Positive Suns Look to Negate Lakers' Mystique

Amar'e Stoudemire and the Suns are off to L.A. for the first two games of the West Finals.
(NBAE/Getty Images)
By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted May 14, 2010

Prior to last week’s Conference Semifinals sweep vs. San Antonio, Head Coach Alvin Gentry stressed that the Spurs had never beaten this Suns team in the playoffs.

Well, the same can be said for the No. 1-seeded Lakers.

Playing the role of underdogs once again this postseason, Phoenix looks to extend its franchise-best, six-game playoff-win streak when they take the court vs. Kobe Bryant and Co. for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals Monday in Los Angeles.

“They are very deep,” said Amar’e Stoudemire, who tallied a playoff career-high 21 boards vs. the Lakers in Game 4 of the 2007 Playoffs. “They have Kobe, obviously. On defense they’ve got Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum and the on offense, there’s Pau Gasol. With that kind of depth, it’ll be a great task for us, and we’re all ready to accept that challenge.

“We need to get a quick rhythm and make shots. In this series, we can’t afford to start off without focus and take it from there. The starters need to bring energy first, and the bench needs to add to it. There have been times this postseason where we haven’t shot well in the first quarter but we’ve played solid defense and stayed in the game. It’ll be a showdown.”

Winning 1-of-4 in the regular-season series against the Lakers, the Suns eliminated L.A. in the first rounds of the 2006 and ’07 NBA Playoffs. The latest matchup marks the 12th postseason meeting all-time between the two clubs – the most of any playoff opponent for Phoenix.

“We just need to play our game,” said center Channing Frye, who's making his first Conference Finals appearance. “Everybody’s trying to analyze how well they do this and that, but the Lakers play a certain way, just like we play a certain way. It’s a matter of us establishing our aggressiveness and being determined to play our style. It’s not what the Lakers do. It’s about what we do and how we play.

“A month and a half ago, we weren’t even supposed to make the playoffs, and then we got third in the West. We want to stay humble. Everybody counts us out, so what do we have to lose. That makes us the most dangerous team out there.”

The series marks the NBA’s top three-point team in the Suns going up against the league’s best shot-blocking club in L.A., a prospect that doesn’t intimidate Gentry or his players one bit.

“We’ve won games where we weren’t making a bunch of threes,” the Suns head coach said. “For us, it’s all about spacing the floor. If they’re guarding the three-point line, then hopefully there are alleys to drive though to the basket. It’s just us doing a better job of getting to the spots that we are supposed to.

“We also just need to make shots. They do a really good job of closing out, so we just have to be sure that we’re jumping up and making shots. We need to dribble penetrate and play like we always play.”

Of course, slowing down No. 24 is job one for the Suns on defense. In the 2006 NBA Playoffs, Bryant scored a playoff career-high 50 points in a Game 6 overtime loss to Phoenix.

“We need to limit his fouls shots and make him an outside shooter,” Gentry added. “And then you hope he’s not making them. It won’t be one guy guarding him. It’ll be a bunch of them. We understand who he is and the caliber of player he is. For us, it’s doing the best job we can on him and going from there.”

Going up against the top-seeded team in the West, the Suns will start the round on the road for the first time this postseason. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the team is 4-1 when away from US Airways Center.

“Wherever we go,” Jared Dudley said, “we’re looking at getting one win on the road, at least. We can win on the road. We beat San Antonio on their home floor and the same thing with Portland. We can win anywhere.”

And as for all the prognosticators who are trying to write off the Suns even before the opening tip of Monday’s Game 1…

“You always have a chance,” Gentry said. “You go out and play and see what happens. The Lakers are a great team, and nobody denies that. You have to be when you have pretty much the same team that’s coming off a championship. We have a ton or respect for everything they’ve accomplished, but our goal is to get to the NBA Finals, and the only way we can do that is to beat them. We have respect, but we have no fear.”