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No Sweeping Statement

Game 4: Suns overrun Lakers, 117-98, to avoid elimination, leaving Jackson with little to say to reporters and nothing to say to his team.


PHOENIX — What if the Lakers woke up one day, and they couldn't shoot, couldn't run, couldn't slow down an opponent's conga line to the hoop and couldn't even muster up the energy to scream at each other about it?

They'd look old and slow, weak, weary and way too content with themselves to overcome a desolate start.

They'd look different than they've looked all season, even at the lowest and loudest moments.

Welcome to the oddest turn yet in the Lakers' potential championship season, a Game 4 multimillion dud that saw many things eliminated, but none of them being the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers' hope for a second-round playoff sweep?

Gone in a nonstop, unhindered parade of Phoenix offense, which lifted the Suns to a 23-point halftime lead and culminated in a 117-98 wipeout on Sunday before 19,023 at America West Arena.

Game 5 is Tuesday night at Staples Center.

Coach Phil Jackson's mood to discuss the state of his team? Or even to address his team? Gone, goodbye.

"We got a royal . . . whupping out there tonight," Jackson said in a 10-second postgame media conference that followed a zero-second postgame talk with his team and a brief locker-room appearance at halftime (though reports varied on the length).

"I've nothing to say, no questions to answer. Except to say happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there."

After their most unexplainable, unfathomable performance, Jackson's glare explained everything necessary.

The Suns, as would be expected from a team facing elimination, charged at the Lakers from the son Kidd and Shawn Marion trampolining and tight-roping their way over every inch of the floor.

But, as would definitely not be expected from a team that won 67 regular-season games based on solid defense, the Lakers did not answer the Phoenix attack, or even choose to resist it.

The Suns scored 38 points in the first quarter (to take a 14-point lead), then kept slugging and slugging, and soon enough it was 71-48 at halftime, the worst half of defense, statistically and by all other measurements, of the Laker season.

"That's one of those nightmares," forward Glen Rice said. "We're a very capable team and something like that should never happen.

"We've just got to hope it never does again."

Robinson scored 32 points in the game, 23 of them in that wild first half, when the Laker defenders twisted and turned and fell down in vain attempts to keep Kidd (a career playoff-high 16 assists on his way to a triple-double) at less than turbo-speed and the Sun shooters from the wide-open spaces.

The Suns beat the Lakers down court, beat them to the ball, beat them on the glass, and never needed to do much more than dribble, pass and shoot--the Lakers denied nothing.

Not exactly trademark stuff from a Laker team that prided itself on stubborn, sticky defense all season.

"What defense did we play today?" said guard Ron Harper. "We didn't play any defense in that half. That team scored 70-something points on us.

"That's no defense at all. That's just point blank.

"We didn't play defense. Nobody did. I didn't. Shaq [O'Neal] didn't, Robert Horry. . . . You can go down the line and name guys."

O'Neal, when asked for comment, said only: "I ain't got nothing to say."

Said Kobe Bryant, who scored 23 points and five assists but had his toughest time yet with Kidd on defense: "A team that is basically built on defense like ourselves . . . it's pretty ridiculous."

Whatever the Lakers did on offense could hardly keep pace, and that was not beautiful either--O'Neal, in foul trouble throughout, led them with 24 hard-fought points, but missed eight successive free throws in the first half; Rice's shooting was only four for 14.

The most the Lakers could say about Game 4, after squeezing out tough victories in Games 2 and 3, was that they kept playing in the second half, and even closed to 101-85 midway through the fourth.

But that was only when the Suns took their foot off the pedal and coasted in.

"We came to the game easy," Harper said. "We came in to have fun. We had fun, but we paid for still having fun.

"But we still know we are a very good basketball team. And we're going home. I'm not worried about it."

Said forward Robert Horry: "You remember it. You know that they put work on us. Now we've got to go back and do the same thing they did to us. Go out there and put some work on them when they come to L.A."

And now what? The Lakers are still in command of this series, coming back to Staples, and on safe ground reasoning that it's unlikely the Suns will be able to duplicate the zest and efficiency they displayed Sunday.

But what about the Lakers? Will the same zombie defense show up again at some crucial point of this postseason?

"Any time we go out there and put up the kind of performance that we did, you're going to be angered a little bit," Rice said.

"We've got to take this one on the chin, there's no doubt about that.

"We've got to come back Tuesday, we've got to want to come out and do the things they did to us."

First, though, they will have to hear it from Jackson, probably at some point today, since he opted to delay his words for broader and better dissemination.

"He will address us on his time," Harper said. "I guarantee that. . . . It may not be some very kind words that he will use, but he will address us."


The Series

Lakers lead Western Conference series, 3-1

GAME 1: Lakers 105, Suns 77

GAME 2: Lakers 97, Suns 96

GAME 3: Lakers 105, Suns 99

GAME 4: Suns 117, Lakers 98

GAME 5: Tuesday, 7:30, at Staples, Fox Sp. Net

GAME 6: *Thursday, TBA, at Phoenix, Ch. 9, TNT

GAME 7: *Saturday, TBA, at Staples, Ch. 4

* if necessary

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