone, his team's heart and soul, watched from the bench in street clothes with an injured knee Tuesday night as the Pistons blew out the Lakers 100-87 to win the NBA Finals 4-1.

This was the last game for Team Dysfunctional, a group certain to be revamped.

The Lakers will never be the same. Maybe better, maybe worse. But not the same.

It's possible record-setting coach Phil Jackson won't return, and the same goes for several top players including Bryant, who could be playing in another uniform or possibly headed to prison, depending on how his sexual assault trial goes.

After the Lakers got past Houston, San Antonio and Minnesota to reach the NBA Finals, they were prohibitive favorites to beat the Pistons.

The finals were one-sided, all right, but in the opposite direction. The Pistons were quicker to the ball, more athletic and hungrier all series long - clearly the better team.

The key moment occurred early in Game 2, when Malone got hurt.

He played on, and finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes in a 99-91 overtime victory - the Lakers' only triumph of the series.

Malone was a shell of himself in the third and fourth games, and he decided shortly before Game 5 he couldn't go on. The Lakers kept calling it a sprained medial collateral ligament; Malone seems convinced the ligament is torn - the same injury he sustained in December that kept him out for 39 games.

O'Neal and Bryant couldn't do it alone, and neither was very good in Game 5.

The supporting cast, so important in the championship seasons of 2000-2002, contributed very little. Slava Medvedenko became the first Los Angeles player other than O'Neal or Bryant to reach double figures when he hit 10 in the second period. Medvedenko wouldn't score again. Derek Fisher also scored 10 points.

The Lakers trailed 55-45 at halftime, left the floor looking glum, returned looking even more glum. Then, they rolled over in the third quarter, being outscored 27-14 to make it 82-59.

Game and season over.

Way over.

O'Neal, a three-time finals MVP, wore a look of dejection as he watched the last several minutes from the bench. The Lakers seemed stunned as they left the court while the Pistons' fans went wild.