Game Trax: Stats and more
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Lakers’ swagger is more of a stagger after consecutive losses in the Western Conference finals.
leaving town last week to chants of “We want Boston,” Kobe Bryant and
Pau Gasol realize they won’t even get the chance to defend their NBA
title unless Los Angeles starts defending the Phoenix Suns.
Gasol says Game 5 on Thursday night is “a must-win for us,” the
champions’ California cool shows few signs of cracking, beyond Bryant’s
grumbling about missed defensive assignments.
surviving a near-identical jam in last season’s conference finals
against Denver, the Lakers came away with a confidence they can rise to
any occasion — even a best-two-of-three series against a surging,
shot-making opponent with rising confidence of its own.
absolutely no doubt that we love this,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said
Wednesday, not sounding much like a coach planning to fill out
retirement papers next month. “This is what champions are made of. If
you have the best teams in the West going up against each other, it
should come down to a challenge like this. … This is what basketball
at this level is. Like I told them, ‘If you can’t meet this challenge,
then why go to the finals?'”
Lakers have been in this situation three previous times over the past
two playoffs: a series tied at 2, with Game 5 at home. Los Angeles won
each time, beating Houston and the Nuggets last season before trouncing
Oklahoma City last month in the first round. Overall, they’ve won Game
5 seven straight times at home.
the Suns hold every smidgen of momentum heading back to Staples Center
after winning the last two games with a gimmicky zone defense,
impressive bench play and another phenomenal exhibition of offense. Los
Angeles’ 58 percent shooting in its first two victories masked its full
series of ineffective defense so far: Los Angeles has yielded 113
points per game, and Phoenix has shaken off a brief spell of outside
At least the Lakers are back home, where they haven’t lost in seven playoff games this spring.
momentum we have, the confidence we have now, is definitely going to
help us going to L.A.,” said Suns forward Amare Stoudemire, who shook
off two mediocre games at Staples Center with big efforts in Phoenix.
“We definitely can win there. It’s just a matter of us implementing our
was a popular topic in El Segundo as well, with Bryant declaring that
most of the Lakers’ problems are mental lapses on execution and
assignments. After nearly posting a triple-double in Game 4, Bryant
lamented Los Angeles’ inability to stick to its assignments when the
Suns repeatedly ran their pick-and-roll, drive-and-dish offense.
message is offensively, we’re going to score enough points,” Bryant
said. “Defensively, we’ve got to do a much better job. That’s my
message. We’ve got to grind, do a better job staying in front of them.”
Lakers uniformly downplayed the importance of Phoenix’s zone defense, a
2-3 scheme that puts defenders on both sides of Los Angeles’ post
players. The Lakers’ shooting decreased sharply in Phoenix, but Jackson
snorted at the idea he’s being outmaneuvered, noting his club still
scored 107.5 points per game in Arizona.
challenge you in a lot of ways that we have to adjust to,” Gasol said.
“It’s mostly stuff we know about. It’s about being alert all the time.”
coach Alvin Gentry will have to miss his son’s elementary school
graduation on Thursday night after his club avoided the sweep that
seemed highly possible after its first two losses in Los Angeles.
persuaded his players to stick with his simple defensive scheme in the
past two games. The Suns allowed Bryant to work his usual offensive
magic, but forced the Lakers’ low-post scorers to work extra hard for
shots — or to give up the ball to the Lakers’ rather ordinary
perimeter shooters, including Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Shannon
want to stop everyone, but sometimes you just can’t stop Kobe,” Suns
guard Steve Nash said of Bryant, who’s averaging 28.9 points per game
in the playoffs. “So we can’t get discouraged. He’s playing as well as
maybe he’s ever played right now. He may continue to do that. We’ve
proven we can win if he plays great, but we’ve got to be really solid.
We’ve got to be tough. We’ve got to win all the little battles, because
they do have some matchups and talent that we don’t have.”
echoed Nash’s concerns about the little things, citing a few offensive
rebounds the Lakers failed to secure in the first quarter of Game 4.
Those mistakes eventually snowballed into team-wide problems with
execution, even after the Lakers took care of almost every detail in
the first two games while extending their playoff winning streak to
understood that it was going to be hard,” Gasol said. “The first two
results we obtained gave us a good feeling, but we knew the Suns were
going to bounce back, and they have.”
and center Andrew Bynum didn’t appear to practice with the Lakers on
Wednesday, although Jackson didn’t say for sure. Bynum is playing on an
injured right knee that will require surgery, while Bryant simply takes
advantage of every chance to rest his accumulated injuries.
Updated May 26, 2010