Monthly Archive for May, 2010

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Big-Time Efficiency for Laker Bigs

60481955The naked eye could see how easily L.A.’s trio of big men scored in Games 1 and 2 against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals.

Even with L.A.’s much-advertised advantages in length, the numbers are still staggering in terms of efficiency.

Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom shot a combined 66.6 percent from the field (44-of-66):

Bynum: 7-of-9 (77.8%)
Gasol: 21-of-32 (65.6%)
Odom: 16-of-25 (64%)

The numbers aren’t shocking due to the aforementioned physical advantages over the Suns’ front line, and because all three players performed well in the regular season in general, Bynum shooting 57%, Gasol 53.6% and Odom 46.3%.

Nonetheless, finding some way to contain L.A.’s trees remains a clear focus for Phoenix heading into Sunday’s Game 3 in Arizona, whether or not it can be done with the team’s respective personnel or not.

Lakers – Suns Quote Barrage

60501869Everybody talks after playoff games.

Both coaches, all the stars, any role player that had any kind of role, and so on.

Since postgame stories get too jumbled with too many different perspectives (we stuck with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Phil Jackson, Alvin Gentry and Steve Nash – and that was a lot) we put together a collection of some of the more interesting comments after L.A.’s 124-112 Game 2 victory, then added a few thoughts in italics for a bit more detail.

We’ll start with the coaches:

“We’ve been able to play both styles of basketball as a team for the last two or three years. We like to control the pace. But we feel comfortable, if it’s an accelerated pace.”
Note: Basically, L.A. can score however they want at whatever pace against the Suns’ D.

(On Andrew Bynum): “I thought he played a game for us tonight that we liked. I mean, he did some things that were really good for us offense, we got rebounds. When they went to their screen roll offense, that’s when we had to accelerate the pace a little bit and use more mobile players on the outside. I think that’s a little tough for Drew to cover right now.”
- Lost amidst the huge games from Bryant, Gasol and Odom was Bynum’s best effort since Game 2 vs. Utah. He posted 13 points and seven rebounds in only 18 minutes without missing a shot (5-of-5). His minutes could go up considerably against a bigger opponent.

“Well, what can you say? We are just having a hard time. We can’t slow them down. I thought we played well offensively, but every time we tried to make an adjustment to slow them down, they go somewhere else. You do a great job on Kobe … then they go to Pau, and we double team Pau and there’s Lamar, and we get it out of Lamar’s hand and Jordan Farmar makes shots. There’s a good reason they’re the world champs.”
- Gentry’s among the league’s most candid coaches, and isn’t above giving a team full credit.

(On Kobe): “Guys, there’s a reason he’s the best basketball player in the world. He’s not going to force things. He doesn’t do that anymore. And so if you ask me if we did a good job on him we took him from 40 to 21. So that’s a good job. But when you add in the 13 assists, that’s 26 more points.”
- During the last two and perhaps three seasons, Bryant’s shown an increased willingness to pass to teammates that he knows can get the job done. In related news, the Lakers got Pau Gasol in February of 2008, Andrew Bynum emerged, Lamar Odom received less attention because of the other bigs and so on down to Ron Artest and Derek Fisher. So if double-teams, whether quick or slow, come Bryant’s way, he’s simply going to pass, which has crushed opposing defenses.

(On Pau Gasol understanding the game as he does): “It’s great. It makes the game a lot easier, obviously, to have a big that can catch, complete, make plays. And all of our bigs can do that. But we’re extremely well versed in playing against teams that double and zone and things like that.”
- Kobe said after Game 1 what he’d do if Phoenix gave him more attention, then executed his plan perfectly thanks in part to both Gasol and Odom’s knowledge of where to be within the offense.

“We’re extremely versatile. We can play pretty much every style … we know what our strength is, and we know how to play to that. It’s getting the ball in the paint.”
- On NBA TV, Kevin McHale offered an “uh oh” directed at the rest of the NBA with Bryant stating explicitly that he knew the team’s money was made in the paint.

(On Gasol): “He’s just making all the right reads and all the right plays, and he’s really figured it out at the right time … we’ve have a lot of bigs, but Pau eats first when it comes to that. No question about it. So it makes it really easy for everybody else to fall in line.”
- Gasol’s averages through 12 playoff games (10 wins): 21.0 pts., 12.0 reb., 3.6 ast., 1.92 blk., 58.2 FG%, 78.9% FG. But it’s Kobe’s “eats first” comment that’s most interesting, as earlier in the season, Bryant said it was he that ate first in general. Of course, Bryant does, but that he’d mention the same phrase while talking about Gasol is interesting.

