Posted May 15 2010 11:51AM
Ron Artest wore tape on his thumb, a padded brace on his shoulder, rings of tape on his knuckles during the Los Angeles Lakers' Game 4 win over the Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals Monday night.
As he limped to his locker from the shower, feet aching, he shot a smile at a couple of reporters perched by his locker stall waiting for him.
"We're going to get a little rest now," he said. "That's good, huh?"
Real good Ron-Ron.
The Lakers earned this moment, this time to rest and recharge and this time to prepare meticulously for the challenges ahead against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals.
The six days between Game 4 of the semifinals and Monday's Game 1 against the Suns at the Staples Center, couldn't have come at a better time for a Lakers team dealing with myriad bumps, bruises, aches and pains.
Kobe Bryant's got a busted finger. Shannon Brown does, too. Andrew Bynum's got a sore knee and Sasha Vujacic a tender ankle. Pau Gasol is dealing with a sinus infection and did we mention that Bryant sat out Friday's practice to rest his sore right knee?
Time, it turns out, is definitely on the Lakers' side these days. Mostly because they had so many days between games to manage their own affairs without any interference from the league's schedule makers.
"Six days off," Bryant said. "I love long layoffs. It's good for us. Everybody on our team is pretty much banged up. It's good to have these days and play and then recover and get ready for the next one."
The Lakers will a face a Suns team that had an extra day on them in the rest and recharge category, as they wrapped up their semifinal sweep of the San Antonio Spurs the night before the Lakers finished off the Jazz.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy voiced his displeasure with the long gaps between games in the postseason but doesn't have an ally in Lakers coach Phil Jackson, at least not yet.
"I'm not unhappy about it," Jackson said of the nearly week-long hiatus for his team. "I may be after Monday's game if we don't play well. But I think it benefits our team because of the shape we were in coming out of the season. We can get in better shape now."
Considering the tempo the Suns prefer and will try to force the Lakers to play, they'll need to be in the best shape possible at this late stage of the season.
The Lakers would prefer a more deliberate pace, pounding the ball inside to 7-footers Gasol and Bynum to make sure they take advantage of a Suns team that lacks anyone over 6-foot-10 in the starting lineup.
The Suns can be just as devastating in a half court game, using their Steve Nash-Amar'e Stoudemire pick and roll attack to create problems for the Lakers. But the Lakers know they'd prefer to crank up the pace and attack from beyond the 3-point line.
With those extra days to prepare, Jackson and his staff have had a chance to study all the angles, which allows just enough time to get dizzy thinking of ways to stop the Suns from doing what they do best.
"As much as you want to concentrate on 3-point shooting it's about the lane," Jackson said. "It's about stopping the ball at the basket, keeping Stoudemire from the easy hoops he gets, and Nash from getting layups. That's what we're worried about. The other stuff will take care of itself as we go along."
The Lakers' scouting report is filled with the words "control" and "tempo." The always entertaining and equally forthright Jackson was more than willing to explain to reporters interested in how the Lakers plan to deal with the Suns.
"[Of course], we want to control the tempo of the game," Jackson said. "Both teams want to do that. It's who exerts their will on the other."
The Lakers know they have an advantage inside on offense but have a decision to make on defense.
They can try and take Nash out of the game by covering all of his shooters and forcing him to be a scorer first and not the master facilitator he remains. Or they can try the, as Jackson put it, "squelch the head of the snake" routine that so many other have tried, and usually failed, to manage
"You've got to take that out," Jackson said. "And he's the guy ... he is the provocateur in their offense. But we'll try and balance that out."
Whatever they decide, the Suns will see a refreshed Lakers team that has had plenty of time to ponder the possibilities. They'll see a Lakers team that is confident, reasonably healthy and as focused as they've been all season.
"I think we're all in a good mindset," Gasol said. "We understand what point in the season we are in and the days in that we have between, and how we manage those days and the amount of work and rest we have to put in. Our main point is we're all focused, we're all getting ready for Phoenix."
Facing their toughest test so far, and with all this rest, they better be ready.
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