NBA Playoffs: Lakers taking momentum with them to Phoenix


PHOENIX (AP) — Los Angeles Lakers fans were chanting “Bring on Boston!” before Game 1 of the Western Conference finals was over, and they picked up the volume near the finish of Game 2.

There are, however, at least two games to be played in Phoenix before what so many see as a foregone conclusion, a third straight trip to the NBA finals for Kobe & Co.

“Hopefully we can carry the momentum over from the way we’ve been playing at home,” Lamar Odom said Saturday before the Lakers boarded their short flight to the desert for Game 3 Sunday night. “I don’t see why not.”

The Lakers seemed ready for a more difficult challenge.

“We understand how tough it’s going to be in Phoenix,” Pau Gasol said. “The pace and energy they’re going to bring is going to be hard to match, but we have to understand who we are and play to our capabilities.”

Who the Lakers are has been readily apparent to anyone paying attention — a big, gifted group of athletes whose offense has been unstoppable against the smaller Suns.

Los Angeles scored 128 and 124 points to go up 2-0 in the series and brings an eight-game playoff winning streak to Phoenix, where the Suns hope playing at home will help slow down the defending NBA champions.

Nothing else has worked.

Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry can understand Kobe Bryant and Gasol having big games. He is a bit confounded that everybody else the Lakers turn to has had them as well, be it Odom, Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown.

“It’s almost like being a dike, you stick a finger in one hole and water comes out of another one,” Gentry said. “We’ve just got to find a way to have a whole lot of fingers, I guess.”

Much was made of Phoenix’s bench going into the series, but Farmar has come in for the Lakers and made 8-of-11 shots, including 5-of-6 3-pointers.

When the Suns were able to rev up their offense by going with a small lineup in Game 3, Los Angeles eventually took advantage of its mismatches inside.

Gasol has been at his best, averaging 25 points while shooting 66 percent from the field. Odom had 19 points and 19 rebounds in Game 1, leading Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire to pronounce it “a lucky game.” Odom followed with 17 points and 11 boards in Game 2.

Stoudemire has calmly answered the critics all week, saying he was defending the way his coaches told him to and adding that he doesn’t expect the Suns to double-team Bryant as much in Game 3.

Perhaps a return home will help the Suns’ perimeter shooting, particularly Channing Frye, who went 1 of 13 in Los Angeles, 1 of 9 on 3-pointers. Frye has shot 50 percent on 3s at home in the playoffs (13 of 26), compared with 22 percent (8 of 35) on the road.

“I think he definitely will shoot it better at home,” Gentry said. “It’s just one of those deals where he feels more comfortable in this building. You know, if he makes shots it changes everything.”

Stoudemire would be one of those who would benefit most from Frye hitting a few 3s, because it would bring one of the big Lakers out to the perimeter on defense.

“It helps all of us,” Stoudemire said.

For all the talk of the bench, Gentry knows Stoudemire and Steve Nash have to be the leading performers.

“Your stars have to be stars to beat a team like the Lakers,” Gentry said.

Nash averaged 14 assists in the first two games but only 12 points on 9-of-18 shooting. The team might like him to shoot more, but it’s not that simple, Nash said.

“I’ve tried to go back over the games and I can’t remember passing up any shots. If anything, I felt like I forced a few,” he said. “The way they’re playing me, they’re leaving guys open. They’re trying to take away my opportunities. We don’t have the type of offense that says ‘OK, Steve isn’t getting enough shots, let’s change our offense to this so that he does.’

“We play the way we play. People choose the way to guard and then we make the right read. It’s predicated on me making the right reads.”

Besides, he said, the Suns are averaging 109.5 points and shooting just over 49 percent. That’s plenty of offense. The problem is the Lakers have averaged 126 and shot 58 percent.

Phoenix has taken a few leaps backward after establishing it really can play defense.

“What we threw at them didn’t work, so we’re going to try to do it better and change it up and see what we can do, see how good we can be defensively,” Nash said. “A lot of it comes down to desire.”

Now that everyone is talking about the Lakers’ offense, coach Phil Jackson wants some attention at the other end.

“Hopefully we’ll be a better defensive team,” he said.