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Lakers aren't getting much prep time

Facing the flimsy Suns is doing little to help them if there is an eventual Finals matchup with the stronger, physical Celtics. And they haven't had much success in similar past situations.

May 19, 2010|Bill Plaschke

Boston? You really want Boston?

Amid the chants and confetti that filled the Staples Center late Wednesday, there emerged two disparate truths as plain as the grimace on Lucky Stoudemire's face.

Yes, the Lakers are only two wins from probably playing the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. But, no, that only means they are two wins from being sucker punched in the mouth.

Cheer for it, plead for it, but understand that right now, the Lakers are not being properly prepared for it.

The Lakers' 124-112 victory over the Suns in Game 2 of this Western Conference finals calisthenics featured the same splendid offensive ballet performed in the opening win, which means that there have now been two wasted nights of practice.

The way the Lakers are pounding the flitting Suns is not a way they can pound the physical Celtics. The fast breaks will become back breaks. The give-and-gos will become duck-and runs.

Pau Gasol is not getting 19 shots within, like, one foot of the rim. Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum are not going to be spending three hours playing volleyball on the glass. Most of those countless Lakers drives to the basket aren't going to get there.

This is not to say the Lakers cannot beat one of the league's most rugged teams. But there can be no worse way to prepare for such a task than by toying with one of the league's flimsiest.

While none of the Lakers would directly address the Celtics for fear of being disrespectful to the Suns, they talked around it enough to make you realize that they get it.

"You are right about the physical nature of the game in the East," said Coach Phil Jackson late Wednesday. "There will be an adjustment."

An adjustment? Playing this series against the tiny, undermanned Suns is like a high school team preparing for the state championship by playing the junior varsity. It's like a heavyweight champion preparing for a title defense by sparring with some kids from the Golden Gloves.

You don't prepare to confront the class bully at lunch by spending breakfast pushing around your little brother, but that's what's happening here.

It's not close, and even when it is close, it's not close.

Even when the Lakers grew bored in the third quarter Wednesday and allowed the Suns to pull into a tie, there was never a feeling of danger, not in the relatively quiet stands or in the startlingly calm Lakers huddle.

"We knew what we had to do," said Ron Artest.

Pass the ball inside. Stifle a yawn. Pass the ball inside. Disguise a shrug.

The Lakers outscored the Suns, 34-22, in the fourth quarter by simply being, well, bigger than them. Of 11 baskets, eight were in the paint. Of 10 successful free throws, all were a result of fouls in the paint. Gasol scored five baskets in seven attempts and none of them were from beyond, like, one foot.

One of the smartest players in the NBA is the Suns' Grant Hill, and you know what he said afterward?

"I really don't know what the answer is," he said.

End discussion. Commence worrying.

The Suns will probably win one game in Phoenix if only because the Lakers will eventually be exhausted from shooting so darn much, but this series will probably end with the Lakers giddy and unmarked.

While that's a good way to strut into a Hollywood night, it's not a good way to walk into a dark alley, which is where they will be headed against probable Finals foe Boston.

History here shows that the Lakers do better in such alleys if they have already spent a couple of weeks there. History shows that they are quickly mugged when they don't.

In the Phil Jackson era, the Lakers have won NBA titles after being challenged in conference finals, and blown them when they were not.

In 2000, Portland pushed them into pounding Indiana. The next year, San Antonio shoved them into dominating Philadelphia. Then Sacramento whacked them into walking over New Jersey. [For the record: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said 2001 instead of 2000.]

When they weren't challenged by Minnesota in 2004? They were leveled by Detroit. When they were barely scratched by a transitioning San Antonio team in 2008? They were kicked by Boston.

Last year Denver stretched them such that their Finals task against Orlando became a relatively harmless one, and maybe it's all a coincidence, but certain things are not.

When asked before Wednesday's game about resting injured Andrew Bynum for a potential Finals matchup, Jackson acknowledged that, "If we're fortunate enough to continue on in the playoffs, there will be bigger, more powerful centers ahead."

Bynum then played just 18 minutes despite hitting all five of his shots. Four fouls contributed to his benching, but, who knows, maybe Jackson realizes that the Lakers life is about to get a lot rougher, and he'll need every big body possible.

"I really think we have the size and depth to match up against any team," said Lamar Odom late Wednesday, leaving a locker room full of smiling, barely marked, scary, scary Lakers.

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