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The Suns have bent, and parts are broken, but they're not about to quit

May 27, 2010|MARK HEISLER | ON THE NBA

By now, with the Western Conference finals starting over as a best-of-three, you don't need a scorecard to know the players.

The Suns are the gutty little guys fighting for their lives, leading with their hearts, or in the case of Steve Nash, their noses.

The Lakers are the Lakers, meaning they're A) great, and B) know it.

Unfortunately, they're C) not as great as they think, which is why they're D) back where they started in the series after watching the Suns create one extra possession after another in Game 4, prompting Kobe Bryant to announce stonily:

"We've got to cut that stuff out."

Coach Phil Jackson acknowledges his team defends only according to necessity.

How were they supposed to know it would be necessary? With the Suns, as Nash noted after Game 4, urgency isn't an issue but a given.

"You know, we've got to fight," he said. "They're bigger than us. Most people can make an argument they're better than us."

Willing as Nash is, as a fighter, he's more like a bleeder. The Suns now sell "Show Your Game Face" T-shirts, showing Nash with a band-aid over his eye from the cut he got in the last round against the San Antonio Spurs.

Since then, of course, Nash has had his nose broken by Shannon Brown in Game 3, and swatted again by Derek Fisher in Game 4.

As the medical staffs say, he can't hurt it any worse now.

"The doctor put it back to some semblance of normal," Nash said Wednesday. "It was never really normal, but now I can't go back."

A nose reduction is a small price for an opportunity Nash wasn't sure he'd ever have again.

For three seasons after his 2004 return to Phoenix, the Suns were as good as anyone and as entertaining as everyone put together.

Given an open floor and total freedom by former coach Mike D'Antoni, Nash reinvented his position.

Before, point guards didn't often get 20 points and 10 assists while shooting 50% and 40% on three-pointers.

Over the last five seasons, Nash's numbers were 16 points, 11 assists, 51% and 45%, good enough for back-to-back MVPs in 2005 and 2006 and a No. 2 finish in the 2007 voting.

The next thing you knew, Chris Paul and Deron Williams were putting up similar numbers with more prolific young scorer/distributors coming up: Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, John Wall.

Unfortunately, the Suns lost in the West finals in 2005 (to San Antonio) and in 2006 (to Dallas).

Then in Game 4 of the second-round series in San Antonio in 2007, which the Suns won to tie it 2-2, came the cruelest blow of all.

That was the game in which Robert Horry hip-checked Nash into the scorer's table and Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw came off the bench, earning suspensions for Game 5 in Phoenix, which the Spurs won, before closing the Suns out in six.

The next season, 2007-08, the Lakers got Pau Gasol, the Suns panicked and grabbed Shaquille O'Neal and there went the neighborhood.

Shaq is gone and the Suns are back, although with Stoudemire approaching free agency, the situation remains fluid.

Nevertheless, if this is their last stand, it's one more than anyone thought they would make.

"I mean, people have asked me that for six years now," Nash says. "It might be, but I always say, and I've felt this way before, and I'll feel this way next year, this is the only stand.

"It's now. You just go for it now and you worry about the future and the past later.

"And one day you look back and say, 'Wow, I only had so many shots.' "

No one will ever say Nash didn't make the most of his.

For the NBA candidate as world's most interesting man, try Nash, who spoke out against invading Iraq, dated actress Elizabeth Hurley and is now married with twin 5-year-old daughters he held in his arms outside the dressing room, beaming, after Game 4.

If the Suns remain underdogs, they're underdogs who can shoot, once again, after making six fewer threes than the Lakers in Games 1-3 and shooting 30% from the arc to the Lakers' 40%.

In Game 4, the Suns put on one of their vintage rockets-red-glare shows, making six three-pointers in nine trips in the second quarter and three in a row in the fourth when they blew the game open.

Just in case, updated versions of the "Game Face" T-shirt are forthcoming, showing Nash wrapped like a mummy.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Four games into the Western Conference finals, the Phoenix bench has fared slightly better at home (34.5 points per game) than at Staples Center (30.5), but it has been the Lakers substitutes who have suffered on the road (19.0 at Phoenix, 40.0 at home). Breaking down the Lakers' three main bench players:

Lamar Odom

*--* FGM-A 3-pt FG Reb. Ast. Pts. Home 16-25 1-2 15.0 3.4 18.0 Road 10-24 1-7 8.0 2.5 12.5 Total 26-49 2-9 11.5 3.0 15.3 *--*

Jordan Farmar

*--* FGM-A 3-pt FG Reb. Ast. Pts. Home 8-11 5-6 0.5 2.5 10.5 Road 2-8 2-6 1.0 1.0 3.0 Total 10-19 7-12 0.75 1.75 6.8 *--*

Shannon Brown

*--* FGM-A 3-pt FG Reb. Ast. Pts. Home 5-9 2-2 1.0 1.5 8.5 Road 3-14 1-9 1.5 1.5 3.5 Total 8-23 3-11 1.25 1.50 6.0 *--*

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