Updated: April 17, 2006, 10:57 PM ET

How the Lakers can stun Suns

All of the playoff teams are now set. Washington, Chicago, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento, welcome to the party. With three nights of regular season action left, some matchups won't be set until the final game Wednesday night.

Among the pairings that are almost nailed down, I think the likely Western Conference No. 7 seed Lakers are going to have a really good chance in the series with the No. 2 Suns. That's based on more than just Kobe Bryant and Co. looking very good against a Phoenix team Sunday playing without Steve Nash, Raja Bell and much motivation. But this win still means something to the Lakers, because they dominated the game.

Now if the Kings (43-38) beat Seattle at home on Tuesday, and the Lakers (44-37) lose at home Wednesday to the Hornets, then Sacramento would slide up to the No. 7 seed by virtue of superior division record tiebreakers. But the Lakers control their destiny.

If and when the Suns and Lakers meet again, here's how I think the Lakers can win. There's a formula that you have to implement against Phoenix, and it requires discipline. It's about controlling tempo.

So this is where a coach like Phil Jackson earns his money.

I liken the Suns to a run-and-shoot team in football. And the way to combat that approach is with a running game in football -- in basketball you stop them by dominating the paint. That slows the tempo down.

On this Shaq-less team, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant have to be the ones doing the damage in the paint. They can't settle for jumpers every time.

A successful post game demands a double team, and that brings extra help below the free-throw line. This would give the Lakers' defense that much more time to get back in transition. The Lakers have to do that. Phoenix excels at shooting the 3 in transition.

The Lakers have a good chance in a seven-game series. The Lakers have an opportunity to come in riding a five-game win streak, playing the best hoop in their division.

I think it's going to be a very interesting series because the Lakers are a better basketball team than they were in the first half. I don't think Phoenix is playing as well as it did in the first half. This makes for a very compelling series. The key for the Lakers will be winning one of those first two games in Phoenix.

Elsewhere, a team that clinched Sunday but is still likely to be in full playoff-drive mode is the Wizards (40-40), who beat potential first-round foe Cleveland. The Wiz are in a good position in that they are still motivated to keep the No. 5 seed and a matchup with the Cavs.

So even though Washington is in, the game Tuesday against the Bucks holds seeding implications. Cleveland is the worst of the top four and the team the Wiz have the best chance of beating. The Wiz probably would not be in this position had Caron Butler not missed five games, which were all losses. He came back Sunday from and a right thumb injury and scored 21 points. I think the Wiz are going to hold on to their five spot.

Chicago, which clinched an East seed with a win over Miami, has been impressive. The Bulls are the perfect team for Detroit to play because they're going to put up some intense fights. Now, I don't think they have a chance, but an earlier playoff test will be good for the Pistons. Chicago is legit with its young core, which, although Orlando's is very good, is, I think is the best in the game.

Sacramento's looking good after clinching a playoff spot with a win over New Orleans/Oklahoma City. Mike Bibby is playing great basketball for the Kings. The only thing I worry about is the Kings rely on Bibby's jumper, which is going to be easier to take away in a playoff series.

Because of what Ron Artest has brought, I think they're going to give the Spurs a great test in the first round, barring a late change in the seedings. Which, though banged up, will be good for San Antonio. A coach wants his team up for the rest of the playoffs. It's harder in the playoffs to get to that next intensity level unless you get pushed.

Let the pushing begin.

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Here To Pump You Up

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
The Wizards seem primed for action before dispatching the Cavs in a 104-92 playoff-clincher for Washington. LeBron James returned from an ankle sprain to score 17 points in 30 minutes.


Martin Gives Denver Nugget Of Hope
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Bassett, Denver: How do you feel about the Nuggets chance to win a playoff series this season?

Chris Sheridan: It's not a good sign that Kenyon Martin's knee is keeping him out of games, because I can't see them getting out of the first round without him playing a significant role. But Melo has been great, Andre has been steady and the two new guys were exactly what they needed. I think they'll go seven against whoever they play in the first round, and I think they'd rather see the Grizzlies than the Clippers, who beat them three times.

