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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lakers refocusing to avoid getting sunburn

Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is held by Utah Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko during Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals .

COLIN E. BRALEY | Associated Press

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L.A. Lakers vs. Phoenix

Tomorrow: Phoenix at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m.

Wednesday: Phoenix at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m.

Sunday, May 23: L.A. Lakers at Phoenix, 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 25: L.A. Lakers at Phoenix, 9 p.m.

x-Thursday, May 27: Phoenix at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m.

x-Saturday, May 29: L.A. Lakers at Phoenix, 8:30 p.m.

x-Monday, May 31: Phoenix at L.A. Lakers, 9 p.m.

xóif necessary

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No. 1 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (57-25, 8-2) vs. No. 3 PHOENIX SUNS (54-28, 8-2)

Season series: Lakers 3-1. Los Angeles held the high-scoring Suns to just 95.3 points per game in its three victories. The Suns' lone victory, a 118-103 win at home on Dec. 28, came when reserves Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic and Leandro Barbosa all were in double figures. Only one game came after the new year. Kobe Bryant averaged 27.5 points.

Storyline: After long rests following second-round sweeps, the Lakers and Suns finally get back on the court. Phoenix at last got past longtime nemesis San Antonio, but now faces an even mightier foe, as the Lakers again looked like the best of the West in their sweep of Utah and are four wins from a third straight trip to the NBA finals.

Key Matchup I: Bryant vs. Jason Richardson. Bryant shot 54.4 percent against Phoenix this season, second-highest among the 12 teams he faced at least three times, according to STATS, LLC. (He shot 62.3 percent against Memphis.) Averaging 21.9 points, Richardson has been terrific in the playoffs after being anything but against the Lakers in the regular season. He shot only 31 percent overall and made just 3 of 21 3-pointers.

Key Matchup II: Pau Gasol vs. Amare Stoudemire. Both All-Stars are scoring better than 20 points per game in the playoffs, with Gasol shooting 56 percent and averaging 13.1 rebounds. The Lakers have the frontline height and depth to make things tough for Stoudemire, and they held him to 2-of-15 shooting in their Nov. 12 rout. Stoudemire averaged 24.3 in the other three meetings.

X-Factor: Robin Lopez. The Suns need every big body they can get against the Lakers, and believe their former starting center will be available in this series. Lopez has been out since March 28 with a bulging disk in his back.

Prediction: Lakers in 5.

 Brian Mahoney, Associated Press

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. Kobe Bryant is among the fortunate few NBA players who know plenty about both winning a championship and successfully defending it.

He thinks the Los Angeles Lakers spent most of the regular season just trying to avoid losing their title. In the past few weeks, the Lakers have been much more focused on winning another.

When Bryant stopped yesterday to ponder the difference between these two daunting tasks, he delivered an unusual amount of effusive praise for the way the Lakers have rebounded from a successful but trying regular season with three weeks of perhaps their best basketball in a year.

"They're not thinking about defending a title, they're thinking about winning one," Bryant said when asked how his greener teammates are responding to the stresses of repeating as champs.

With Bryant leading a balanced offense and a sturdy defensive effort, the Lakers have won six straight games heading into the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns, who also have won six in a row.

After participating in a portion of Los Angeles' latest practice, Bryant praised the Lakers' increased aggressiveness and poise over the past few weeks. Coach Phil Jackson, no stranger to mind games and motivational ploys, sees it all as a function of the mental toughness necessary to persevere deep into June while talented clubs like Cleveland, Dallas and Atlanta can't keep their heads together.

Judging by the Lakers' response to the pressure of being defending champions over the first two rounds, Bryant thinks they'll maintain that focus through the long week before the conference finals begin tomorrow night at Staples Center.

"It changes the sense of urgency that you play with," Bryant said. "You're playing with the confidence and the certain amount of attention you need to win something."

Bryant didn't participate in every drill in yesterday's workout while resting a cornucopia of minor injuries, including a gimpy ankle and an arthritic finger. Rest is another key to the Lakers' success, given the accumulated toll of three straight seasons of deep playoff runs along with the 2008 Olympic summer thrown into the mix for Bryant and Pau Gasol.

Fellow four-time NBA champ Derek Fisher echoed Bryant's sentiments, saying the Lakers have shifted into a playoff mode.

"There's been a little bit of an adjustment, at least by our play," Fisher said. "It looked like we were playing to protect something, as opposed to going to get something. I think since the playoffs started, we've been playing more to go get something than to keep from losing something."