Sunday , Apr , 22 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Lakers, Suns meet for second straight year in postseason

(Sports Network) – The second-seeded Phoenix Suns and the No. 7 Los Angeles
Lakers should once again put on an entertaining, high-scoring best-of-seven
series, as they meet this afternoon at the US Airways Center in Game 1 of the
first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs

Game 2 is scheduled to be played on Tuesday at US Airways Center.

There is a lot of playoff history between the Lakers and Suns, as these teams
have met 10 times in the postseason. The Lakers have won seven of the 10
series, while the clubs have split four meetings in first round.

The Lakers knocked out the Suns in the opening round of the playoffs in 1970
and 1985, while Phoenix eliminated LA in 1993 and 2006. The Lakers won
semifinal series over the Suns in 1980, 1982 and 2000 and conference final
sets in 1984 and 1989.

Besides their first round wins over LA in 1993 and 2006, the Suns also
picked up a playoff series win over the Lakers in the 1990 conference
semifinals.

Last season, the Lakers blew a 3-1 lead in the first round against Phoenix.
They fell in seven contests and were eliminated in the opening round for the
first time since 1996, when they lost in four games, 3-1, to the Houston
Rockets.

The Suns have been eliminated in the Western Conference finals two consecutive
years. Phoenix lost in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in 2005, and fell in
six last year to the Dallas Mavericks.

It was another exciting season for Phoenix’ fans. The Suns won their third
straight Pacific Division crown, and were one win shy of tying their season-
best win total, which was accomplished in the 1992-93 and 2004-05 campaigns.

After opening the season by dropping five of its first six contests, Phoenix
won 17 of 18 and 35 of its next 38 games. Head coach Mike D’Antoni, who made
his All-Star coaching debut this year and was the 2004-05 NBA Coach of the
Year, once again allowed his club to do what is does best, score. The Suns
simply outscored their opponents with their free-wheeling offense.

Phoenix was led by its trio of All-Stars, as Amare Stoudemire, who proved he
was once again 100 percent healthy, Shawn Marion and reigning MVP Steve
Nash all had outstanding campaigns. Stoudemire led the Suns in scoring (20.4
ppg), while Marion was the team’s top rebounder (9.8 rpg) and Nash dished out
a league-best 11.6 assists per game.

Leandro Barbosa had his best season, as he was third on the team in scoring
(18.1 ppg) and gave D’Antoni a spark off the bench if the Suns started out
slow. Raja Bell contributed offensively and is also the team’s top perimeter
defender, while Boris Diaw was solid, but his production dropped off with the
return of Stoudemire.

The last time the Suns were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs was
in 2002-03, when they lost to San Antonio in six games, 4-2.

The Lakers won their last two regular season games, but did not play well
down the stretch. They were 4-10 in their final 14 games, and surrendered the
sixth seed to the Denver Nuggets.

Superstar Kobe Bryant and his one-man show will try again to get the Lakers
out of the first round of the playoffs. Bryant makes his second trip to the
postseason without All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal, who was traded to Miami
in July 2004, by his side. A nine-time All-Star, Bryant is still trying to
prove that he can carry a team solo in the postseason.

The 28-year-old Bryant, who won three championships with O’Neal and head
coach Phil Jackson (1999, 2000, 2001), led the league in scoring (31.6 ppg)
and the Lakers in assists (5.4 apg).

Lamar Odom, who averaged a team-best 9.8 rebounds per game, is the Lakers
second option, while guard Smush Parker and forward Luke Walton, who collected
11.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game this season, have been
solid contributors. Twenty-year-old center Andrew Bynum is improving as he
gets more playing time, but is still a long way from being a force in the
middle.

Jackson has won nine championship rings as a coach. He led the Lakers to
three titles in his first four years in LA, and guided the Chicago Bulls to
six championships.

During the regular season, Phoenix won three of its four contests with the
Lakers. The teams split a pair of games at the Staples Center, while the Suns
were 2-0 against the Lakers at US Airways Center.

The Suns were an impressive 33-8 at home during the regular season, while the
Lakers were 17-24 as the visitor.

LAL PHO