(On L.A. defending the pick and roll): “I think they were loading up on the pick and roll and putting a third defender in there. So we tried to make them pay on the weak side. Grant (Hill) got a lot of open looks tonight because of that. It may not come out of the pick and roll, but other guys may benefit from it.”
- Ron Artest admitted after the game on TNT that this is part of L.A.’s game plan, since not many players in the NBA can hit a pull-up midrange jumper off the bounce like Kobe can. Hill certainly did just that in Game 2 (including his first five shots of the third quarter), but the Lakers seem willing to concede it rather than allow threes or layups.

(On what Phoenix tried defensively): “It’s a tough one. They’re bigger. And at times we tried to front the post. At other times we tried to double … have to give them credit. They’ve made a lot of shots and they’ve made it difficult for us no matter what scheme we’ve thrown at them defensively.
- Bryant said he again expects a mix of all of the above in Game 3, but clearly L.A. has a plan for all of the coverages and shouldn’t be surprised.

(On Pau Gasol): He’s extremely long. He’s able to go both ways in the post. He’s a good shooter and passer for a big guy he can look over the defense. He can look over double teams. So he’s extremely versatile. He can put the ball on the floor. He can make plays at the same time he can score going both ways in the post. So he’s a terrific player.
- Nash a big fan of his fellow international player.
Continue reading ‘Lakers – Suns Quote Barrage’

Bryant, Gasol Dissect Suns’ D in Game 2 Win

60500217Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, two of the NBA’s most gifted players both in physical talent and in mind, orchestrated a second consecutive monster scoring game as the Lakers beat Phoenix 124-112 to take a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals.

The Spaniard led all scorers with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting with nine boards and five assists, while Bryant amassed a playoff-career-high 13 assists – the most by a Laker in a playoff game since Magic Johnson’s 13 in 1996 against Houston – alongside his 21 points and five boards.

“We are just having a hard time, we can’t slow them down,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought we played well offensively, but every time we tried to make an adjustment to slow them down, they go somewhere else. You do a great job on Kobe … they go to Pau, and we double team Pau, and there’s Lamar (Odom) … there’s a good reason they’re the world champs.”

After a 40-point performance in Game 1′s 128-107 victory, Bryant received additional attention in Game 2, so he simply dished into the waiting arms of Gasol, Ron Artest (18 points) and Lamar Odom (17 points plus 11 rebounds) as the Lakers shot 58 percent (57.7 to be precise) for the second straight game.

60501346“There’s a reason (Bryant’s) the best basketball player in the world,” said Gentry, whose team lost for the second consecutive time for the first time since Jan. 25-26. “He’s not going to force things. He doesn’t do that anymore.”

In fairness, after Game 1, Bryant had provided ample warning.

“We just move the ball to an open guy,” he said. “They send two guys at me, I’ve done my job. I’ve made them make adjustments and (gotten) easy opportunities for my teammates. We’ll be ready if that happens.”

He, and his teammates, certainly were, making 45-of-78 field goals, getting to the line 34 times, hitting 9-of-16 threes (56.3 percent led by three each from Artest and Jordan Farmar) and scoring 52 points in the paint.

And if Bryant were directing traffic on the perimeter, he was quite appreciative of a certain Spaniard inside that saw things the same way.

“He’s making all the right reads and all the right plays at the right time,” Bryant said of Gasol. “It makes the game a lot easier, obviously, to have a big that can catch, complete and make plays. We’re extremely well versed in playing against teams that double and zone and things like that. We’ve seen it before.”

They saw it most notably in last season’s WCF’s against Denver in Games 5 and 6, in fact, the latter of which resulted in 10 assists from Kobe; and while the Suns didn’t always double-team Bryant aggressively, their defense certainly shifted in his direction.

“It’s pick your poison with these guys,” said Gentry. “I mean, you look at the stat sheet there’s like 27, 21, 28 (points), you know, I mean, it gets to be real difficult.”

Steve Nash, who scored just 11 points but dished out 15 assists for the Suns, explained why Gasol makes things so much more difficult when the defense is already having to focus on Bryant.

