Lakers Zoned Out of Win in Phoenix

If the Lakers don't execute adjustments in Game 4, the series will be tied

By Kurt Helin
|  Monday, May 24, 2010  |  Updated 6:49 AM PDT
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PHOENIX - MAY 23: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers walks on the court in the fourth quarter of Game Three of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 23, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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Here’s a little secret about this year’s Lakers: They are not a good outside shooting team.

As evidence, they were 23rd in the league in three point shooting percentage at 34.1 percent this past season. Sure, they have guys who can hit outside shots — Kobe Bryant for sure, but also Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, even Ron Artest can get hot — but those guys count on wide open looks generated by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum inside, or Kobe driving into the lane and kicking out.

Sunday night in Phoenix, while half the country was watching the Lost finale, the Lakers lost their offense. The Suns went into a zone defense — something they tried in games one and two but the Lakers shredded it — and the Lakers happily settled for jump shots over it.

The result was the Lakers shot just 4 of 21 against the zone in the second quarter. The Lakers who had shot 58 percent in the first two games shot 48 percent in this game, largely because of the zone. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking Amare Stoudemire and the Suns won Game 3 118-109.

The Lakers had better adjust to the zone for Game 4 on Tuesday, or this series will head back to Los Angeles tied (Lakers lead 2-1 now).

It was really more than the zone, the Lakers came out settling more for their jump shots from the start of the game, but in the first quarter they hit them. That is why they led 32-29 after one. Then Phoenix went to the zone and the Lakers put up just 15 points in the second quarter as their outside shots stopped falling.

Usually against the zone the Lakers still try to go inside, with Gasol or Bynum or Odom or Artest flashing and calling for the ball at the free throw line, they did a little of that in the second half, but they still settled enough to take 32 threes, making just nine. In two of the three Lakers losses this postseason, they have taken more than 30 threes.

"I think we figured (the zone) out in the third quarter, but we didn't figure out defensively what we had to do," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the game.

While the Lakers settled, the Suns attacked. Phoenix had 42 free throw attempts -- sorry Lakers fans, that had nothing to do with the officiating and everything to do with the Suns taking the ball the rim. Amare Stoudemire had Andrew Bynum -- a clearly slowed and hurting Bynum -- in quick foul trouble. His replacement, Lamar Odom, ended up fouling out. Stoudemire finished with 42 points and played like one of the best power forwards in the game. Which he is.

For the first time in this series, the pressure shifts to the Lakers to adjust -- to use actions in the triangle offense to better exploit the zone they will certainly see next game. Jackson has two handfuls of rings because he knows how to make playoff adjustments.

But if the Lakers don’t execute those adjustments, this series could come back to Los Angeles tied.

Kurt Helin lives in Long Beach and is the Blogger-in-Chief of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).

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