Game 6 preview: Lakers at Suns

Western Conference Finals Game 6

Lakers 111, Suns 103

PHOENIX — For a team 48 minutes away from cleaning out their lockers for the summer, the Phoenix Suns are a confident bunch.

From the Nash Guarantee on down, the Suns’ players and coaches truly believe they will win tonight’s Game 6 and force a Game 7 Monday in Los Angeles.

“We expect to win Game 6,” Jared Dudley said. “We’re preparing to win it, we’re watching film, and I think guys are confident, and why shouldn’t we be? We’re 2-0 at home.”

By this point in a series, everything is pretty much on the table. We know that the Suns’ zone has slowed the Lakers a bit by forcing them to shoot threes instead of getting easy looks in the middle, we know that the Lakers have shut down the Suns’ long-range shooting game, and we know that the home team has won every game, and before Game 5 most of them weren’t that close.

Suns head coach Alvin Gentry takes solace in that point, repeating the line that a series doesn’t start until a road team wins a game, and at this rate this series might be over before it begins.

I expect the Suns to come out ultra aggressive tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nash come out like he did in Game 1 against San Antonio when he set the tone with 17 first-quarter points, particularly if the Lakers keep switching a big man onto Nash.

Nash knows this could be his last best chance to reach the Finals, and I expect him to unleash a fury tonight and then if necessary Monday night as well.

“If I know one thing I know that our team will be ready to play tomorrow,” Nash said. “I think everyone was frustrated, but no one was distraught or feeling like we were in a deep hole or anything.

“We have to hold serve at home and give ourselves a chance to go back there and have another crack at it.”

The Lakers have made a habit of closing teams out on their home floor, eliminating their last four playoff opponents on the road.

With Kobe Bryant at the helm, the Lakers clearly possess a killer instinct, and one game away from that Celtics-Lakers rematch you know that Kobe and crew will smell blood.

But the Suns have been a resilient bunch all season, whether it’s in terms of being able to erase double-digit deficits with ease or bouncing back from that 12-18 stretch when they didn’t even look like a playoff team to get all the way to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

“This team has a lot of heart, a lot of character,” Grant Hill said. “We’ve shown it all year, and we’re going to show it [Saturday].”

We’re still waiting for that one game where the Suns bomb away from long distance en route to an easy win. It seemed to be coming in Game 4 when the Suns knocked down 8-of-16 three-pointers in the second quarter alone, but they nailed just 3-of-14 the rest of the game.

Perhaps that game will come tonight, or perhaps the Lakers are just that good at defending the three.

I’d also like to see more of Robin Lopez, who has played just 24 minutes combined in the last two games after making the difference in Game 3 with 20 points in his 30 minutes.

In addition Amare Stoudemire expects to be a bigger part of the game plan after taking just 12 shots in Game 5, and the last time that was the case he exploded for 42 in Game 3. STAT looked particularly locked in after Friday’s practice.

I also wonder if Artest’s game-winner in Game 5 just might be the best thing to ever happen to the Suns’ chances tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised if that shot emboldens Artest to think he’s better than he is, leading him to start taking some of those shots the Suns are trying to bait him into.

The Suns are focused and motivated for their first elimination game of the year. They know the stakes, and they know what they’re up against. With their dream season on the line, they feel prepared to give one of their best performances of the year.

“We play all season for this game,” Amare Stoudemire said. “We’ve got to take advantage of it.”

And 1

I can guarantee that a Phoenix professional sports team will be in Los Angeles Monday night for a 6 p.m. matchup. Tonight we will find out if the Suns and Lakers will join the D-backs and Dodgers with games at that time in the City of Angels. … Kobe Bryant is 2-9 all-time in playoff games in Phoenix. The Suns have won seven straight home playoff games against Los Angeles overall. … The Lakers are 3-4 on the road this postseason but 8-0 at home. … The Suns are 6-1 at home in the playoffs, dropping just the postseason opener against Portland, and they have won 14 of 15 home games overall since a March 12 loss to LA. Only the Lakers have a better home playoff mark this season.