“He’s extremely long,” said the Canadian. “He’s able to go both ways in the post. He’s a good shooter and passer for a big guy he can look over the defense (and) double teams.

“He’s extremely versatile. He can put the ball on the floor. He can make plays at the same time he can score going both ways in the post. So he’s a terrific player.”

Such is Gasol’s skill level that it took a two-time MVP 30 seconds to describe, but for the seven-footer, the two games in which L.A. averaged 126 points on Phoenix have been simple in principal.

“You have to read what they do to you and just make the right play,” he said. “They tried to front most of the game. They allowed the entry pass a couple times. And then you read if the double team comes. If it doesn’t, then you attack. That’s pretty much what we tried to do tonight. Obviously we did a better job, very good job in the fourth quarter of it.”

60501351In the deciding fourth quarter, which the teams entered tied at 90 after a late Suns’ run, L.A. outscored Phoenix 34-22 while making 11-of-18 field goals, including 5-of-7 from Gasol and 3-of-4 from Odom, who was terrific off the bench for a second straight night. Six turnovers in the period hurt the visitors measurably, while Farmar’s two three-pointers – the second of which pushing L.A.’s lead back to 11 – certainly didn’t help.

Defensively, Phoenix tried straight man-to-man, they laid off Kobe, they doubled Kobe, they went small, they zoned up…

“They made it difficult for us no matter what scheme we threw at them defensively,” said Nash.

Or, in Phil Jackson’s words: “We’ve found a number of ways to score. We’ve been able to play both styles of basketball as a team for the last two or three years. We like to control the pace, but we feel comfortable if it’s an accelerated pace.”

Though they didn’t look tired from the high pace of Games 1 and 2, the Lakers now have three full days to rest before Sunday’s Game 3 in Phoenix, during which Bryant expects “myriad” defensive looks.

“I think they’ll mix it up and try to keep us off balance,” he said. “Do myriad of coverages so we don’t get in rhythm. We’re going to kind of quarterback the situation and make the reads according to the situation. We’ll be ready to do that.”

Being ready isn’t as difficult for a team featuring Bryant and his buddy Gasol, who have seemingly seen it all before.

Until they try to lead L.A. to its ninth straight playoff win, your numbers:

0 Home losses for the Lakers in the playoffs. During their 2009 NBA Title run, the Lakers dropped one of the team’s first two home games to both Houston and Denver, but are 7-0 in 2010.

6 Fourth quarter turnovers for the Suns, which played a part in L.A.’s 34-22 edge in the deciding period since the teams entered the quarter tied at 90.

13 Assists for Kobe Bryant, a playoff career high, the most by a Laker since Magic Johnson tossed 13 against Houston in the 1996 Playoffs.

29 Points for Pau Gasol on 11-of-18 shooting, which actually brings his terrific field goal percentage in the playoffs down a tenth of a percentage point to 58.1 percent. The Spaniard scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and added nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks. He’s good.

36 Points for L.A.’s bench, thanks to Lamar Odom’s 17 (plus 11 boards, four assists and three steals), Jordan Farmar’s 11 (thanks to 3-of-3 shooting from three in only 14 minutes) and Shannon Brown (eight points, two assists). Though Phoenix got five threes from Jared Dudley, the bench was outscored for the second straight game, 36-26.

Lakers 124, Suns 112: Game 2 Running Diary

60499947Lakers – Suns Gameday Page
L.A. looked to follow up an impressive 128-107 Game 1 victory with Game 2′s Wednesday evening contest at STAPLES Center. We were there to make sure you didn’t miss a thing:

Lakers: Adam Morrison
Suns: Taylor Griffin

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire, Robin Lopez

Phil Jackson Pregame
Roughly an hour-and-a-half before every game, Phil Jackson addresses the media, though in the Conference Finals the scene moves to a large room in the STAPLES Center underground to accommodate the large media contingent. On Wednesday, Jackson said that he expected the Suns to leave Kobe with single coverage, that he wasn’t concerned about Bryant’s knee but worried about Andrew Bynum’s, and shared that the coaches are never surprised when Lamar Odom has a big game as he did in Game 1.

60500098First Quarter
9:39 A good start for the Lakers concluded with two free throws from Andrew Bynum after Ron Artest had scored five straight points, including a corner three and driving layup. The Lakers like Artest’s matchup with the smaller Jason Richardson, and took advantage early for the second straight game in a 9-4 start.

