Game 5 preview: Suns at Lakers

Western Conference Finals Game 5
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Lakers 103, Suns 101

PHOENIX — One game.

The Phoenix Suns are well aware that, although easier said than done, they need to steal one game in Los Angeles and protect home court to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

“We know that. We understand that. We can figure that one out,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said after he was asked about the task of taking a game from the Lakers in Staples Center. “Even the math department at any of our colleges can figure that one out.”

Being aware of the fact is one thing, however actually completing the task is a completely different animal. But there is no question that the Suns swung the momentum in their favor with impressive back-to-back home wins that saw an elementary zone defense baffle the Lakers into taking 60 three-pointers, while Amare Stoudemire and the second unit took the reins offensively.

But can that momentum carry over to the Staples Center where the Lakers haven’t lost a game during the playoffs? In fact, the core group of the Lakers have won 10 straight home playoff games and is 27-3 at Staples Center over the last three postseasons.

Gentry, however, doesn’t buy into all of the stats and numbers.

“We’ve just got to play the same way,” Gentry said. “The last time I checked you can measure this court and you can measure the one there, they’re the same size. Measure the basket, same height.”

“I think Portland and Golden State have the best crowds in the league, but they still haven’t made a basket for them yet,” Gentry added.

It is easy to downplay home-court advantage when you’re the road team, but the Lakers simply don’t lose Game 5s at home. History shows that the Lakers are 18-0 in Game 5s at home when the series is tied 2-2. Needless to say, the Lakers flat-out dominate in Game 5 situations, which says a lot considering the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 83 percent of the time historically in the NBA.

Here’s what the Suns need to do to defy history and steal one from the Lakers in LA:

1. Establish Amare Stoudemire early

It is no secret that the Suns need Stoudemire to be active and engaged to win in LA, and for him to play to his potential he needs to be involved and attacking on offense early and often. When he gets it going offensively that also fuels his defense and intensity, and all of that can be dictated in the first couple of minutes.

“It starts with the starters,” Jared Dudley said. “Amare has to attack the bigs and get to the free-throw line.”

STAT shot 18 free throws when he went off for 42 in Game 3, and if he can bring that same fire and aggressiveness to Staples Center the Suns have a great shot at stealing Game 5 on the road.

He certainly sounds focused.

“We’re not here to spoil, we’re here to win a championship,” he said.

2. Limit the Lakers’ role players

The theme at Wednesday’s practice was that Kobe can’t be stopped, but the other guys in purple and gold certainly can be. The Suns did a great job containing Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom after they exploded in the first couple of games, and they need to replicate that with their 2-3 matchup zone.

The zone took Gasol’s inside game away in Game 4 (15 points, five rebounds) and it forced Odom into jump shots in Game 3 (10 points, six rebounds). Ron Artest has also been ineffective against the zone, mostly due to his porous basketball IQ.

“If we can do a good job on Gasol, Artest, Odom, we’re going to be there,” Dudley said. “Farmar, Brown, when they have 6-8 points, that’s OK, but its when they have 12-14, that’s when you get hurt.”

Robin Lopez also needs to be active and provide big minutes down low to help keep Gasol from torching the Suns like he did last time they squared off in Staples.

3. Dictate the pace

This has been a key for the Suns not just in this series, but in the entire playoffs. However, for the Suns to be able get out and run they need to get stops and rebound the ball like they did in Game 4, when they out-boarded LA 51-36.

Although it is generally considered difficult to rebound out of a zone, the Suns have done an excellent job of that, and long rebounds off Laker threes have ignited a host of Phoenix fast breaks.

“Especially long rebounds, if our guards get the ball Goran and Steve’s coming at you full speed,” Dudley said. “If you ask (the Lakers) it’s no secret, their bigs would rather guard in the halfcourt than transition. I mean, I would rather guard in the half court.”

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