Originally created 05/07/00

Suns say pressure is on Lakers



LOS ANGELES -- The Phoenix Suns don't feel any pressure playing the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, that's what the Sacramento Kings said, and they're on the golf course now.

"There's nothing to be uptight about," Suns forward Rodney Rogers said before they left home for Sunday's opener of the Western Conference semifinal. "They haven't been talking about us winning a championship all year long."

The Lakers inspired such talk by winning an NBA-high 67 games during the regular season, second-most in franchise history, but they were extended to the maximum five games before demolishing the upset-minded Kings 113-86 Friday night to reach the second round.

The Suns, meanwhile, eliminated defending NBA champion San Antonio in four games, giving them four full days to rest and prepare for the best-of-seven second round.

"We've got a couple more days of rest than they have," Rogers said. "Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's not so good."

The Lakers believe it's no big deal.

"It's like the regular season, you know what I mean? It's the same scenario, only with a lot more at stake," Kobe Bryant said.

The Lakers also believe their 4-0 record against Phoenix this season and the fact that they've won 16 of the last 19 games between the teams is meaningless.

And they wouldn't say they were glad to see the Suns instead of the Spurs, who swept the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals last May and have won eight of the last nine games between the two teams.

"If you remember last year, we had our way with San Antonio during the regular season," Bryant said. "The playoffs were a different story. Phoenix is here, they deserve it, they beat the world champs."

Of course, the champs played without Tim Duncan, who along with David Robinson has given the Lakers matchup problems.

The Suns seem much weaker in the middle, which could be a big problem considering the Lakers have Shaquille O'Neal, the NBA's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.

Phoenix has been more successful recently with forwards Shawn Marion, Cliff Robinson and Rogers on the court, and centers Luc Longley and Oliver Miller on the sideline.

That being the case, how do they guard O'Neal?

"I don't know, you'll have to ask them," Lakers forward Robert Horry said. "Rodney is real strong."

Maybe so, but Rogers, voted the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, is listed as a 6-foot-7, 255-pounder. O'Neal is listed as 7-1 and 315 pounds, which might be conservative.

Longley, 7-2 and 260, played an average of less than 15 minutes a game against San Antonio, and Miller, 6-9 and 315, played a total of 17 minutes. Robinson is a 6-10, 225-pounder and Marion is 6-7 and 215.

Nevertheless, the Suns were extremely successful defensively against the Spurs, holding them to 81.8 points per game.

When asked if it's possible to stop O'Neal, Longley replied, "He hasn't won a championship yet, so it must be possible."

However, Longley also said, "He's 100 percent better, I think, which is scary because he was really good before. His repertoire has tripled."

Suns coach Scott Skiles implied his team will defend O'Neal in several different ways.

"There are just all kinds of factors," Skiles said. "Are other guys making shots? Is he in foul trouble? Are we in foul trouble? Are we scoring enough that we can still put a center on him or do we need to put forwards out there so we can score more?"

O'Neal called the Suns an explosive and dangerous team, and gave them credit for beating the Spurs.

"I guess the better team won," he said. "When we played them, we pretty much had our way. This is a different team, they're at full strength now."

Not quite. Tom Gugliotta underwent knee surgery March 17 and is out for the season. However, Jason Kidd, one of the NBA's best point guards, returned last Tuesday in the final game of the San Antonio series and played 31 minutes. He had been sidelined since breaking his left ankle March 22.

"He looked real good in practice," Skiles said. "He's moving well, he's got no problems at all, he says, so we feel good about him."

O'Neal called Phoenix guards Kidd and Anfernee Hardaway "an unbelievable backcourt, a historical backcourt."

However, Ron Harper, who teams with Bryant in the Lakers' backcourt, said, "We've got the best big guards, so we ain't worrying about their big guards."

Game 2 is Wednesday night before the series shifts to Phoenix for Games 3 and 4.