5:57 The Suns quickly countered with an 11-2 run of their own to take their first lead behind three field goals from Amare Stoudemire … at least before a 6-0 Lakers run produced a 17-13 edge and a Suns’ time out. Bynum added two more buckets, both near the rim, plus three rebounds before giving way to Lamar Odom, who immediately grabbed an offensive board and laid it back in. Odom, of course, had 19 points and 19 rebounds in Game 1 before Stoudemire called him “lucky,” setting up a bit of additional drama*.
*Before the game, Stoudemire entered L.A.’s underground weight room, and Odom followed unknowingly a minute later. Fun.

0:00 The first standing ovation of the game from the partisan crowd came in emphatic form as Artest buried a corner three at the buzzer, capping a 7-0 run to close the quarter and putting the Lakers up 36-24. Artest finished the first with 10 points, three boards, two assists and a steal, while Bryant was terrific moving the ball, producing six assists along with his nine points. The Purple and Gold shot 58.3 percent after shooting 58 percent for the entirety of Game 1.

60500210Second Quarter
11:00 As fortunate bounces go … Louis Amundson badly missed the second of two free throws after L.A. had taken a 14-point lead with a Jordan Farmar jumper, but the ball got knocked out to a waiting Jared Dudley, who buried a much-needed three as Phoenix tried to stay in the game.

5:49 The Suns’ bench, about which we’d heard to much heading into the series, made its mark for the first time with an 11-0 run to cut L.A.’s lead down to just three on Dudley’s three-pointer. Moments later, Dudley nailed his third straight from long distance (the reserve hit 45.8 percent of his threes in the regular season), but a Farmar three, long two from Shannon Brown and Gasol free throw made it 47-41 Lakers.

1:30 Bryant pushed his assist total to nine (no typo, that’s 9) as Artest and Derek Fisher hit back-to-back threes to push L.A.’s lead back to 12. Artest’s third triple got him to a team-high 15 points, as L.A. was also controlling the boards (23-17) while shooting 57 percent. The half ended with the home team up 65-56, L.A. scoring with relative ease while shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

60500396Third Quarter
10:16 Bryant was the story of the third in Game 1, as he exploded for 21 points, and his first bucket in this one was a pretty turnaround in the paint. Richardson, however, scored all seven Suns’ points to open the quarter, cutting L.A.’s lead to six and forcing a Phil Jackson time out. Much had been made about a stat in which Phoenix won nearly all of its games when J-Rich went for at least 20 points, but it wouldn’t matter if the Lakers kept scoring so easily.

3:06 Speaking of scoring … that was some fun basketball to watch. The teams basically traded buckets for five minutes, but the Suns barely missed a shot while cutting the lead to four on Grant Hill’s pull-up jumper.

1:13 Hill closed a terrific individual quarter by making his sixth straight shot before finally missing inside the final minute, scoring 14 of Phoenix’s 34 points and helping the Suns tie the score at 90 heading into the final quarter. The Lakers struggled to get the ball inside against Phoenix’s small, athletic lineup with Stoudemire playing center and Dudley at the four, the Suns scrambling around. As such, L.A. would need to ramp things up at both ends to break a 90-90 tie into the final quarter…

60500186Fourth Quarter
11:23… And they certainly did. It was a solid start to the final quarter from Farmar, who buried a corner three, then picked Goran Dragic’s pocket before missing a fadeaway in the paint. L.A. got a stop on D, then saw Bryant notch his 10th assist as Gasol laid in easily at the rim to put the Purple and Gold up five. Bryant, however, flashed into the paint to help at the other end, leaving Dudley to hit his fifth three in as many attempts to cut it right back to two. That, however, was the Suns’ only make in the next several minutes (five straight misses) as the Lakers’ D found its rhythm.

7:15 Farmar picked quite a time to step up, nailing another triple, this one a pull-up in transition that preceded Bryant’s jumper to push L.A.’s lead right back into double digits at 11. Two minutes later, Bryant notched his playoff-career-high 12th assist, finding Gasol (21 points) at the rim, as things began to come easily for L.A.

1:57 Phoenix simply could not get stops, particularly near the rim, as Gasol and Odom took turns laying balls in off the glass, dunking and making short jumpers. Odom grabbed four boards and scored six points in the quarter to reach a 15-10 double-double, while Gasol scored 12 points and grabbed three boards to reach a game-high 27 points with nine rebounds of his own. Odom’s left-handed baseline dunk was the final blow as the Lakers’ lead swelled to 14 points at 120-106, the Suns taking a final time out to discuss.

