Lakers Force Suns to Set Again

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When L.A. waxed Phoenix 121-102 back on Nov. 12, they simply pounded the Suns in their weak spot – the paint – en route to a season-high 78 points near the hoop.

The Suns, meanwhile, struggled to shoot just 36.5 percent for the game. In Sunday evening’s rematch, the Suns found their range from the field, improving to 44.6 percent, but they sure didn’t figure out how to stop the Lakers.

With a bevy of easy looks in the paint, open three-pointers and transition opportunities galore, L.A. spread its attack around like Drew Brees to open a 10-point lead at halftime and a 21-point margin after three before cruising to a 108-88 victory for the ninth straight purple and gold win.

“We’ve played the other teams,” said Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “I think they’re by far the best team”

59088023As easily as the Lakers scored, their postgame focus was on the defensive side of the ball after holding the league’s second-ranked offense in check.

“Tonight we were really aggressive on the ball and we just put them in a situation where they felt trapped,” said Kobe Bryant.

“Our defense is playing strong and that’s what is most important, that we come out with a certain type of disposition, maintain it throughout the game,” added Lamar Odom.

L.A. used its length to bother Phoenix, forcing Steve Nash to get rid of the ball (he took only 12 shots) while primarily forcing the visitors to take jumpers instead of free throws (the Suns attempted only 11). Typifying the Lakers’ defensive effort was Ron Artest, who held Grant Hill to 12 points while amassing a game-high five steals.

“They’re a long team and they bottle up everything you try to do,” said Gentry. “We could never really get anything going.”

The not-always-easy-to-please Phil Jackson was … pleased.

“A good win…defensively,” said L.A.’s head coach. “Anytime you hold Phoenix under 100 points, you know that you did good.”

59088278Back on the offensive side of the equation, Phoenix’s inability to stop the Lakers in the post was most evident at the opening of the third quarter, when Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined to score L.A.’s first 16 points with eight apiece.

The Lakers saw six players reach double figures to help the Lakers amass a combined +39 over the Suns after two games, including 26 from Kobe Bryant and 15 from Ron Artest.

Jordan Farmar continued a strong run of play off the bench with 11 points and four rebounds, while Shannon Brown added 12 points and two boards.

“Everything that we are doing well, hopefully we can get even better at it,” concluded Bryant. “We have to improve if we want to repeat.”

Until L.A.’s next chance to improve – Wednesday against Utah – here are your numbers:

3 Three-pointers swished on three straight possessions for L.A., the first by Ron Artest and second two by Shannon Brown. The Lakers shot flames from distance all night, converting 10-of-21 (47.6 percent).

6 Lakers in double figure scoring, paced by Kobe Bryant’s game-high 26, Artest’s 15, Pau Gasol’s 14, Andrew Bynum’s 13, Shannon Brown’s 12 and Jordan Farmar’s 11 (the one-point difference was not reportedly planned).

9 Second quarter points scored by Farmar, including two three-pointers and a pretty reverse layup as the backup point guard continued a strong recent stretch of play.

22 Free throws made by L.A. on 26 attempts, to only 10-of-11 for Phoenix.

39 Total point difference in two Lakers-Suns games, with L.A. scoring 229 to 190 for the Suns.

57.1 Suns’ shooting percentage in the first quarter, producing 26 points, significant because Phoenix opened 4-for-18 (22 percent) the first time these teams met.