Lakers-Suns could hinge on 3-point line
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Phoenix Suns made them better than any other team in the league during the regular season at 41.2 percent.
The Lakers defended them better than any other team, holding opponents to 32.8 percent.
Something has to give when it comes to 3-point shots in the Western Conference finals, right?
"As much as you want to concentrate on 3-point shooting, it's about the lane," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Friday. "It's about stopping the ball at the basket and keeping [Amar'e] Stoudemire from the easy hoops he gets and the other guys, [Steve] Nash, from getting layups. The 3-point line will probably take care of itself as we go along."
As much as Jackson is confident in the Lakers' ability to defend from deep (Los Angeles has clamped down to allow an even stingier 32.3 percent on 3-pointers by their opponents in the playoffs), the Suns have been even better pouring it in from the outside in the postseason as well (up to 41.7 percent with Nash, Jason Richardson and Goran Dragic each shooting better than 44 percent).
"I think we're able to guard the 3-point line fairly well because of our size in the middle," Derek Fisher said. "We have big guys back there that can protect us and secure defensive rebounds and those things [when we close out on the perimeter]. But I think the key to playing this team will be not to overreact to made 3-point shots. Even on the hottest night, if they make 15, that's still only 45 points. ... There's a lot of points coming from other areas."
Besides defending against the longball, the Lakers will also just have to maintain their motors so the game doesn't pick up a frenetic pace, a flow that benefits Phoenix.
"You have to control the pace and control the turnovers and control the glass," said Kobe Bryant, when asked what the keys to the series were.
When told about Bryant's series summation, Jackson smiled and said, "That's what I put in our report for the guys, we want to control the tempo of the game." (He might not be able to get Bryant to read the books he hands out to the team on long road trips, but at least he knows Bryant still devours his scouting reports.) Jackson said the Lakers have a two-pronged approach to slowing down the Suns, first by throwing an extra man at Nash in inbounds situations to disrupt outlet passes after made baskets and second, by asserting a certain rhythm to the game by being more exacting and methodical on offense.
Still, Jackson allowed that the Suns, who come into the conference finals averaging 105.8 points per game in the playoffs, put pressure on your defense no matter what you do.
"It's easy to make a mistake against Phoenix and not get in the right rotation and do the things that you're trying to do because it happens quickly and it's a spread-out situation on the court so you have to be able to adjust quickly," Jackson said.
Time (off) on their side
Pau Gasol returned to practice after leaving Wednesday's session early because of sinusitis.
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"He looked like he missed a day or two here and there, but he got better as the practice went on," Jackson said.
Bryant (right knee) and Andrew Bynum (right knee) did not play with the team again, using the time for rehabilitation rather than repetitions on offense. Jackson said Bryant and Bynum will do "some stuff" on the court over the weekend such as getting up shots, but in terms of participating in a full-fledged practice, "probably not."
"I'm not unhappy about it," Jackson said. "I may be after Monday's game if we don't play well. I think it benefits our team because of the shape we were in at the end of the season. We can get in better shape now.
"We're probably gaining strength as a physical team as this playoffs goes on, simply due to the duration and because we were fortunate to get through this [Utah] series quickly."
The Lakers have taken two of the four days since defeating Utah last Monday as off days and still have two days left to prepare for Game 1 on Monday.
"I love long layoffs. I think it's good for us," Bryant said. "Everybody on our team is pretty much banged up. It's good to have these days and play and then have some more days to recover and get ready for the next one."
After Cleveland's loss to Boston on Thursday night transfixed the basketball world, it seemed natural to reach out to the Lakers about what went down in the Eastern portion of the NBA playoff bracket.
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"There's so many speculative things to talk about in that regard," Jackson said. "It's not just about winning, it's about the fact that they made trades late in the season to strengthen their team with the [Antawn] Jamison-Washington situation where [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas comes back to them and a lot of things happened in that regard that everybody is going to be curious about and speculate about. But, the reality is they had a great team and their effort was surpassed by Boston's."
Bryant was less forthcoming.
Asked if he had any comment on the Cavaliers loss, Bryant said, "I don't."
When a reporter followed up and said that it was a national story that was being discussed in basketball circles, Bryant said, "That's good."
They said it
"There were a couple of guys talking about it, but until you read up on the law, you don't know enough about it. So I guess, we'll have to read up on it if we want to comment on it." -- Lamar Odom on the controversial Arizona immigration bill that would allow police officers the right to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally if they did not immediately produce immigration documents supporting their citizenship. Phoenix wore "Los Suns" jerseys on May 5 to support local Latino residents who could be affected.
Dave McMemanin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.