NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 2: Dazed and confused Suns try to figure out what's next

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Richardson_loss.jpgThe Suns played straight up man-to-man. They mixed in some zone. They tried to front Pau Gasol in the post. They played behind him. They tried to double team Kobe, both aggressively and once he picked up his dribble.

They tried every defensive gimmick in the book — and the Lakers scored 124 points on 57.7 percent shooting. From three they shot 56 percent. You win doing that. Game 2 was pretty much a repeat of Game 1 despite the Suns adjustments.

So what now?

“I really don’t know what the answer is,” Grant Hill said. “They had a lot of points in the paint (52). Our rotations aren’t great and we’ve just got to play better.”

The Suns seemed stunned and a little confused. They said the right things — to a man kept noting that all the Laker have done is exactly what they were supposed to in winning their two games at home. If the Suns can do the same, this series comes back to Los Angeles next Thursday tied up.

But that totally ignores how those two games looked. The Lakers were able to do what they wanted when they wanted on offense. And they wanted to go inside where the Suns are not as long. When pressed for things the Suns could do to slow the Lakers offense, the answers were execution and variety. And say a few prayers.

“We’ve got to be earlier, we’ve got to be earlier on our help rotations…” said Amare Stoudemire, a guy who looked particularly in a fog defensively at points. “That was the game plan, to stay in front of Gasol and have them throw it over the top and our help was going to be there and kind of trap him. But he threw it over the top and the help was a little late and he just finished. It was a little frustrating at points.”

The Suns had a period of success in this game — they tied the game in the third quarter, going with a small-ball lineup that had Jared Dudley at the power forward spot. It worked beautifully on the offensive end, stretching out the Lakers defense and getting Dudley and Hill open looks that they knocked down. But it didn’t solve the core problem of slowing the Lakers offense.

“It makes us very small defensively,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of the small lineup, but adding he might go back to it. “And with Lamar (Odom) in the game at the four, we either have to have Jared or Grant Hill guarding him and, obviously, that is a big advantage for them.”

Dudley picked a lot of fouls in that stretch, and ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter.

Back at home, the Suns tend to play faster, something the Lakers got sucked into for a part of the second quarter and may well again. But defensively, Gentry emphasized just continually giving the Lakers different looks as the only real option.

“We’ve got to throw different looks, because we did front he post and then they went to what they call solo, which is posting up Pau, and there’s a lot of action on the weakside,” Gentry said. “And they were able to throw it over. We got a smaller guy trying to rotate in. So they had some success with that.

“We’ve just got to keep changing it up and hopefully they won’t shoot as well in our building as they do here.”

Gentry did have one new wrinkle to throw out.

“We just have to take a look at the tape tonight and maybe we’ll decide that we let Kobe get 80 and try to guard the other guys,” Gentry joked.

Well, we assume he was joking. On second thought, might as well do that. Not like anything else has been working.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.