Suns aim to emerge from Lakers' shadow

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Outsized and outplayed by the Los Angeles Lakers in the series opener, the Phoenix Suns face an uphill task if they are to upset the NBA champions in Game Two of the Western Conference final on Wednesday.

The Suns, blown away 128-107 at Staples Center on Monday, struggled to cope with their opponents' powerful inside game and failed to impose their own three-point prowess on a swarming Lakers defense.

"They're a lot bigger than we are and they had a lot of points in the paint, Phoenix guard and twice MVP Steve Nash told reporters after the team's first loss in seven games.

"They're probably going to continue to be taller than us as the series goes on," he added with a broad grin. "So we've got to try to cut down on some of those transition buckets, offensive rebounds, defensive lapses, whatever it is."

The Suns relied heavily on their three-point strength to win their previous two playoff rounds against the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs.

On Monday, however, they were held to five for 22 from three-point range, a woeful 22.7 percent after they averaged more than 40 percent against the Trail Blazers and Spurs.

Asked whether the drop-off was due to poor shooting or rugged Lakers defense, Suns coach Alvin Gentry replied: "It was a combination of both. (The Lakers) do a really good job of running you off three-point shots.

"We have struggled some against them from the three-point line. We had a lot of shots available to us that we didn't make, They're number one in three-point percentage defense in the league, so they do a good job of closing out on that."

THREE-POINT BATTLE

"They had a good look and there were a couple of times we kept them off balance with some of their three-point shooters," said Jackson. "But, for the most part, I think they'll be back on beam come Wednesday night."

The Suns will also have to contend with the brilliance of All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, who delivered 40 points on Monday as he masterminded a stunning display by the Lakers.

"I still think we can withstand the 40 that Kobe got," Gentry said. "The way he got those points, when he's in that zone, there's really not a whole lot you can do about it.

"So we have to do a better job on the other guys. Kobe has had 40 before against us, and we won the game. We've just got to do a better job on our perimeter defense."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)