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Same Old Suns: Lakers Dominate, 128 to 107

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The Phoenix Suns tonight suffered what Wall Street types refer to as a "market correction." A few blowouts over an injury-depleted Trail Blazers team in the first round, followed by a second-round sweep of a Spurs squad older than the city of San Antonio itself, engendered irrational exuberance among Suns fans, not to mention a series of shaky hypotheses about how Phoenix would overwhelm the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Suns play defense now! A rested Steve Nash would abuse Derek Fisher! Grant Hill is the ideal defender to slow down Kobe Bryant!

These cute little theories were all court-tested tonight, and the results have sent Phoenix stock crashing. The Suns didn't play any more D than they did when they visited Staples Center in the regular season. Perhaps even less, if that's possible, as the Lakers roared to a 128 to 107 Game One victory, ringing up a dazzling 1.39 points per possession. Nash looked way less formidable than the last two point guards the Lakers faced in these playoffs. And Hill didn't even come close to bothering Kobe, who blew up like that Icelandic volcano no one can pronounce. His 40 points (on 28 shooting possessions, with only two turnovers) turned the Suns' defense to ash.

Not that Phoenix had much success defending Lakers not named Kobe Bryant. After an iffy start in which the Lakers went scoreless on their first four possessions, the offense came to life and began carving up the Suns from every angle and nearly every position on the floor. When the Suns played at Staples last November and December, the Lakers had zero trouble racking up big point totals, but those games were written off this week as having been too long ago to be relevant, and because on both nights Phoenix was on the tail end of a back-to-back. Turns out, not much has changed since then, and rest did the Suns little good. They're just a bad defensive team, and the Lakers are the ideal team to exploit their weaknesses.

Kobe was dazzling tonight. The thoughtfulness of his approach - mixing up drives and outside shots, powering into the lane, finding open teammates - was superb. Forget about the knee-draining. His legs looked strong. The lift on his jumper was excellent. Hill was so at a loss for solutions that he resorted to fouling and eventually got teed up out of Mamba Panic. In the third quarter alone, Kobe scored 21 to catalyze a huge Laker run that put the game out of reach. Somewhere in Utah, Wesley Matthews is nodding ruefully.

Lamar Odom was sensational as well, turning in one of those "Hey, that's why we pay Lamar Odom!" games that occur at random every couple of weeks. In the first half, he got the attack rolling with powerful drives to the rim and a soft touch from the perimeter. Chalk up 19 points on 15 shots for LO, with only a single turnover. On the boards, too, he was unstoppable, tearing down 19, including seven offensive. That's the Lamar we remember from the championship drive last year.

Don't think the fun stopped there. Pau Gasol had little difficulty getting to the basket on a series of spins and dump-offs. He scored 21 on 13 shots. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, after looking atrocious when they first entered the game, found their groove and offered a strong riposte to those who claim the Phoenix bench will embarrass their L.A. counterparts in this series. They combined for 19 points on 13 shots, extending the lead built by the Laker starters. Even Josh Powell, D.J. Mbenga and Luke Walton got a taste of the scoring action. It was that kind of party.

The Laker defense wasn't especially good, but it would've had to be historically god-awful to make this a competitive game. The key was getting out on shooters, which was rewarded by a 5-for-23 mark from beyond the arc for the Suns. The Lakers were also sound on the defensive glass, holding the Suns to a 26% offensive rebounding rate. In the crucial third quarter, Phoenix pulled in exactly zero offensive boards.

The Laker pick-and-roll defense, much discussed all week, had good moments and bad. The strategy alternated between hedging and switching. Most of the Lakers' problems came in finding the roll man going to the basket. Amare Stoudemire had 23, and Robin Lopez, looking no worse for wear, had a superefficient 14-point night. But Nash was quiet and did nothing to suggest that he's going to destroy Fish the way Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams did. Lacking the youth and athleticism of those two up-and-comers, Nash appears to be not a terrible matchup for Fish, who can use his strength and veterany wiles to better effect in this series.

Is this only one game? Yes. It is only one game. But really, it couldn't have gone much worse for Phoenix. Very little that they were counting on in the way of competitive advantages made an appearance tonight, and the worst fears about this matchup - too much Laker size, too much Laker talent, too much Kobe Bryant - all came to pass. They have less than 48 hours to find some answers.

Welcome, Suns, to the conference finals. You're not in San Antonio anymore.











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