for this game

Nash, Stoudemire team up to abuse Lakers

Apr 30, 2007 - 12:28 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Steve Nash used Amare Stoudemire to approach a playoff record. Together, they helped the Phoenix Suns abuse the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nash handed out 23 assists and Stoudemire dominated inside with 27 points and 21 rebounds as the Suns took control of their Western Conference first-round series with a convincing 113-100 victory over the Lakers.

The second-seeded Suns kept Kobe Bryant somewhat under wraps with 31 points and opened a commanding 3-1 lead as they turned the tables on the seventh-seeded Lakers, who held the same lead a year ago but could not seal the deal.

Now, Los Angeles has been pushed to the brink and will need a historic comeback to avoid a second straight first-round exit. The Lakers get their first chance Wednesday at Phoenix, which doesn't look like it's going to allow that to happen.

"We didn't want another seven-game series like we did last year," Suns forward Shawn Marion said. "We did all we could do to not let this series go any farther and get it over quickly."

The two-time MVP, Nash repeatedly weaved his way through the defense, maintaining his dribble while changing speeds and finding open teammates with pinpoint passes.

"He's making passes like a quarterback," Suns guard Raja Bell said. "It's like four people are open at the same time and he's throwing it before the receiver is coming out of their break. There is not a whole lot of guys that can do that with a basketball."

Nash scored 17 points but was even more effective as a distributor, falling one assist shy of the all-time playoff record shared by John Stockton and Magic Johnson, who was in attendance.

"Probably the two best point guards ever to play the game," Nash said. "Not a shabby collection of people to learn from. I grew up watching them and in many ways I wanted to emulate them."

"He is unbelievable," teammate Kurt Thomas said. "He's a great point guard but he is a point guard that is not afraid of making a turnover, and that is why he is able to get all those assists."

Often on the receiving end was Stoudemire, who looked like the fearsome force he was in the 2005 playoffs. Fully recovered from microfracture surgery that cost him nearly all of last season, Stoudemire put together the first 20-20 game of the postseason.

"Steve was on a roll," Stoudemire said. "When they speed him up that brings out the best in him. He spread us out and was able to get the ball in hot spots and the baskets come with it."

Together, the two All-Stars overwhelmed the Lakers, who aren't much more than a one-man team. Bryant scored 45 points in Game Three to give them hope but needed more help and did not get enough.

Meanwhile, Nash and Stoudemire were complemented by Marion (22 points, 11 rebounds), Leandro Barbosa (16 points) and James Jones (11 points).

"When Nash gets in the lane and kicks it to Amare and to Shawn and guys in the paint, we've got to do a better job of getting to them and not letting them get easy baskets," Bryant said.

"We have another game and we are going out there to win," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who had 19 points and 13 rebounds. "We are not giving up. That's not professional. Now we have to go back to go back out there and play hard."

The scene for Game Four was an entire reversal from a year ago, when the Suns faced a 2-1 deficit and needed a win to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole. But Phoenix was forced to overtime and ended up losing on a buzzer-beater by Bryant.

However, the Suns recovered with three straight wins, becoming the eighth team in NBA history to turn the trick - and deal Lakers coach Phil Jackson his initial first-round series loss.

This time, it was the Lakers facing the deficit and needing the win - perhaps more, since two of the final three games are scheduled for the Valley of the Sun.

"That was in the back of our minds coming into this game," Thomas said. "We didn't want to let those guys get back in the series. We knew if we could take care of business here and go home and take care of business at home we be going to the next round. We definitely wanted to put them away."

Looking for a lift from someone other than Bryant, the Lakers got an early one from Kwame Brown, who scored nine points in the first half, and Andrew Bynum, who was active in the paint with a pair of blocked shots.

Bynum was on the floor when the Lakers put together a 10-0 run - the last five by Bryant - to take a 38-35 lead with 9:12 left in the second quarter.

The Suns immediately responded with a 12-2 burst capped by a pair of baskets by Stoudemire, who despite the best efforts of Brown and Bynum had a monstrous first half with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

"Amare is so athletic," Bryant said. "He's just doing what he's been doing all year. We just need Kwame to attack him as mush as possible."

Despite 20 points by Bryant, Phoenix maintained a 58-51 lead at the break. That was primarily due to the playmaking of Nash, whose 15 assists allowed him to join Johnson and Doc Rivers as the record holders for one half.

"We just talked about being in the right spots and having better spacing," Nash said. "We're usually prepared for that. I thought that their energy was outstanding last game and we were unprepared for it mentally. So that was a big key tonight."

The Lakers never got any closer. Stoudemire continued his manhandling of the big men with nine points in the third quarter and Nash kept everyone else involved as the Suns carried an 85-71 advantage into the final period.

    PHOENIX 113

    Apr 29 6:11 PM

    PHOENIX 85

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    PHOENIX 58

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    PHOENIX 33

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