Tag: Los Angeles Phoenix

Ron Artest remains the most unpredictable man in the world.

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NBA_artest.jpgLast night he took two of the worst shots in Lakers playoff history. Then one minute later he may have saved the Lakers season with a pure hustle rebound and putback game winner. Then after the game he went to the gym to work out.

Then today, he showed up half an hour late to Lakers practice.

Phil Jackson said it was an innocent mistake that Artest just misread the Lakers practice start time off the board in the team locker room the night before. Still, he said Artest was getting a fine for that.

For Game 6… I really have no idea what Ron-Ron will do. He could show up to play in one of Craig Sager’s suits and I wouldn’t be surprised anymore.

NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 6: The Suns don't know self-pity, in fact they may be more confident now than ever


Suns_celebrate.jpgThe Lakers players were still mobbing Ron Artest, the Staples Center crowd still singing “I Love LA” (and missing the irony of the lyrics).

The Suns had slid back into their locker room, and Suns coach Alvin Gentry said Steve Nash was the first to speak.

“Time to forget about this game, time to move on to the next one.”

For a lot of teams, that would be the cliché but not the reality. Human nature is to wallow in self-pity for a while, to let a painful loss bleed over into the next game.

Except the Suns can’t do that — that is a wall they feel against their back. And they won’t. It’s just not how this team is wired. Come tip-off Saturday night the Suns will be bombing away from three, running the pick-and-roll with a vengeance and busting it to win. Demoralizing loss?

“Not for that team,” Kobe Bryant said after the game, recognizing the reality of what is ahead. “I think that team bounced right back. Loosey goosey bunch. Just go out and play. I don’t think they’ll linger at all.”

They showed that in Game 5.

The Lakers led by 18 points in the third quarter — they were finally getting shots they liked inside, via dribble penetration and passing, and they were defending the pick-and-roll well. The Lakers have gone to taking away the roll guy and just hoping the threes don’t fall.

But the Suns started doing their thing.

“We just fought back,” Channing Frye said. “We’re a resilient bunch, and we just started believing in each other and just kind of playing our style of basketball, picking up the pace.”

Frye hit some threes, Jared Dudley got a four-point-play when he got Pau Gasol to foul him on a three-pointer. That was a big momentum turner. Things got tight.

Then there was Steve Nash, going bananas. He and Kobe started playing “anything you can do, I can do better” to the delight of true basketball fans everywhere. That was a show. The Lakers dared Nash to be the scorer, and he was.

But he and the Suns fell short. An unexpected, crazy play short. And that hurt. This is a franchise that continually seems to get to the brink but cannot break through.

Except that’s not how they see it. They see a series they were counted out of a week ago that they are still in. They see a game they could have won, and they left Staples Center that night maybe more confident than when they went in.

“You know, everything is okay,” Nash said. “We came back, obviously, with great effort. Maybe we deserve this game and maybe we didn’t. And lost. And they held home court. We’ll go back and do the same and we’ll come back here for Game 7.”

NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 5: Phoenix may have lost, but Steve Nash was absolutely bananas


nash_game6.pngThe Suns were right there. They were within striking distance, with plenty left in the tank, and thanks to a miracle three by Jason Richardson, had a real shot at forcing overtime and taking the decisive Game 5. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Ron Artest’s put-back crushed those hopes with a few bounces on the rim, but that doesn’t change where the Suns were and how they got there.

Or rather, who got them there. Steve Nash was absolutely magnificent in the fourth quarter, and he had a performance worthy of his MVP standing. Nash was responsible for 11 straight points prior to Richardson’s three-pointer, all products of his own creative efforts. These weren’t catch-and-shoot looks, but contested drives to the basket and pull-up opportunities that found nothing but net. Nash is just that good of a scorer when he wants to be, or in this case, when Phil Jackson wanted him to be.

Nash clearly didn’t shrink from the spotlight, and it was Steve’s efforts that put the Suns in a position to win Game 5. That said, the Laker defense switched on screens to better cover Amar’e Stoudemire on the roll, and stayed home on the Suns’ three-point shooters to avoid getting burned by the long-range game.

“They changed their defense tonight,” Nash said. “They switched more pick-and-rolls,
so [there were] more opportunities to isolate. So that’s really, again, we stick to
what we do and just try to read the defense and make the right play.
And tonight, since they changed, I tried to change.”

