Lakers have many areas they want to sharpen in Game 6 against Phoenix
Once the buzzer sounded and the Lakers' 103-101 Game 5 Western Conference finals victory over the Phoenix Suns became official, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson immediately walked off the court.
He surely appreciated the entertainment value the game provided: Phoenix slashed an 18-point lead. The Suns tied the score off Jason Richardson's banked-in three-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. And Lakers forward Ron Artest redeemed himself from an ill-advised three-pointer with 22 seconds on the shot clock in the final minute with a put-back basket off Kobe Bryant's missed shots as time expired. But that's the exact reason why he headed toward the entrance tunnel, so he'd keep his coaching mind-set rather than getting awash with all the emotions.
"I don't want to get too involved in it," said Jackson, though he admitted staying up until 1 a.m. to watch a replay of the game.The Lakers have every reason to feel confident heading into Game 6 tonight, what with the energy wave from the Game 5 finish, the potential clinching of an NBA Finals matchup with Boston and the knowledge that they've won eight of their last nine closeout games. There's plenty of reasons, however, why the Lakers feel they're required to put together a better performance in Game 6. In the Lakers' Game 5 victory, they allowed six Suns to score in double figures, let the 18-point lead evaporate and made a few late-game gaffes, including allowing Richardson to tie the score at 101-101 with 3.5 seconds remaining after the Suns shot three consecutive three-pointers and grabbed two offensive rebounds. And, of course, there's Steve Nash's guarantee that the Suns will force a seventh game.
Jackson didn't take much offense to the comment as much as, say, Artest, but the coach shot back: "What else is he going to say? We're going to go home and lose?"
I noted in detail how the Lakers have managed a strong record in closing out games in the 2009 and 2010 postseason. And when I asked if Jackson noticed a specific pattern in those performances, he cited the team's defensive intensity, low turnovers and low amount of three-point shots, a formula Jackson wants the Lakers to duplicate.
"We don't plan on going to Phoenix and lose three times on their home court. That's something we're not making this trip on there just to fill a date. We're going there to win a game. We're highly motivated for this game. But we understand that if it has to go seven, we're damn well ready to go back home and defend our court."
Phoenix's ability to answer in Games 3 and 4 correlated to the Lakers letting down their guard on defense. The Lakers allowed 116.5 points a contest in those losses, far from the 106.7 points they allowed at home.
This series hasn't produced much defensively, but consider the Lakers' discrepancy between home and road performances in the following categories in free-throw attempts (30, 37) and Amare Stoudemire's production: 19.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in L.A. compared to 31.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in Phoenix.
Establish inside game
Although Jackson has downplayed the Lakers' struggles against Phoenix's zone defense, he conceded it's been more difficult for the Lakers to produce inside. In Games 3 and 4, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom appeared more tentative establishing post position. Likewise, the Lakers' backcourt remained reluctant to look inside, resulting in an average of 29 three-point shots and a wide discrepancy in points in the paint in the home and away games (48.7, 43).
The Lakers might have only committed 10 turnovers in Game 5, but Phoenix scored 23 points off them. It spoke to the Suns' ability to knock down three-point shots as well as their tendency to exploit mistakes. Meanwhile, the Lakers committed 17 turnovers in Game 3, a factor Lakers guard Derek Fisher argued served as "key momentum shifters when we had the leads."
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