Lakers-Suns Preview

The Phoenix Suns are a different team without Amare Stoudemire

in the lineup. Kobe Bryant doesn’t care one bit.

The Suns will unveil their new-look team without Stoudemire for

the first time at home Friday night against Bryant and the Lakers

in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.

Los Angeles (1-0) won in six games over Phoenix (1-1) last

season to advance to the NBA finals for the third straight year.

Bryant averaged 33.7 points and 8.3 assists in that series.

It was a satisfying feeling for the Lakers superstar, who still

had bitter memories of Los Angeles’ playoff exits at the hands of

the Suns in 2006 and 2007. He doesn’t feel bad the Pacific Division

rival seems to have gotten weaker with the departure of

Stoudemire.

“We beat them in the playoffs last year,” said Bryant, who

capped the series with a spectacular 37-point performance on the

road. “They used to kick our butt all the time in the playoffs. So

I have no sympathy.”

Stoudemire averaged 25.0 points and shot 69 free throws in the

series, and was a major reason why Lakers center Andrew Bynum was

in foul trouble for many of those games.

“Stoudemire is right up there as a player that gets a lot of

finishes and gets a lot of foul shots,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson

said. “So that’s a high-percentage shot, he shot in the high 50s

and consequently they’ll miss that accuracy that comes along with

that productivity.”

It’s clear that the Suns will have to use a more balanced attack

without Stoudemire’s 23.1 points per game. That’s exactly what

Phoenix displayed in Thursday’s 110-94 win at Utah.

Steve Nash and Hakim Warrick scored 18 points apiece as seven

Suns players reached double figures. It was a far cry from

Tuesday’s 106-92 loss at Portland in which three Suns had at least

10 points.

“It was undoubtedly an important game for us tonight,” Nash said

Thursday. “We learned our lesson and held our composure for longer

stretches and, in particular, we held it together at the end of the

game.”

Warrick managed just 10 points and two rebounds in the opener.

He was much better Thursday with a team-high 11 rebounds.

“Hakim was great on the glass and hustled,” Nash said. “He

finished and got to the line. He did a lot of little things that

matter. But he also scored and when he can do that, it makes us a

better team.”

The Lakers opened with a 112-110 victory over Houston on

Tuesday. Pau Gasol had 29 points and 11 rebounds while Bryant

scored 27 points.

The Suns will likely have Warrick, Grant Hill and newcomer Josh

Childress take turns to try to slow down Bryant.

Bynum remains out for Los Angeles after recovery from

arthroscopic knee surgery, but his presence won’t be needed anymore

to try to combat Stoudemire.

“The combination with Stoudemire and Nash has been great in the

last few years, so that will need a little timing,” Jackson said.

“But this will be a good team, Phoenix will still be a real good

team.”