- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- When the Los Angeles Lakers clinched a berth in the Western Conference finals on Monday, Lakers coach Phil Jackson had nothing but praise for his team's upcoming opponent, the Phoenix Suns, saying that the Suns are playing their best basketball of the season.
On Friday, Jackson retreated from praise and started posturing when asked if it was difficult to simulate the Suns and their star point guard Steve Nash in practice during the long layoff before Game 1.
"Yeah, because you can't carry the ball like he does in practice," Jackson said, smiling as he moved his arm and turned over his palm, the symbol for an illegal carry in the unofficial sign language of basketball. "You can't pick that ball up and run with it."
The 36-year-old Nash is averaging 17.8 points and 9.0 assists per game in the postseason after averaging 13.8 points and 9.0 assists in four regular-season games against L.A.
Jackson called Nash the Suns' "provocateur" in their offense and said the point guard was an equal threat as both a scorer and a distributor, so the Lakers' defense would have to "balance out," stopping both aspects of the 14-year veteran's game.
"He's a great passer, great penetrator and he's a great shooter," Kobe Bryant said. "You put those things all in one player and now you're in a situation where you have to pick your poison. They surrounded him with great shooters and finishers so it makes things very challenging."
Before the playoffs began, Jackson was fined $35,000 by the league for comments made about Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, after he said, "As far as the calls that he gets on the floor, I think a lot of the referees are treating him like a superstar; he gets to the line easy and often."
At the time, it was the second instance that Jackson was fined by the league in two weeks after he called out veteran referee Bennett Salvatore by name after a late-season game against San Antonio.
NBA commissioner David Stern addressed Jackson's fines prior to Game 3 of the Lakers-Thunder first-round series.
"I wish I had it to do all over again, and starting 20 years ago, I'd be suspending Phil and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media, because you guys know that our referees go out there and they knock themselves out and do the best job they can. We have coaches who will do whatever it takes to try to work them publicly," Stern said. "What that does is erode fan confidence, and then we get some of the situations that we have. So, our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families, and if they don't like it, they should go get a job someplace else."
Jackson made comments about the officials the very next day, suggesting some of the referees' calls might have been swayed by the raucous home crowd at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, but the 10-time championship-winning coach did not receive any further fine or suspension by the league.
Stern addressed the media again prior to Game 4 of the second round between the Lakers and Jazz in Utah. He justified that further discipline toward Jackson wasn't necessary because, "As you may have noticed, the rhetoric has declined."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com