The game ended with L.A. scoring 124 points, Phoenix 112, L.A. once again shooting the lights out (57.7 percent). Bryant was masterful at directing his team in a 21-point, 13-assist performance, Gasol finished with a game-high 29 points on 19 shots while Odom again provided a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards. The three took over the final quarter, which L.A. claimed 34-22 to send the Lakers to their eighth straight playoff win and put Phoenix in a 2-0 Western Conference Finals hole.

Stay tuned for all the postgame reaction on

Playoff Podcast: Chocolate Thunder

dawkThe creator of “The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam” slam dunk, NBA legend Darryl Dawkins, joined us on Tuesday afternoon for the latest Playoff Podcast.

Dawkins, who will be in Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday May 22-23 as the NBA Nation Ambassador, joined us to detail the weekend’s events at Universal City Walk Hollywood, and went on to offer a name for Shannon Brown’s near monster jam on Jason Richardson, to describe his playing days against Magic, Worthy, Kareem and the Showtime Lakers, to talk about meeting Kobe Bryant as a young kid and more.

To listen, click below:

PHOTO: Shannon Brown Violates Air Space

“I actually thought he was going over the backboard.”
- TNT play-by-play man Marv Albert on Shannon Brown’s ridiculous fourth quarter dunk attempt.

Watch the play


Kobe scores 40 in big Game 1 win over Suns

blog_100517kobebryantface_postgameFor the 11th time in his storied playoff career, Kobe Bryant scored 40 points while leading the Lakers to an impressive 128-107 victory over Phoenix in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

The home team’s steady all-around effort on Monday at STAPLES Center also featured major contributions from Lamar Odom (19 points, 19 rebounds) and Pau Gasol (21 points, five assists), but it was the snarl of the 2009 Finals MVP that set the tone.

“Kobe kind of controlled the whole game,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “When he’s in the zone like he is tonight, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”

60480133The Kobe face came out for the first time in the third quarter when he exploded for 21 points, nailing 7-of-10 field goals and six free throws to push a 62-55 halftime lead to 14 points after three (93-79). From then on, the Lakers rolled downhill with ease, scoring 24 points in the first six minutes of the fourth to put the game on ice.

“On ice” is a phrase that could have been used for Bryant’s knee leading into the contest, however, as much of the discussion revolved around fluid being drained from the guard’s right knee as he opted against practicing throughout the six days between Game 4 in Utah and Monday’s contest.

Clearly, he knew what he was doing.

“He (had) been very optimistic through the whole week,” said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. “He felt like he got exactly what he had to have, the amount of rest and the amount of shooting. He took some shooting practice out there and stayed on top of what we were trying to get done in practice. He was attentive to it and I thought involved.”

“The knee felt fine,” said Bryant, even joking that getting his knee drained simply resulted in “lost weight … a couple pounds lighter.”

Bryant made 13-of-23 shots (56.2 percent) from myriad places on the floor and sank 11-of-12 free throws (91.7 percent) to get his 40; when he wasn’t scoring, he was busy chest-bumping Odom and Gasol in a nod to their contributions, discussing defensive matchups with Ron Artest (14 points, five boards and five helpers) or clapping from the bench as Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown combined for 19 points.

Odom’s contribution stood out most from that contingent, marked on the stat sheet by his career-playoff-high 19 window cleans and on the court initially by his seven straight points midway through the first quarter that gave L.A. its first lead at 24-23.

100517lamarodom“It sends a great message to the rest of our team that he’s accepted the role of coming off the bench,” said Bryant. “He’s had games where people have criticized him, but it’s really just the amount of time that he’s on the floor, and for him to accept that role makes us that much of a better team because he can have moments like this and have games like this.”

While Bryant’s knee, and that of Andrew Bynum – who managed only four points and four boards but clogged the paint defensively in 19 minutes – took the focus in L.A.’s layoff, the also-beat-up Odom had some fresh-looking legs.

“It was perfect,” he said of the previous week. “I got a lot of treatment, got to work on my shot and my individual game, and it was exactly what I needed.”

As a team, the Lakers made 58 percent of their shots, outrebounded Phoenix 42-34, scored 56 points in the paint to 36 from the visitors, outscored the Suns 9-4 in fast break points and turned the ball over just nine times.

