PHOENIX � It was a benchmark night for the Phoenix Suns and one the Lakers’ would rather forget. � The much-maligned Suns bench broke out of their slump, outscoring the Lakers bench 54-20 and the zone defense once again bothered the L.A. offense as Phoenix rolled to a 115-106 victory Tuesday night to tie the Western Conference Finals at two games apiece. � And while much of the talk will center around the Suns’ bench play and that zone defense, it was really the Lakers’ porous defense that should give the defining champions their biggest concern as they head back to L.A. for Game 5 Thursday night. � The Lakers were outrebounded 51-36 (18-13 on the offensive end) and outhustled by a team that was simply more energetic. They weren’t rebounding with effort. And while they had decent position, the Lakers weren’t actively going after the ball. They were basically just reaching and you have to jump to secure rebounds. � And the Lakers just weren’t aggressive. They were once again beaten at the free throw line as the Suns were 22 for 32, while the Lakers were only 7 for 13. � The Suns outscored the Lakers 41-32 in the second quarter (30 of those by the bench), and 30-22 in the fourth quarter and much of that was because of the bench play again. You want to know how good the Suns’ bench was? They started the quarter and they were playing so well that Suns coach Alvin Gentry left them in until there was just 3:05 to play, with the game all but over by then. � Channing Frye led the bench by breaking out of his slump with 14 points, Leandro Barbosa had 14 points and Jared Dudley added 11 as those three hit 9-of-18 of their 3 three-point attempts. � The Lakers were also again frustrated by the Suns’ zone defense and settled for way too many perimeter shots. The Lakers took 28 3-point attempts, making only nine, and that just isn’t going to get it done. Gentry said afterwards that he was a little surprised that the Lakers didn’t pound the ball inside more and he’s not alone. Normally, teams at this level figure out how to beat the zone and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Lakers can’t. � But even after trailing much of the game, Kobe Bryant, who was sensational with 38 points and 10 assists, shot the Lakers back into the game in the second half and they actually took the lead, 87-85, with 10:48 left in the game. But it was that Suns bench and the Lakers’ lack of defense that let them down. � Afterwards, both Phil Jackson Kobe said that while many people will dwell on the Lakers lack of success because of the Phoenix zone, both felt it was their defense that cost the Lakers the game. � I think in Game 5, the Lakers have to make Steve Nash be more of a scorer in traffic, not leaving the rest of the Suns wide open for 3-point attempts.
They also need to figure out how to attack that zone defense. They are settling for perimeter shots and they have to get back to the high-low game, forcing the Suns to go to a straight main-to-man.� The longer the Lakers let the Suns run that zone, the longer they are going to have problems. � The Lakers seem to have lost their sense of urgency, but now that it’s down to a best-of-three series, they better find it quick. � � Stu Lantz is in his 23rd season broadcasting Lakers games.