Scouting Report: Pistons vs. Lakers

Updated: June 4, 2004, 3:15 PM ET
By Brian James | Special to ESPN Insider
Pistons' plus-minus breakdown | Lakers' plus-minus breakdown

Brian James, a former assistant coach with the Pistons, Raptors and Wizards, spent the 2003-'04 season scouting for the SuperSonics. Insider tapped his NBA expertise to break down each playoff series.

When it comes right down to it, does anyone not believe the best team from each conference is playing for the NBA championship?

There are two defining playoff moments that helped propel Los Angeles and Detroit to the NBA Finals. One is Derek Fisher's walk-off, game-winning shot in Game 5 against San Antonio in the second round, which gave the Lakers a 3-2 series lead and devastated the Spurs. The other is Tayshaun Prince's game-saving block on Reggie Miller's breakaway layup that kept Indiana from taking a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals and jump-started the Pistons.

Injuries took their toll on the teams that fell. You couldn't expect Minnesota to beat L.A. four times in the Western Conference Finals with the Timberwolves' best fourth-quarter performer, Sam Cassell, in street clothes due to back and hip problems. Of course, with the mismatch at center, I don't think the Timberwolves would have beaten the Lakers four times even with Cassell at 100 percent in every game.

In the East, Jermaine O'Neal's left knee was hurt far worse than anyone from Indiana let on. Many lesser players would have been sidelined, but not O'Neal. He did everything he could for the Pacers, but Detroit was too deep. On top of that, Jamaal Tinsley was limited to four minutes in Game 6, and while Anthony Johnson is a capable backup point guard, you need your best players to win a Game 6 on the road.

Lakers Karl Malone and Derek Fisher and Piston Rasheed Wallace all have been playing with injuries that probably would have kept them out in the regular season. But this is the NBA Finals.

Something new to consider is the 2-3-2 format for home court in the Finals, with Detroit potentially having three consecutive home games.

Strengths and weaknesses