What's On Tap

No games scheduled tonight. NBA finals begin Sunday in Los Angeles.

What to Watch

Detroit Pistons' Coach Larry Brown picked the last of the confetti from his head after his team captured the Eastern Conference finals last night and then likely set about going over game plans, analyzing strategies, and otherwise racking his brain for a solution to the maddening question of how to stop Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.

It's a question that has perplexed most of the league's coaches and one that stumped Brown three seasons ago. Coach of the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2000-01 season, Brown saw his team, which featured Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo, snatch the first game in the championship series, defeating the Lakers in overtime, 107-101. Then Brown watched as O'Neal and Kobe Bryant took turns mopping the floor with the 76ers in the next four contests.

Brown's plight three seasons ago might be better than it is now. Philadelphia at least had a center. Anticipating that they would meet O'Neal in the championship game, the 76ers made a mid-season trade to acquire Mutombo as part of a plan to neutralize the Lakers' 7-foot-1, 340-pound center. The plan failed. O'Neal scored 44 points in the opening game and averaged 33 for the series (Bryant, incidentally, finished with a 24.6 scoring average).

With the Pistons, Brown only has a converted power forward, Ben Wallace to guard O'Neal. At 6-9, 240-pounds, Wallace gives up four inches and 100 pounds to the Lakers' center, who calls himself "Big Daddy," among other things.

O'Neal averaged 20 points during this year's post season and hasn't come close to duplicating his 2000-01 performance. He doesn't really have to. There is Bryant and likely future hall of famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to help share the load this time around.

And while the Pistons boast the league's stingiest defense, holding opponents to a 84.3 points average during the regular season, Detroit's offense has appeared lackluster for a team vying for the NBA championship.

Detroit has averaged 86.1 points for the playoffs while holding opponents to 80.4 points. The Lakers have averaged 90 points and held opponents to 86.2.

Look for the Pistons to double team O'Neal with the Wallaces, Rasheed and Ben, and force Malone to shoot more. Guard Richard Hamilton will be charged with shutting down Bryant and fueling the Pistons' offense, a lot to ask. Some of the defensive duties on Bryant will no doubt fall to reserve Tayshaun Prince.

Prediction. Lakers win series, 4-1.

Last Night's Big Winner (Team)

Detroit Pistons. Dispatched the Pacers after falling behind by 14 points early. Showed patience and ability to methodically come back from big deficit. The team's defense smothered the Pacers' offense throughout the series, holding them to average of 72.7. points.

This Weekend's Big Loser (Team)

Pacers. They thought they had the right combination of youth and experience, role players and stars. They thought they had hired the right coach (Rick Carlisle) and general manager (Larry Bird). But the team was undone by injuries to Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal and the Pistons' superior defense .

This Weekend's Big Winner (Player)

Richard Hamilton. The Detroit guard averaged 23.7 points during series and showed poise by calmly hitting his free throws after absorbing a blow to the face from Ron Artest during last night's 69-65 victory over the Pacers.

This Weekend's Big Loser (Player)

Ron Artest. The Pacers have to be disappointed in how Artest's temper erupted with game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on the line. Striking Hamilton in the face will go down as one of the worst decisions in NBA playoff history.