All of that equaled L.A.’s seventh straight playoff win.

“Their attentiveness has been great,” said Jackson of his team. “Their focus has been very good. They’re trying to do things that we’re trying to operate. We’re taking good quality shots a lot of the time, so that helps.”

The Suns, meanwhile, managed to shoot 49.4 percent from the field despite missing some open looks, including just five makes in 22 three-point attempts against the league’s top three-point defense in L.A. Steve Nash managed 13 assists and Amar’e Stoudemire 23 points, but subs Channing Frye and Jared Dudley made just 2-of-12 combined threes.

“They missed a lot of shots that they’ve been making this entire postseason,” said Bryant. “(But) we did a good job defensively, we rotated pretty well, but we’ve got to do a much better job in Game 2 and the rest of the series.”

“I’m pretty sure the next game they’ll make (more shots),” concluded Odom. “We have to be prepared to take their best punch … and we will be.”

Game 2 is set for Wednesday night back at STAPLES Center. Until then, your numbers:

4 Fast break points for the Suns, to L.A.’s nine. Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry pointed out that the Suns aren’t so much a running team, yet the stat showed how well the Lakers got back into their half court defensive set.

11 Times Kobe Bryant has scored at least 40 points in a playoff game, spurred this time by 21 third quarter points before he sat out the game’s final 8:53 with his team up 19. He has now scored at least 30 points in six straight playoff games.

19 Rebounds for Lamar Odom, a playoff career-high, including seven on the offensive glass. Odom added 19 points and three assists in a terrific all-around game.

46 Wins without a single loss for Phil Jackson teams after winning Game 1 in a playoff series.

62.7 Combined shooting percentage for Bryant (13-of-23), Pau Gasol (10-of-13) and Odom (9-of-15), which helped the team to a 58 percent mark in L.A.’s offensive showcase.

Lakers 128, Suns 107: Game 1 Running Diary

60479928Lakers – Suns Gameday Page
For the 41st time in franchise history, the Lakers were in the Western Conference Finals, looking for a 1-0 lead against the Phoenix Suns. We were there to make sure you didn’t miss a thing:

Lakers: Adam Morrison
Suns: Taylor Griffin

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire, Robin Lopez

Series Preview
We had a little bit of everything for you in our Lakers – Suns WCF Preview, including a video (with highlights) with assistant coach Brian Shaw, a podcast with Scout/Director of Video Services and a complete position-by-position breakdown that you can check out by CLICKING HERE.

60479921First Quarter
5:31 The Suns showcased why they were the league’s best shooting team from the field and three-point range by opening 8-of-11, including 2-of-3 from long distance (both makes from Jason Richardson), but managed just a 20-17 lead as the Lakers made 6-of-11 shots themselves, led by a triple and lefty layup from Ron Artest, who was using his superior size to get open looks from Richardson.

2:52 We knew that Lamar Odom would play a crucial role for L.A. in this series, particularly with Andrew Bynum less than 100 percent (right knee), but we weren’t expecting seven straight points on 3-of-4 shooting (including a three) that gave the Lakers their first lead. Moments later, Bryant drew Suns sub Jared Dudley’s second foul in 12 seconds to put L.A. up 26-23 with two freebies.

0.01 Things started to tilt L.A.’s way as active defense helped force six straight Suns misses from the field amidst a 16-1 Lakers run. In the Purple and Gold push, Bryant stumbled after blowing by Dudley on the perimeter and took a Richardson knee to the head while falling. This, of course, spurred Kobe on to score seven point in the final minute of the quarter (he likes getting hit), including a pull-up three-pointer and baseline fadeaway that put the Lakers up 35-26 after one.

60480136Second Quarter
5:32 Lost amidst all the injury talk about Kobe and Bynum was that Lamar Odom was pretty beat up as well. Judging from his 7-of-9 shooting for 15 points, capped by yet another driving layup, the six days off did L.O. some good too.

3:50 Nash finally got a pick-and-roll to result in a Suns’ dunk, this from Robin Lopez, who had made 4-of-5 shots all near the rim for eight points, piggy-backing Stoudemire’s baseline dunk to bring Phoenix within five points. At the other end, L.A. was very efficient on offense, making 23-of-37 shots (62.2 percent), with the lone black mark being that Pau Gasol had taken only four shots, making three. No big man in the NBA came into the Conference Finals as hot as the Spaniard, who averaged 20+ points, 13+ boards, 3+ assists and nearly 2 blocks in his first eight playoff games.

