<
>

Team effort gives Lakers win, 2-1 lead on Suns

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers' strategy against
Phoenix is to pound the ball inside on offense, and slow down the
Suns' running game when they have the ball.

The Lakers worked the plan to perfection for the second game in
a row, taking a 99-92 victory over Phoenix on Friday night.

Kobe Bryant had only 17 points, but all five starters scored in
double figures in the Lakers' well-balanced offense, and they
outrebounded the smaller Suns 53-34.

Lamar Odom had 15 points and 17 rebounds, Kwame Brown had 13
points and 11 rebounds, and Luke Walton had 17 points and 10
rebounds.

"From the start of the series, we have just been playing
extremely well and are moving the ball around really well," Bryant
said. "We have just evolved into this from the start of the
season. It has been a process.

"We are just playing so well together."

The victory gave the upstart Lakers a 2-1 lead in the
best-of-seven Western Conference playoff series. They beat the Suns
99-93 in Phoenix in Game 2 after losing the opener there 107-102.

Smush Parker added 18 points in the latest win, and Bryant, who
went 6-of-18 from the floor, finished with seven assists and five
rebounds.

"They were trying to outrun us and we are trying to pound them
inside, so that is the way it's going to go," Walton said. "So
far, we have come out on top in two of three. They are not going to
change their style and we are not going to change ours."

The Suns' Steve Nash, reportedly to be named the league
regular-season MVP, had 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and dished
off 11 assists. He also tied for his team's top rebounder, with
seven, showing how weak the Suns were on the boards.

"I don't think we are believing in ourselves, and we're playing
tentative," Nash said. "We gave up offensive rebounds and missed
easy layups.

"We don't have the size inside to match up with them, but that
doesn't mean we can't win the series."

The Lakers had 16 offensive rebounds to only three by the Suns.

"We're scrambling. Our defense is there, but second-chance
points killed us tonight," said Shawn Marion, who led Phoenix with
20 points and had seven rebounds.

The game was close all the way, with the Lakers leading most of
the time and the entire fourth quarter. The Suns cut it to 92-90
with 3:27 remaining, but then Walton and Parker scored to give Los
Angeles a 96-90 lead with 2:20 left.

The Suns Tim Thomas left the floor late in the game with a
sprained left knee, but the injury was not believed to be serious.
His status for Sunday's contest was uncertain. He scored 18 points,
16 of them in the first quarter.

Bryant scored nine of his points in the fourth quarter, going
3-of-8.

Emotions flared a couple of times during the game, with some
pushing and shoving after hard fouls, but no punches were thrown.
The Suns' Boris Diaw was involved in both of the brief skirmishes,
in the opening moment of the game, then again in the third quarter.

First, Walton clothes-lined Thomas while Thomas driving to the
basket. When Thomas got off the floor, he began walking toward
Walton, and players from both teams, including Diaw, began pushing
from behind the two of them, with a domino effect that ended with
several players in a heap.

Walton was called for a flagrant foul, and Diaw drew a technical
for his role.

In the third quarter, Diaw had a shot blocked by Brown and was
hanging on him when the Lakers' center tried to retrieve the ball.
Brown thrust his arm up and Diaw went sprawling backward. Again,
the players squared off, but the referees quickly restored order.
Diaw was called for a foul, Brown a technical.

The Suns' Raja Bell was open for a 3-pointer with the third
quarter ending but he hesitated and Bryant swatted the ball away to
preserve the Lakers' 77-74 lead after three.

Nash was 5-of-6 from the floor and good on both 3-pointers to
score 12 points in the third, and Marion had eight points. Bryant
took only one shot in the quarter and made it.

Bryant had just six points in the first half on 2-of-9 shooting,
and Nash was even colder, scoring only three points and missing six
of his seven shots. Both Bryant and Nash did have five assists by
halftime.

The Lakers were up 49-44 at the break, with both teams looking
ragged in the second quarter after a crisp opening period.

Game notes
The Lakers have won 11 of their last 12 at home. ... Los
Angeles C Chris Mihm has aggravated his right ankle sprain and the
ankle is swollen, coach Phil Jackson said. Mihm missed 17 of the
last 18 regular-season games and hasn't played in the series
against Phoenix.