Lakers feel the burn
L.A. in 0-2 hole after Suns winBY RICH HAMMOND, Staff Writer
Inside SOCALArticle Last Updated:04/25/2007 12:20:00 AM PDT
PHOENIX - With the benefit of hindsight, it seems almost quaint.
The Lakers put on brave faces before Game 2 and did their best to convince everyone that life still remained in their first-round playoff series against Phoenix. Tuesday night's results indicated otherwise.
Everything the Lakers attempted backfired horribly. They pushed the ball inside and got pushed around by Amare Stoudemire. Kobe Bryant tried to get his teammates involved, and they betrayed his confidence. The Lakers intensified their defensive focus on Leandro Barbosa, and he had another brilliant effort.
The Suns must still win twogames to close out this series, but after a 126-98 victory, in front of 18,422 at US Airways Center, there's little evidence that the rest of the series is anything but a formality.
"We got our butts kicked pretty badly," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said, "and it was really embarrassing to come in here and lose such an important game the way we lost it. There's no answer for that. It doesn't make any sense, so obviously we need to do something.
"We need to think about some things as a team. It's kind of sad, but I don't know that we're as close as a team right now, as far as camaraderie and things like that. That's the only way you lose games like this, when you're not that close. Look at the score. Look at how we lost. Something has to change. Quick."
What other conclusions can be drawn? For the second consecutive game, the Lakers had little offensive consistency. But this time, unlike in Game 1, the Suns clicked on offense, and the rout commenced.
Stoudemire recorded two tone-setting blocked shots early in the first quarter and finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. Barbosa scored a game-high 26 points, Steve Nash scored 16 points and had 11 of his 14 assists in the first half and the Suns led by as many as 32points in the second half.
Afterward, Bryant insisted that, despite the 2-0 deficit, there is still confidence among the Lakers.
"There should be. There better be," Bryant said. "(The Suns) did what they had to do. They protected their home court and they obviously played extremely well. They played harder than we did, controlled the pace of the game from the start of the game and we were never able to get our arms around the game. So hopefully, going home, that will change for us a little bit."
For a while, it seemed that the Lakers might challenge their worst playoff loss in franchise history, a 35-point defeat against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 Western Conference finals.
The Lakers avoided that indignity, but weren't fast enough, smart enough or strong enough to hang with the Suns. The game turned late in the firstquarter and early in the second, when the Suns bridged a 10-0 run to open a 13-point lead.
Barbosa, honored as the NBA's top sixth man in a pregame ceremony, once again provided an offensive spark when he entered the game in the first quarter. The Lakers missed nine of their first 12shots in the second quarter as the Suns built a 21-point halftime lead and were never threatened after that.
"It's hard to single things out," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Our defense was really good, our rebounding was really good, we ran really well and I don't know if you can play better than that."
It's hard to see how the Lakers could have played much worse.
Bryant made four of his first seven shots from the field but scored only two points in the second half and finished with 15 points. Lamar Odom went 4of12 from the field for 10 points to go with 10 rebounds.
The final indignity came midway through the fourth quarter when Bryant, still in the game even though the Lakers faced a 30-point deficit, collided with Barbosa near midcourt and twisted his right ankle.
Bryant stayed in the game temporarily but headed to the locker room with just under sixminutes left.
"It's pretty stiff," Bryant said, "but I tape that ankle pretty high, so it protected me pretty well."
The night couldn't have been more frustrating for Bryant. Early on, he didn't force the action as the Lakers seemed focused on attacking the basket and getting Stoudemire in foul trouble.
And here's how that turned out: Just 77 seconds into the game, James Jones blocked Luke Walton's short jumper. Forty-seven seconds later, Stoudemire rejected Bryant's attempt at a short runner.
Seventy-five seconds after that, Stoudemire soared to swat away one of Odom's patented driving layups.
Their plan thwarted, the Lakers had no offensive rhythm. The Suns prevented Bryant from single-handedly taking over the game and kept the pace of play at their preferred run-and-gun speed.
"We came out and didn't match their energy to start," Walton said. "We were more focused on our offense than our defense and they got a lead, and it's tough to play that team when you're playing from behind. When you try to start running with them, it's their game." firstname.lastname@example.org