Game 3 preview: Lakers at Suns

Western Conference Finals Game 3
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Suns 118, Lakers 109

PHOENIX — The NBA playoffs thus far have lacked drama aside from a few isolated bursts of excitement.

The only seven-game series has been the Atlanta-Milwaukee snorefest, three of the four conference semifinal series were sweeps (although that was pretty exciting for Suns fans, and Cavs-Celts wasn’t bad either) and now Boston is a game away from what appears to be an inevitable sweep in the East Finals.

The only thing saving basketball fans from another round of early-ending series is the Phoenix Suns, who must win Game 3 tonight in US Airways Center to have a chance at getting back in the Western Conference Finals, which they trail 2-0.

“We’re still confident, we still definitely think we can win it, and it starts with Game 3,” said Suns forward Amare Stoudemire. “We’ve got to take it one game at a time. The first two games didn’t quite go our way. We’ve got to wash those away and try to get Game 3.”

Stoudemire’s running mate Steve Nash said the team feels good after not feeling so hot coming home from Los Angeles. The team now has had a few days to get its energy back and Nash feels “positive and optimistic” about the challenge ahead.

The Suns understand what they’re up against, and that’s without mentioning the fact that a Phil Jackson-coached team has never lost any of the 46 previous series in which it wins the first game and the fact that teams that go up 2-0 have won 93.9 percent of best-of-seven playoff series in league history.

More importantly they’re facing a team that’s playing its best basketball of the year, according to Gentry, a squad that just happens to be the defending world champions for a reason.

“We’ve got to just raise our level,” Nash said. “We can’t expect them to come in and play poorly. We’ve got to expect them to come in and play their best, and we’ve got to match it.”

The Suns have focused much of their work during the eternity between Games 2 and 3 on the defensive side of the ball. Their offense has played well enough to win — in fact, the Suns’ offense was better in the first two games than it was during the regular season when Phoenix boasted one of the most efficient offenses in NBA history compared to the rest of the league — but that defense has left something to be desired to put it kindly.

With the Lakers averaging a whopping 132.6 points per 100 possessions, the Suns have simplified their schemes in the hopes of taking away some of Los Angeles’ easy looks.

“We threw a lot at them and nothing seemed to work defensively in the first two games, but they also played exceptionally well, they made a lot of shots,” Nash said. “Hopefully we can improve and maybe they won’t shoot the ball quite as well and we can bring them down to earth a little bit and we can give ourselves a chance to win.

“Offensively we’re not bad. If the offense stays the same and we improve [defensively] we should give ourselves a chance.”

The Suns understand the implications of their potential defensive improvement. They also know they’re at home, where their role players should shoot better and the Lakers’ should shoot a little worse, and it’s a place where they have won four straight home playoffs games and 12 of 13 games overall.

From the desperation department, the Suns’ season depends on this game, and the Lakers have been prone to strange lapses all year.

But the Suns aren’t counting on any of that stuff. They’re counting on the Lakers giving them their best shot, and they plan on countering that.

The Suns heard Lakers fans chanting for Boston, they know most of the NBA world is already looking forward to that Celtics-Lakers Finals and they understand that they’ve already overachieved and nobody will think less of them if they drop this series.

But this team has fed off proving doubters wrong all year, and that’s not about to change now in the Western Conference Finals.

“We’ll continue to try to figure out a way,” Gentry said on Saturday. “We’re not writing this series off by any stretch of the imagination. I know everybody else is, but we feel like we have to put ourselves in a position, and the only way you can do that is to win tomorrow.

“We have to win the game tomorrow.”

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