It worked…to an extent, as Stoudemire only had 19 points on 12 shots and the Suns were a merely average 33.3% (9-of-27) from three-point range. Nash, meanwhile, put up 20 field goal attempts, which was by far the high among the Suns and understandably so considering the game had relatively few possessions (90). 

Had Ron Artest not leaped out of the shadows to grab the game-winning bucket, the Lakers’ defensive strategy on Nash would undoubtedly be considered part of their downfall. Steve was that good down the stretch.

There are a lot of distributors in this league that opposing coaches should seek to “make into a scorer,” as a means of halting ball and player movement. Nash doesn’t seem like he’d be such a player; Steve is one of the best shooters in the league (if not the very best), and he scores so efficiently that he can carry an offense if need be.

The only trouble is that history is Phil Jackson’s ally in this case. Nash’s game seems like it would be triumph over such a strategy (and in Game 5 it was, as Nash finished with 29 points on 60% shooting while still getting his 11 assists), but in playoff games where Steve has taken 20 or more attempts (including this one), the Suns are 3-8. Take away overtime games, and the Suns are 2-6 in such games. Stats like that aren’t necessarily fair after a game like this one, but it’s an interesting trend if nothing else.

Don’t misunderstand my meaning; this game’s result is not justification for the method. Nash very nearly won the game for the Suns, and with a few more free throw makes (Phoenix shot an unseemly 20-of-29 from the line), defensive stops, or rebounds, he probably would have. This one just went the other way, despite an awfully strong performance from one of the best point guards in the game.

NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 4: A peek inside the Phoenix locker room

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The Phoenix Suns are quite possibly too likable. Whether in victory or defeat, the personalities are just too magnetic to draw any real ire. Even if you’re turned off by Amar’e’s (over)confidence, how could that negative possibly balance out the good vibrations coming from the rest of the roster?

If you think otherwise, watch this video that offers the scene in the Suns locker room after their Game 4 victory. Watch Grant Hill stopping to give as many high fives as possible to the kids waiting in the hallway, or the team’s celebration of the bench, or even the gentle heckling of Channing Frye and try to hate this team. Just try.

NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 4: Phoenix will need more than a zone to win this one


Nash_high5.jpgLet’s just be up front — Phoenix is not going to zone their way to a win tonight.

Oh, they can still win, but they will have to do it another way. They will have to maintain that aggression and quick decision making on offense. They will have to crash the boards hard again. They will need to slow the Lakers big men again, somehow.

But the zone, that isn’t going to work twice. There is a reason NBA teams don’t run a zone as their base defense — at this level teams have too many good a shooters from the outside for a zone to work long term, and they are often too big and strong inside for it to work.

But it did work against the Lakers when the Suns went to it in Game 3. It worked great for one quarter — the second, when the Lakers scored just 15 points and shot 35 percent overall and 17 percent from three. In the fourth quarter the Lakers kept going bombs away on the zone — Pau Gasol had one fourth-quarter shot while the Lakers took 11 threes.

But the Lakers know how to attack a zone, remember that in the first two games of this series the Lakers chewed up the Suns zone and spit it out quickly. Lakers bigs will flash to the free throw line get the ball while wing players will cut down the baseline, and the Suns defenders will have to pick their poison. The Lakers will also attack the zone with dribble penetration. Ron Artest will not be bombing threes like that again. Well, Phil Jackson hopes not.

For the Suns, they have to keep attacking like they did in Game 3. Steve Nash’s preferred mode is to come off the pick and then probe your defense until he finds a space he likes. The Lakers long arms took those spaces away for two games. In Game 3 it wasn’t just Amare Stoudemire who was more aggressive, it was Nash. He made quick decisions, often hitting Stoudemire rolling to the basket.

Amare went hard to the basket. The Suns also used Stoudemire — and a shockingly effective version of Robin Lopez — to isolate on Lakers big men and use their quickness. Both Suns bigs were very aggressive and effective, and they will need to be again. If the Lakers control the paint, they will control the game.

The Suns problems this series have not been scoring, it has been on the defensive end. They solved that problem for one game, but they are going to need to find a new way to solve it in Game 4, because the old zone gimmick is not going to work. If the Suns can’t figure it out, well, bet the over because this one will be fun to watch. But it also will be coming back to Los Angeles with a chance for the Lakers to close it out.