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NBA PLAYOFFS / GAME 4, PHOENIX 117, LAKERS 98 | THE
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On a Dark Day for Lakers, Suns Rise to the Occasion

May 15, 2000|MARK HEISLER

PHOENIX — That was from their heart.

It had to be. What else did the Suns have left that still worked?

They didn't practice Saturday because Coach Scott Skiles was out of players. Jason Kidd, who has tendinitis in his surgically-repaired ankle, hasn't practiced all series. Penny Hardaway, who has been terrorizing Ron Harper daily, has had a sore knee drained five times since hurting it against the Spurs. An hour before Sunday's game, Skiles wasn't sure if Cliff Robinson, who sprained an ankle Friday night, would start.

Robinson had 23 points, and Kidd had 16 plus 12 assists by halftime. Imagine what they might have done to the Lakers if they'd been healthy.

"Well, we've got another chance," said Kidd, who finished with 22 points and 16 assists. "They didn't have anything to lose and we had everything to lose."

Not that the Suns still don't.

They trail, 3-1, with Game 5 at Staples Center on Tuesday night There were unconfirmed reports the Lakers were so confident, they actually flew home after winning Game 3 and hired 12 guys from the YMCA to wear their uniforms.

This would explain some things, like the fact that the Shaquille O'Neal look-alike was left on the floor after getting in foul trouble, and the reports that the guy pretending to be Phil Jackson didn't even go into the dressing room at halftime.

How concerned were the Suns? The day before the game, the hard-bitten Skiles had already started saying his goodbyes.

"I told 'em [his players] basically I was proud of 'em and proud to be their coach," Skiles said Saturday.

"I've got one guard [Kidd] with screws in his feet. I've got another [Hardaway] leading the league in minutes in the playoffs. Cliff sprains his ankle and plays. Luc [Longley] has to bang around with Shaq in there the whole game. We're just having a lot of gutsy performances and we just haven't been able to get the Ws."

Usually, after you get the benediction, it's safe for the congregation to file out but that's not what happened.

Longley beat the alleged O'Neal for the opening tip. Whoever that was wearing the Lakers' uniforms then proceeded to mill around while the Suns took any shot they wanted. Phoenix had 38 points in the first quarter but the "Lakers" tightened up in the second quarter, allowing 33.

Meanwhile, the supposed O'Neal struggled. The real O'Neal scored 37-38-37 in Games 1, 2 and 3, but in this one he settled for 24 points with nine rebounds.

Robinson, nicknamed Cliff Clank for his career-long pattern of struggling in the postseason, finished with 32 points, his playoff high. Maybe he's just been too healthy all those years?

"The decision [to play] was made before I got here," Robinson said. "I was going to go, whether it was sore or not."

However, when he got to America West Arena, he found out it was, indeed, sore. How close was he to not going, after all?

"Very," Robinson said. "Very."

He wouldn't have wanted to miss this one. With Jason Kidd running around, looking like the real Jason Kidd for the first time in the series, it was a rout from the get-go.

"Well, it felt good," Kidd said. "I felt I could push the ball. My legs felt good underneath me. My ankle's not bothering me. You know, my shot was dropping. I was more aggressive and so for that, we got a lot of wide open looks and we knocked 'em down."

So the Suns poured it on and poured it on and poured it on.

Nevertheless, the guys who said they were the Lakers still must have had a good time, or why else would they have started calling timeouts in the last 30 seconds, except to take a last look around and savor the moment?

And then Skiles, misunderstanding, called a timeout of his own. On the bright side, all the press guys had a feud angle they could pursue for Game 5.

Laker fans had better hope those were impostors, anyway. If they weren't, their favorite team is one memorable Kobe Bryant jump shot away from a 2-2 tie in this series with the debilitated Suns, who have outworked, out-hustled and beaten them to loose balls for the last three games.

"Right now they [Lakers] are laughing at us," Hardaway said. "They're saying, hey, we're going to go home and win Game 5. They're a cocky bunch. They're going to try to blow us out like they did to Sacramento."

By Game 5, however, the real Lakers presumably will show up, but it's been a while, so we'll have to wait and see.

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