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Marty Burns' Breakdown
Los Angeles    Phoenix 

Shaquille O'Neal poses a huge matchup problem for the Suns, as evidenced by his 33.3 points (on 52.5% shooting) and 14.5 rebounds in four wins against them during the season. The Suns might have to go small and try to beat him down court or lure him outside with jumpers. Otherwise he'll dominate on defense as well.  CENTER
The Edge:
Luc Longley is a huge body who has had success against Shaq in the playoffs as a member of the Bulls. But just like back then, he'll require a lot of help from teammates. The good thing for Longley is that he knows the Lakers' triangle offense well, so he'll be able to foresee Shaq dunking over him before it actually happens. 

Glen Rice has picked up his game as the season has gone along, and should get a lot of open looks with Shaq being double and triple-teamed. The Suns will try to run on the Lakers, so Rice must remember to get back on defense. Green's challenge is to stay in Cliff Robinson's face on the perimeter to keep him from getting good looks.  FORWARDS
The Edge:


Cliff Robinson is a terrific all-around player but he has a history of coming up short in the postseason. The Suns cannot afford another Cliff-dive in this series. Robinson must score, defend and rebound. Shawn Marion must use his speed and athleticism to wear down Rice. 

Ron Harper and Kobe Bryant normally stifle teams defensively with their range and long arms, but they won't be able to do that against the tall Suns backcourt. Harper must stay in front of Kidd and keep him out of the lane or Kidd will shred their defense. Bryant is awesome at both end, but Penny has the size and experience to keep him in check.  GUARDS
The Edge:


After missing two months and his team's first three playoff games, Kidd returned for the Game 4 clincher against the Suns and registered 10 assists and nine points. If he's healthy, the Suns get the backcourt edge. Penny Hardaway proved during Kidd's absence that he can still carry a team on his shoulders. 

Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher are all solid contributors who know their roles. They won't score much, but they won't have to. All they need to do is provide quality minutes so the Lakers' Big 3 can get a breather now and again.  BENCH
The Edge:


Rodney Rogers, who recently won the Sixth Man award, had a terrific series against the Spurs and will need to duplicate it against the Lakers. Look for Kevin Johnson and Corie Blount to also play big roles as Phoenix goes small and tries to run L.A. out of the gym. 

The Lakers have homecourt advantage, a significant fact since they have been almost unbeatable this season at Staples Center. After getting a scare from the Kings, they should be more focused and guarded against a letdown.  INTANGIBLES
The Edge:
After dispatching the Spurs in four games, the Suns got a few days off to prepare, rest and get Jason Kidd even healthier. They're also very loose, since nobody is giving them a ghost of a chance. 

Phil Jackson showed he's still the Zen Master by getting his team to shake off its two losses in Sacramento and come out with renewed fire in Game 5. Besides, there's no way he lets Luc Longley beat his team.  COACH
The Edge:
Scott Skiles did a masterful job getting the Suns ready to take advantage of Tim Duncan's absence in the Spurs series, but now he faces the ultimate test. For a rookie coach, it's a lot to ask. 

All Ron Harper needs to do in this series is stay in front of Kidd, handle the ball against the inevitable Suns' pressure and keep Phoenix's big guards off the backboards so they can't get out and run. Other than that, it should be a piece of cake.  'X' FACTOR
The Edge:


Jason Kidd is still recovering from his broken ankle. Though he played well in Game 5, nobody knows if he'll be able to run and gun and scramble the Lakers defense over the course of a long series. 
Burns' Prediction: Lakers in 4

Sports Illustrated staff writer Marty Burns covers pro basketball for Look for his columns on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Click here to send Marty a comment.

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