Defense the watchword for Sun-burnt Lakers in Game Five

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Stung by successive away losses, the Lakers return to Los Angeles for Thursday's Game Five against the Phoenix Suns with improved defense a top priority in the best-of-seven Western Conference final.

The NBA champions were beaten 115-106 in Phoenix on Tuesday to leave the series tied at 2-2, having outplayed their smaller opponents at home in Los Angeles in the opening two games.

Although the Lakers briefly led by two points early in the fourth quarter of Game Four, their porous defense failed to hold a rampant late surge by the red-hot Suns.

"We outscored them from the field in both games (in Phoenix), shot better than they did. We did a lot of things very good and it still wasn't enough to win the game. We're struggling at the defensive end."

Kobe Bryant, who sparkled for the Lakers on Tuesday with 38 points and 10 assists, agreed.

"We lost a sense of urgency defensively," the 12-times All-Star guard said. "Offensively, we scored enough points. We've got to do a better job defensively, period."

In the last two games, the Suns have used a zone defense to stifle the Lakers, taking away their height advantage and forcing their opponents into long-distance shots.

SENSE OF URGENCY

"Our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone (defense)," Bryant said. "We've gotta go back (to Los Angeles) and be ready to play. We have to play with a sense of urgency and understand this team can beat us."

Seven-foot Spanish forward Pau Gasol, who was held to 15 points by the Suns on Tuesday, felt his team had to play intense basketball throughout Game Five to regain control of the series.

"We have to set the tone from the first second, and we play as hard as possible for 48 minutes," Gasol said. "We've got to understand they're a team who are dangerous, as they proved.

"Now we've got to go home and make sure we play as well as possible."

Jackson, who has won a record 10 NBA Championship rings with the Chicago Bulls and the Lakers, knows better than most how quickly playoff momentum can shift.

"This is what playoffs are about," he said. "If you can support yourself on the home court, you have a chance of going back and pulling an upset or winning the game, creating the momentum change.

"So we'll see what comes out on Thursday. It should be interesting."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)