- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHOENIX -- Phil Jackson doesn't think he has a problem.
The Hall of Fame coach believes his team has adjusted just fine to the 2-3 zone the Suns threw at them over the past few days.
"We shot 49 percent, didn't we?" Jackson asked after his team's most recent defeat Tuesday night. "That's pretty good. Nothing wrong with that. I wouldn't say we're struggling against the zone. I think we're struggling at the defensive end. That's where I see it."
Sure, the Lakers are struggling defensively, as evidenced by the 233 points they've given up over the past two contests, but Jackson is wrong if he believes the Phoenix zone hasn't thrown his team for a loop. His players are clearly having a hard time figuring out a defense that most haven't seen since high school.
"It's the zone," Lakers center Andrew Bynum admitted. "We're settling for outside jump shots. They were out there moving that ball, they were confident playing at home and they really just shot the ball well. They had everybody spaced out so everybody's running around."
Bynum and the rest of his teammates realize if they don't find a way to attack the zone more, they may not be able to regain control of this series.
"It's not just the way you do it," Bynum continued. "It's not just getting the ball inside, because there's still going to be four people around you. You've got to move it around, hit it in certain spots, slow down to make them stop moving so we can see where to pick them apart at and throwing the ball from side to side to side and all they're doing is moving. [We need to] slow it down, let the zone set so you can see where to attack it from."
Aside from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers continually looked flustered by the defensive set that has helped propel Phoenix back into this series. The zone has sucked the aggressiveness out of the Lakers. There is a cloud of laziness hovering over their offensive sets that wasn't there over the first two games. In the past two games, the Lakers have attempted 33 free throws, compared to the Suns' 74 attempts.
"I think in the zone sometimes you've got to take what's there," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom. "Usually when you see teams play zone, they don't extend their zone and try to pack it in as much as possible. Short jump shots are there. We took good shots for the most part today. But anytime you see a lack of free throws from us it's because people are just sagging off of us and we let the zone pack in."
The Lakers have been so locked in on figuring out how to snap out of their zone malaise that it has taken away from other facets of their game.
"Coming up here, we lost a sense of urgency defensively," Bryant said. "I think our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone. And I think it kind of flipped our attention to detail defensively. Our focus was on the other side of the floor, which doesn't win championships."
Veteran Suns forward Grant Hill knows in order for his team to steal a game in Los Angeles it must continue to use the defense that so many middle school coaches have installed for years. He knows the zone has knocked the defending champs off their game.
"They didn't get the ball into the post, get to the line where they're dangerous," he said. "[Suns coach] Alvin [Gentry] kept saying, 'Hey, don't get discouraged. If they're shooting 3s, especially with hands in their faces, then that's great defense.' We wanted to get into a 3-point contest, that's fine. That's what we do. And it worked."
The biggest thing the zone has done is give confidence to a Phoenix team that was in desperate need of a jolt. Yes, the Lakers are still scoring points, but it's the way they're scoring them that has to be troubling to Jackson & Co. The Suns may not be able to stop the Lakers completely, but they believe the 2-3 can slow them down just enough to win this series. If Jackson doesn't make some kind of adjustment soon, it will be too late to fix what ails his team.
They'll have a really big problem.
They'll be sitting at home.
Nick Friedell covers the NBA for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com.
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