Magic Johnson doesn't like what he sees from the Los Angeles Lakers, and he decided to speak up about it yesterday.
"I think the Lakers had a mind-set that was disrespectful to the Pistons. They thought it was going to be easy. That is not the case," Johnson said. "Unless they come out and play very hard, with the same level of intensity as the Pistons, this series will be over."
Johnson, a vice president and part-owner of the Lakers, was not displaying his trademark grin as he exited the Palace on Thursday night following the Lakers' 20-point loss in Game 3.
At a news conference in East Lansing, Mich., to promote his basketball camp, Johnson criticized the Lakers.
"I am angry. You have to compete. And we're not competing," he said. "You can just see the Lakers' frustration. No one is welcoming anyone to the bench. Guys are sitting there, wandering off into the crowd, defeated. We've got to get that look off our faces and play basketball the way it's supposed to be played. If not, the series won't get back to Los Angeles."
The series resumes tonight with the Detroit Pistons leading the best-of-seven series two games to one.
"I have eight rings and I want nine," Johnson said. "My anger is that we haven't competed in this series. I don't know what's going on. I don't know what the mind-set is. But this is just unacceptable."
Johnson also singled out Karl Malone and Gary Payton for criticism.
Malone had an altercation with a heckler prior to Game 3.
"You don't put your finger in a fan's face. That's unacceptable. Lakers don't do that," Johnson said of Malone, who claimed the heckler spat on him. "I don't care what he said. He has been to two finals. I've been to nine. Do you think the Celtics fans didn't say things I didn't like?"
Payton has been outplayed by Detroit's Chauncey Billups.
"Gary Payton is 35 years old and isn't the same Gary Payton he was 10 years ago. He has to accept that," Johnson said. "Gary Payton has had a lot of great, wide-open looks and hasn't knocked them down. That doesn't change if you're in the triangle or a 1-4 or what. Wide-open looks are wide-open looks."
Russell Spat Intensifies
Reserve small forward Bryon Russell, a playoff veteran, is upset that he has been an afterthought in the Lakers' rotation, especially because the team has gotten little production from the swing spot. Center Shaquille O'Neal agrees and is lobbying for Russell.
"I would personally like to see a guy like Bryon Russell get in," O'Neal said. "Great shooter. Pretty good defensive player, has been to the finals twice. I don't understand why he's not in the game."
Neither does Russell.
"It's frustrating because during the first half of the season I played extremely well, did what I had to do when Karl [Malone] and Rick [Fox] were hurt," said Russell, one of five former Washington Wizards in the finals. "Playoff time comes and I've just been shut out. I can take it when we're winning but if we're not winning, I'd expect some changes. I've been there, I know what it takes but I guess what I've got ain't good enough."
Coach Phil Jackson said: "We are using different people as the series goes on. I hope I find a way that Bryon Russell can be effective in this series. I hope that all of my players have opportunities."
Russell's only action came in Game 3, when he replaced Kobe Bryant with 1 minute 3 seconds remaining. . . .
O'Neal is expected to be reprimanded and likely fined for not making himself available to the media before Saturday afternoon's practice at the Palace. Payton was fined $5,000 earlier in the series for the same infraction.
Staff writer Steve Wyche contributed to this report from Auburn Hills, Mich.