0:00.6 A fierce two-handed put-back slam of Kobe’s miss from Josh Powell, just in the game to ensure that Odom didn’t pick up his third personal foul, was negated as Sasha Vujacic was whistled for a foul as Grant Hill attempted a three in the final second. Hill made 2-of-3 to bring Phoenix within seven (62-55) in a half the Lakers controlled after trailing by as many as seven early in the first.

60480164Third Quarter
9:37 More Spaniard was expected in the second half, and L.A. went to him early for a spin move around Lopez leading to a lefty finish. But it was to be Bryant going into take-over mode, and No. 24 started the quarter 3-of-3 including a triple that put L.A. up 71-59.

6:45 Bryant continued to draw heaps of fouls on the Suns, as Hill was called for his third of the quarter (fourth total) off the ball while attempting to keep the ball away from Kobe. The result was two free throws (L.A. in bonus way early), plus a technical Hill got by arguing as Kobe went up to 26 points while putting his team up 10.

0:03.6 OK, another (well-earned) Kobe entry. The snarl started to come out in a big way as Bryant steadily dissected Phoenix’s defense in the third, exploding for 21 points (35 total) on 7-of-10 shooting, plus six free throws, to push L.A. up by 14 (93-79) heading into the fourth quarter. Gasol added eight points in the period, and Odom grabbed four of his game-high 12 rebounds as the Lakers held firm control of the contest.

60480309Fourth Quarter
7:58 Bryant continued his offensive assault (sensing a pattern yet) with a pull-up jumper to reach 40 points for the 11th time in his playoff career, thanks to 13-of-23 FG’s and 11-of-12 FT’s, while putting L.A. up 18 points. Moments later, Brown and Farmar would bury a three-pointer each to put the game well out of reach.

3:00 Odom capped off a fantastic all-around game by grabbing his playoff-career-high 19th rebound (seven offensive) after scoring his 19th point in 30 minutes. He made 9-of-15 FG’s, added three assists and a steal, and was effective on defense to boot. His final field goal came courtesy of Gasol, who tossed his fifth assist of the second half with the Suns’ defense collapsing around him. When Bryant, Gasol and Odom combine to shoot 32-of-51 from the field (62.7 percent), the Lakers aren’t going to lose too often.

1:28 Brown capped off an impressive team offensive performance with a baseline dunk in transition, which wasn’t nearly as fun to watch as his completely ridiculous near miss over Jason Richardson early in the quarter. Brown had taken off from just in front of the free throw line, vaulting over J-Rich, but came up just short as he drew contact (and a foul) from the Suns guard. We almost had a Vince Carter – Frederic Weis remix, but L.A. would have to settle for a 128-107 victory.

Stay tuned for the postgame wrap and videos on

Video Preview: Lakers – Suns

Assistant coach Brian Shaw joined us on LakersTV late last week to discuss L.A.’s Western Conference Finals matchup with the Phoenix Suns, which tips on Monday evening at 6 p.m.

Amidst video highlights, Shaw described the health of Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, detailed the Suns’ pick-and-roll offense particularly as run by Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, explained how L.A. (the NBA’s best at defending the three) plans on limiting the league’s top three-point shooting team, looked at Phoenix’s bench and more.

You can also go through position-by-position breakdowns and listen to a podcast from Scout/Director of Video Services Chris Bodaken on our Lakers – Suns Preview Page.

Lakers close, close friends with Conference Finals

D065013018.JPGDid you know that the Lakers have played in 65 percent of the NBA’s Western Conference/Division Finals since the 1948-49 season in Minneapolis?

Or that they’ve won 30 of them?

By sweeping the Jazz last Monday, L.A. moved on to the franchise’s 40th WCF/DF, 10 of which came in Minny and 30 in Los Angeles, including three consecutive and six of ten in the 2000′s.

Since the move to L.A., the Lakers have gone 24-5 in Western Conference/Division Finals after a 6-4 stint in Minneapolis, and have won six straight WCF’s since a 1998 loss to John Stockton, Karl Malone and Utah.

And finally, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson is 12-1 all-time in Conference Finals, including a 6-0 mark with the Lakers and 6-1 record with the Chicago Bulls.

The team’s 41st trip to the Conference Finals, of course, begins on Monday night at 6 p.m. at STAPLES Center against the Phoenix Suns.