Suns Look to Move On

The Phoenix Suns repeatedly use one word when describing their breakneck style: energy.

With it, they are an NBA title contender. Without it, they can lose to anybody.

Energized and efficient most of their first-round series, the Suns can finish off the Los Angeles Lakers with a victory at home in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Oddsmakers have made Phoenix -10.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 210 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on Phoenix -10.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

``When you've got a team down 3-1,'' Suns forward Shawn Marion said, ``you don't want to give them no sign of life.''

Phoenix should know. The Suns trailed the Lakers 3-1 in a first-round series last year, then won three straight to advance. These Lakers aren't last year's Suns, though, and Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson has tried a bit of everything to make his team competitive.

A disgusted Jackson sent his players home Monday after a brief video session.

``As irritated as I've ever seen him,'' Kobe Bryant said after the Lakers practiced in California on Tuesday. ``He was really upset - frustrated. That was his way of saying, `You'd better get your butts in the game.'''

A lack of energy stirred Jackson's ire.

``Hustle makes up for a lot,'' he said. ``They bounced us around, things like that. That's irritating for a coaching staff. You've got to get the first blow in this game.''

During the video review, Jackson said, he pointed out to his players how wide open Phoenix's 3-point shooters were.

``I did tell them they have the brain power of slugs or earthworms,'' he said. ``That was just in a moment of irritation.''

Jackson called the Suns ``whippets'' for the way they ran down Los Angeles in a 113-100 victory in Game 4, a contest that was nowhere near as competitive as the final score would indicate.

There were standout performances by Phoenix's ``big three.'' Steve Nash had 23 assists, one shy of the NBA playoff record; Amare Stoudemire 27 points and 21 rebounds, and Marion 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Coach Mike D'Antoni said he didn't know what a whippet was - it's a dog that resembles a small greyhound - but he knows a repeat performance would send the Suns into the Western Conference semifinals.

``They'll throw everything at us that they have, and Kobe won't go down easily,'' D'Antoni said. ``We'll have to come out with the same kind of energy and fire that we had on Sunday.''

Since trailing last year's playoff series 3-1, Phoenix is 9-2 against the Lakers, including the regular season.

``We've only played the Lakers 107 times the last few years,'' Nash said, exaggerating slightly. ``We know each other well. It just comes down to who plays their best. So far we've done that most of the time, and we'd be ready for that.''

The Suns' concerns center on their habit of going flat from time to time, a tendency that spells trouble for a team that depends on running, running and running some more.

``It's always a possibility,'' Nash said. ``We fight against it every day, that complacency, not preparing ourselves and staying focused. We've got to just play hard.''

The Lakers want to slow down the game and use their size advantage inside, but that's been difficult with the presence of Stoudemire, who missed all but three games last season and the playoffs, following knee surgery.

In the series, Stoudemire is averaging 23.5 points and 13.5 rebounds. He's shooting 59 percent from the field and has nine blocked shots.

``Right now, I'm just taking what the defense gives me,'' he said. ``Whatever we need done, I'm definitely down with it, whether it's rebounding, blocking shots, playing defense or scoring.''

D'Antoni also worries that Bryant will carry the Lakers with one of his off-the-charts scoring nights. The NBA scoring champion, averaging 32.5 points in the series, says he'll go down swinging after his virtual no-show when the Lakers were blown out in Game 7 a year ago.

``Close-out games are always tough,'' he said. ``We have to make it as tough as possible.''

After Nash ran Lakers rookie Jordan Farmar dizzy, Jackson is contemplating a change in his starting lineup. He said Smush Parker, Sasha Vujacic and Shammond Williams all were possible replacements.

The Lakers haven't won a playoff series since 2004, Shaquille O'Neal's final season in Los Angeles, but Jackson insists that against all odds he has no doubt his battered, reeling squad can still win this one.

``It never crossed my mind that we can't,'' he said. ``I'm a positive guy.''

By: Marc Young - - Email Us

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