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Cruise control

Lakers blow past Suns to win opening game

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Posted: Monday May 08, 2000 01:31 AM

  Kobe Bryant Smothered: L.A.'s Kobe Bryant blocks a layup attempt by Phoenix's Jason Kidd. AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal had an explanation for his sluggish start against the Phoenix Suns -- he got too much rest before Sunday's game.

"I just tried something new last night," he said with a smile. "I went to bed at 11. I usually go to bed at midnight or later. I haven't gone to bed at 11 for about eight years. I was sluggish; I picked it up."

O'Neal overcame a 1-for-7 shooting performance in the first quarter to score 37 points, grab 14 rebounds and block four shots as the Los Angeles Lakers trounced the Suns 105-77 in the opener of their Western Conference semifinals.

Just about every member of the Suns, or so it seemed, took a turn guarding O'Neal, and after the first quarter, no one had much luck.

"When I get the ball in the blue area, there's not much anybody can do," he said. "I'm a pretty skillful big guy."

The Suns certainly agreed.

"There's a way you can stop him; it's just not legal," said Corie Blount, a former Laker. "He's hitting jump-hooks, turnaround Shots; I give that credit to him. Once he's doing that, you can't do much."

Said Cliff Robinson: "Shaq's a tough player. It's hard to stop him with one player. We're going to have to try and do something different."

Game 2 will be Wednesday night at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series moves to Phoenix for Games 3 and 4.

Suns at Lakers
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"I thought our players looked tired in the first half; they got a little bit of an energy boost in the third quarter," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "In the first quarter, I saw Shaq was struggling a little bit to get up and down the court, and the pace elevated a little too quick. We had to bring it back down to our pace."

Kobe Bryant added 25 points for the Lakers. Penny Hardaway led the Suns with 25 points, while Robinson, who battled foul problems, added 13 and rookie Shawn Marion had 12.

Jason Kidd, playing just his second game since breaking his left ankle March 22, was held to three points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Rodney Rogers, voted the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, was only 3-of-13 from the field and scored seven points.

"We put pressure on Jason and tried to take them out of their offense and not let him initiate things so smoothly," Bryant said.

O'Neal made the game's first shot before missing his final six attempts in the first quarter, when he scored four points.

After that, with the likes of Luc Longley, Robinson, Blount, Oliver Miller, Rogers, and occasionally others, trying to defend him, the Suns had minimal success.

"Shaq is Shaq," Suns coach Scott Skiles said. "I know him as well as I know any player in the league; I played with him for two years [in Orlando]. He's your MVP of the league. It's up to us to do something now to slow him down."

O'Neal's dominance was never more evident than one sequence early in the third quarter. He missed from close range, got the rebound over Longley, missed again, got the rebound again, and scored.

Turnovers ruin Sun's day
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Too many TOs.

Phoenix's Luc Longley passed the ball right into the hands of the Lakers' Kobe Bryant. The Suns' Rodney Rogers threw the ball away. Bryant and Ron Harper stole bad passes.

For good measure, the Suns' Corie Blount then inbounded the ball to the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal right under the Los Angeles basket.

All those Suns' turnovers came in a span of just more than two minutes midway through the third quarter as the Lakers built their lead to double digits and took control for good.

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Five straight points by O'Neal gave the Lakers a 69-54 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter, and shortly thereafter, the sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center broke out the chant of "MVP, MVP."

It was 75-60 entering the final quarter, and the Lakers then went on a 15-4 run to clinch the victory. O'Neal came out of the game for good with 4:25 remaining.

The Suns hurt themselves by committing 23 turnovers to 12 for the Lakers.

"They scored 28 points of our turnovers; we scored four off theirs. There's the game right there," Skiles said.

Phoenix entered the game rested, having eliminated the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs last Tuesday night. The Lakers, meanwhile, were extended to five games by Sacramento, winning the finale 113-86 Friday night.

Those factors turned out to be of little consequence as the Lakers made it five wins in as many games against the Suns this season, and 17-3 in the past 20 games between the teams.

The Lakers shot only 5-of-23 in the first quarter. However, thanks to seven Phoenix turnovers, the game was tied 18-all entering the second period.

O'Neal then came alive, making six of eight shots and scoring 14 points as the Lakers took a 46-41 halftime lead, and they were on top the rest of the way.

Notes: The Suns and Lakers are meeting for the ninth time in the playoffs, and the first since 1993, when the heavily favored Suns lost the first two games in a first-round series before winning the final three to advance. ... Kidd, who returned to action last Tuesday night and played 31 minutes in his team's series-clinching 89-78 victory over the Spurs, said before the game he felt confident his ankle was healed. "It's a matter of getting in basketball shape," he added. ... The Lakers have won 21 of their past 22 games at Staples Center since being beaten 95-91 by Portland on Jan. 22. ... The Suns have won 11 of their past 16 road games, including one of two at San Antonio in the playoffs. ... The Suns didn't shoot a free throw until Kevin Johnson made two with 9:56 remaining in the second quarter. By that time, the Lakers were 7-of-8.

Related information
Suns go into Lakers series feeling no pressure
Rookie adds another dimension to Suns
Suns-Lakers Game Summary
Phoenix's Anfernee Hardaway thought at first Shaquille O'Neal might have an off night. (43 K)
Laker head coach Phil Jackson says L.A. slowed down the pace to get O'Neal involved. (87 K)
Laker Shaquille O'Neal says too much sleep had him sluggish. (100 K)
O'Neal talks about the fact that there is no mystery in his game. (58 K)
The Suns' Cliff Robinson talks about how NBA rule changes help O'Neal. (174 K)
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