Peter (China): You look like a genius when you predicted that the Clippers would make the playoffs! Quick one: Why are the Clippers and Grizzles still winning games?? Logic tells me that they should tank games to get the sixth seed!

Chris Sheridan: I can't wait for the Clips-Grizzlies game next Tuesday, because both teams really would be better served by losing. I don't think either franchise would want to incur the type of fine the commissioner would hand down if he believed either of them intentionally tanked, so it'll be interesting to see how -- or whether -- they each might try to lose.

Ken (Santa Rosa, Calif.): Scenario: Kings make the playoffs, take San Antonio to 7 games but lose. Do the Maloofs rehire Adelman?

Chris Sheridan: I don't think Rick appreciated being a lame-duck this season after the Maloofs made a run at Phil Jackson. I think he's likely to leave of his own accord -- even if the Maloofs want him back. It seems a lot like what happened to Nate McMillan last season in Seattle.

See the full Chris Sheridan chat Insider



Pistons Set Franchise Mark
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• The Detroit Pistons did not celebrate after setting a franchise record for wins with a 103-97 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Some of them barely even noticed. "This doesn't matter at all," said Lindsey Hunter, who was also a part of Detroit's 20-62 season a dozen years ago. "We want the championship."

The Pistons (64-16) broke the mark of 63 wins set by the 1988-89 Bad Boys NBA champs, a team led by current Knicks president Isiah Thomas.

-- The Associated Press


Butler Back In Action

What's Washington with just Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison? Beatable. Add Caron Butler, and they're formidable, ending a five-game losing streak, and earning a playoff berth.

Butler' s Back

Stomach Staples

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
The Lakers are in the playoffs. For better or worse, that means more of this kind of courtside action. Paris Hilton feeds her friend Stavros Niarchos III during the Lakers-Suns game at Staples Center.


Extreme Behavior
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Sunday's Best
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant: Ushers the Lakers back into the playoffs with 43 points in a 109-89 win over the Suns. Kobe made 20-23 FTs and hauled in eight boards to boot.

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Sunday's Worst
Heat forward Udonis Haslem: Is it fair to pick a player from a playoff-bound team whose only motivation is to not get injured? No. Still, went with a guy who missed his four shots in 23 minutes of action.

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Quote of the Day
"It doesn't make us worried. We know if we face them in the first round or face them later in the playoffs we'll be ready for them."
-- Cavs forward LeBron James on the playoff prospect of facing the Wizards, who held a 3-1 regular-season advantage.

See how all 193 who played stacked up

The current NBA playoff matchups

-- Andrew Ayres



Hope Alive In Dallas
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The Mavericks kept alive their faint hopes of earning the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a win over Utah. To get it, Dallas must win its finale Wednesday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers, and the San Antonio Spurs must lose at home Monday night to the Jazz and on the road Wednesday night to Houston. If any of those games goes the other way, San Antonio will finish atop the conference.

The Mavericks pretty much gave up on the No. 1 seed after losing their last two games. This victory not only ended that skid, it was their 60th, tying the franchise record set by the 2002-03 team that reached the conference finals.

-- The Associated Press



Elias Says
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Dwight Howard scored 28 points and grabbed 26 rebounds in Orlando's 102-97 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday, becoming the first NBA player in more than two years to produce a 25/25 game.

The last player to produce such a game was Shaquille O'Neal, who had 31 points and 26 rebounds for the Lakers against the Bucks on March 21, 2004 -- but that game went into overtime. The last NBA player with a 25/25 performance in a regulation-length game was Lorenzen Wright for Memphis against Dallas on Nov. 4, 2001 (33 points, 26 rebounds).

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider



No Energy Shortage Here
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Coaches, scouts and even players use the term energy guys all the time. Nets GM Ed Stefanski already has said he'll be on the lookout for these very players come draft time.

Here's our All-Energy Team:

Bobby Jackson, G, Grizzlies; Manu Ginobili, G, Spurs; Ben Wallace, C, Pistons; Shane Battier, F, Grizzlies; Gerald Wallace, F, Bobcats

See the full Matt Wong blog Insider



 

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