PHOENIX -- The Lakers' length is the one dominant advantage they are supposed to have no matter which opponent they play. Kind of how Usain Bolt's stride should allow him to beat anybody on the planet in a sprint.
But in Sunday's 118-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, which lessened the Lakers' series lead to 2-1, there was significant shrinkage going on.
The big letdown ended up being an accumulation of a myriad of miscues.
"It was a bunch," Ron Artest said. "We had foul trouble, we had some turnovers, some missed shots, some missed layups, a bunch of little things."
The Suns used a 2-3 zone defense that completely neutralized the Lakers' size. L.A. averaged a 14-point lead in points in the paint and 6.5 more rebounds per game in the first two games to start the series, but dipped in both those categories in Game 3, outscoring the Suns by just four in the lane and grabbing only one more rebound.
They zoned out, making lazy passes to the tune of 17 turnovers, many of which were unforced, instead of penetrating the seams.
"It was just … we made bad passes," Pau Gasol said, who made only 14 field goal attempts and two foul shots after 19 and 10, respectively, in Game 2. "We weren't sharp with our execution against the zone."
No, instead of sharp they were soft, bombing away from the outside rather than making their way to the middle, attempting a postseason franchise-record 32 3-pointers and connecting on only nine, putting the Lakers 0-4 all-time in the playoffs when they shoot 30 or more triples.
"Thirty-two 3-point shots," coach Phil Jackson said. "That's not really what you want to do as a basketball team."
As long as the Lakers were launching from deep, they weren't feeding their big men down low. The trio of Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom combined for just 35 points against a whopping 62 from Phoenix's duo of Amare Stoudemire (42) and Robin Lopez (20).
Stoudemire attempted the bulk of the Suns' 42 free throws and had almost as many attempts single-handedly (18) as the Lakers had as a team (20).
"Stop hacking," said Kobe Bryant after his near triple-double of 36 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds went to waste. "Simple as that. Play fundamentally sound, make them take tough shots."
Bynum's night -- only two points, two rebounds and four fouls in 7½ minutes of play -- was such a dud that Jackson said he's considering keeping his 7-footer out of the lineup as the series continues, perhaps even Tuesday's Game 4.
"I think he was ineffective," Jackson said. "There were some things that got by him. He had one nice move in the post. Defensively, I thought he was a bit late."
Odom's night -- 10 points and six rebounds, but just 4-for-14 shooting, three turnovers and six fouls that disqualified him with 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter -- was so "suspect," an oft-used adjective in Odom's vocabulary, it made you wonder if he forgot to pack his good-luck charm into his carry-on luggage when he flew with the team out to Phoenix.
"He had really a game he doesn't want to remember about," Jackson said. "He wants to go home and forget about this one."
The Lakers can now forget about a sweep and consider the very real possibility of heading back to Los Angeles tied at 2-2 if they can't find a way to exercise their size against the Suns again.
"You never want to be in that situation," Artest said about the chance of the series all of a sudden becoming a best-of-three if Phoenix can tie it up Tuesday. "We've just got to come out there and give a little bit more, definitely give a little bit more."
It wasn't that the Lakers completely shrunk in the spotlight -- it was a three-point game with less than seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, lest we forget -- but they did enough things to beat themselves that they ended up breathing new life into the Suns in the process.
"We can't make excuses about how big they are and the matchup problems and all that stuff," said Steve Nash after the game. "We've got to fight tooth and nail for every inch and match them, find a way to match them."
With Bynum's status uncertain and Phoenix's focus coming together, the Lakers could have a big problem on their hands if their lack of execution negates their length once again.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com