Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals tips off at 9PM EST on TNT. For more on tonight's pivotal matchup, check out our Lakers blog, Silver Screen and Roll, and our Suns blog, Bright Side of the Sun.
Preview courtesy of Sports Network.
The Phoenix Suns hope to bounce back from their first blowout loss in over four months when they take to the Staples Center floor for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers tonight.
Kobe Bryant dispelled any rumors of his ailing body by dropping 40 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field to pace the Lakers in a 128-107 rout of Phoenix in Game 1 of the set on Monday.
Bryant, who has dealt with a balky ankle and arthritic finger for a large part of the season, recently had fluid drained from his right knee, causing the former league MVP to miss practice time after wrapping up a second-round sweep over Utah last Monday.
The six days of rest apparently fueled Bryant and the rest of the defending champions, who rolled to a seventh straight win since being tied with Oklahoma City, 2-2, in the first round of the playoffs.
"My knee felt fine. I've been wearing a sleeve the entire playoffs," Bryant, who recorded his 11th career 40-plus point game in the postseason, said. "I'm not going to lose a lot [without practice]. It was one of the most efficient games of my playoff career."
Pau Gasol powered an efficient front-court with 21 points, while Lamar Odom added 19 points and 19 rebounds off the bench for LA, which won the rebounding battle, 42-34, and outscored Phoenix in the paint, 56-36.
"It wasn't the post-up plays with the big guys, it was the perimeter guys driving into the paint," Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said of the disparity. "They broke down our perimeter defense and got into the paint. We just have to do a better job on defense of slowing them down. We can't let them score 128 points."
The Suns, needing to rely on their long range prowess to offset a disadvantage down low, shot a paltry 5-of-22 from behind the arc compared to a surprising 8-of-17 effort for the Lakers.
"We have to have other dimensions of our game. We have to be efficient in a few areas so we don't rely on one thing," Suns guard Steve Nash said. "Our room for error is small."
Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix with 23 points, Jason Richardson scored 15 and Nash ended with 13 points and 13 assists in the setback, the team's first since a Game 4 loss against Portland in the first round and its worst since being run off the floor in Charlotte, 125-99, way back on January 16.
Robin Lopez, appearing in his first game since March 26 due to a back injury, recorded 14 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes for the Suns, who also had a week to rest after sweeping the Spurs in the second round.
"We thought this was going to be a close game, but we were able to jump away in the third quarter," said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who is 46-0 in series when his team has won Game 1. "Kobe carried a lot of the offense tonight, but Lamar came off the bench and gave us a good boost."
Despite the blowout loss Stoudemire was still talking tough during the off day on Tuesday, calling Odom's impressive double-double, "lucky."
"He had a lucky game in Game 1," said Stoudemire, who has just three boards in the opener. "We've just got to make sure we box him out. I think I focused so much on (Pau) Gasol and (Andrew) Bynum to where he sneaked in there and got 19 boards."
Odom just chuckled. "Hopefully I can have another lucky game," the forward said.
Phoenix, which has never captured an NBA title, is in the conference finals for the first time since 2006, when the Suns lost to the Dallas Mavericks. Phoenix last made it to the NBA Finals in 1993 when they fell in six games to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Meanwhile, Nash, a former two- time NBA MVP, has played in 113 career postseason games without reaching The Finals, the most in NBA history without the chance to play for a championship.
The Lakers are appearing in their third straight Western Conference final and are attempting to become the first repeat league champions since they won three in a row (2000-02) with teams fueled by Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
LA won three of four games vs. Phoenix in the regular season and won the Pacific Division by three games over the Suns.
In the postseason, the clubs have a long and storied history, meeting 11 times previously dating back to the 1969-70 season. The Lakers have won seven of those series but the Suns have rebounded to take four of the last five playoff sets between the two teams after dropping the first six. Phoenix has also taken the last two postseason matchups between the clubs, first round series in 2005-06 and '06-07.
LA and Phoenix have met twice previously in the Western Conference finals with the Lakers winning both, in 1984 and 1989.
Game 3 of the series will be in Phoenix on Sunday.