Eight thoughts from the Suns’ 128-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Monday:

1. For all the talk of Kobe Bryant and his 40 points, the game actually changed once Lamar Odom came off the Lakers bench. Until then, the Suns had been winning and doing a decent job of at least making the Lakers shoot from the outside. But Odom entered midway through the first quarter and the Suns immediately fell into an 18-4 landslide.
2. Odom’s presence created an immediate matchup problem near the basket. It didn’t help that everything he (and the rest of the Lakers) threw up from the perimeter went in. As Suns coach Alvin Gentry told TNT’s Craig Sager at the end of the first quarter, “They’re making shots and there’s not much we can do about it.”

3. Gentry spoke the truth, as the Lakers were a sizzling 58 percent from the floor for the game. With numbers like those, not even Bill Russell’s 11-time champion Boston Celtics teams would have beat them. The good news is, the Lakers aren’t likely to continue to shoot at such a remarkable pace.

4. That said, it’s obvious the Suns need to do a better job of defending the paint. Of the Lakers’ first 68 points, half of them came inside the lane. Odom finished 9-for-15 shooting, while Pau Gasol was even better at 10-for-13. Odom also had 19 rebounds, and that can’t come close to happening again.

5. The Suns clearly are more physical and focused defensively than they have been at any other time during the Steve Nash-Amare Stoudemire era, but they will have to improve even more in that area against the Lakers. Many NBA coaches want opposing offensive players to “feel” their defense — or to know that guys like Stoudemire, Robin Lopez and even Louie Amundson will not only leap to block shots, but play an elbows-out-feet-on-the-floor brand of basketball if necessary. And make no mistake, it will be necessary if the Suns are to beat L.A.

6. Perhaps more than anything, the Suns just have to make the shots they normally make. In some cases, offense is your best defense, particularly on the road. When you bury jumpers in opposing arenas, it tends to confuse and frustrate the home team. The Suns got plenty of open looks, but went just 5-for-22 on 3-pointers. That included a 1-for-7 performance from reserve center Channing Frye, who is usually pretty reliable beyond the arc. If the Suns had made anywhere from 3-to-5 more threes, it likely would have been a different ball game.

7. Goran Dragic (13 points, 5-for-8 shooting) and Leandro Barbosa (11 points, 5-for-7) were two bright spots, always hustling even when things seemed lost. The Suns will need more similar performances off the bench in Game 2.

8. Finally, before you get too depressed, remember that the Suns also lost Game 1 of their first-round series against Portland. Granted, the defending champion Lakers are a different animal, but no matter how you spin it, it’s just one game. The Suns have been surprising NBA fans all season; they may not be ready to stop just yet.

Sam Amico is a reporter for NBA.com and a regular contributor to Suns.com. He can be reached at amico@probasketballnews.com.

  • JOHN SERPE

    Thanks Sam, believe me this Suns fan needed your blog. To me the most gut wrenching thing about game #1 was our Suns continued penchant for seeming so totally off game at times. This is especially true for first games of a series and seems to worsen if there is a long layoff. As far as LA, Kobe gets motivated in spurts which can be dealt with. Odem isn’t consistent enough to put performances together like game 1 and simply took what was gifted to him, a free pass by Amare. Nash hasn’t looked right for awhile despite the heroics against San Antonio. Frye tightened up and Hill was sucked right into Kobe’s frustrating style. I thought Gentry was trying to hard with adjustments and didn’t stick to the game plan with the bench. Your not beating LA with a half hearted effort, their to talented. Suns can either play with urgency and go all out or roll over, there is no middle ground here. Do the Suns have the discipline to play 4 nearly perfect games, I don’t know but thats what it will probably take to pull the upset. Game 2 will tell alot about the Suns focas and series intent. Another just happy to get this far game will most likely end a story book season for us.

  • Leo

    Suns needs to be tough on this round. We must do everything for Steve Nash & Grant Hill to go to NBA Final. We already know that we can’t beat the Lakers the way they play right now in every category and i know that we need to play like 120 percent to beat them every night. The only thing we do to win is if we’re going to foul do it as HARD FOUL i know it’s bad but if we show that we are soft team we’re not gonna make it. The SUNS must shows that they’re not scare of anything so they foul make it HARD FOUL…really HARD FOUL but in not intend to hit anybody but the ball…Aim to the ball and let earnd it the free throw…..

  • Khadgars

    Lakers in 5

  • JOHN SERPE

    I for one like Amare’s tough talk about Odem having a “lucky” game and not allowing it to happen again. Good for you Amare, probably had nothing to do with luck and alot to do with fundamentals but Suns need tough right now and it can come from anywhere as far as I’m concerned. While were at it lets put some tough on Gumby Gasol and Kobe. Aside from the fact that our Suns played badly in almost every facet, can the calls go much better for Bryant, you can’t touch the guy. This fan says lets at least see if it makes a difference and rough these guys up, their the biggest whiners in basketball. I’d rather go out fighting than whimper all the way to the exit.

  • Mike

    Agreed, especially point 5. Must make them feel the defensive attack. Nothing dirty, but extrememly physical.

  • Kevin Bobbins

    It’s funny how the suns think that beating a Spurs or Portland teams mean anything in this series. Fact of the matter is Porland had many players down from injury. There best player had just returned. Spurs and Tim Duncan are no longer the force they were before. Lakers are just to big. There is a size advantage at every spot. Strength advantage at the point. The Lakers have learned that going to your advantages in the post and on the wing, will equal rings. Unless R. Bell is coming out of the tunnel there isn’t a player on the squad that make Kobe work as hard.

  • Sean

    Well Said Sam-

    Way to keep things in perspective. The large lead has its reasons. We all know them. The suns will review tape and tighten up and defensively play smarter. We Need either JRich or Grant to step up in a big way and we need a higher octane performance from Nash. I believe if the suns play at a pace that refuses to allow the Lakers’ Defense to set, then they will beat them by 10 or more. An extra couple inches with your big men has its perks on rebounding etc, but I believe we just beat the spurs, and hmm Duncan. Oh yeah, and the Blazers have two… no three big men. After those two tests the suns have what it takes to win and win well. And as the smaller guard Iverson has said when it comes to beating men much larger than you ‘It’s all about spacing.’A 6 foot league leader in scoring said it best Lets believe in the team that has shown us how to fight off the nay-sayers’.This- this is our time! Go Suns!!!

  • goNash

    they can do it. it was the first game in a conference final for a lot of the suns players. it is normal to be a bit stressed, at least under the surface. If they defend an make their shots they can beat them. Nash and Dragic have to be agresive and shoot the ball when they have the chance and everyone else will follow. the ball is round for everyone …
    the win is sweeter when everyone bets against you.

  • JOHN SERPE

    Sorry, but even my complete 100% support for the Suns can’t stop me from saying how it is and here goes. Nash has had a brilliant career but it’s gone and his liability on defense against a very good LA team( I would use great if not for the bench) makes matching up impossible. Add Amare’s total inability to defend either Gasol or Odem and sweep starts crossing your mind. Suns have no one that can turn a game, Amare never could and never will, Nash can’t any more. Dudley and Hill deserve so much credit, they did everything possible to win. You can mask our Suns starters defensive holes against most teams but not when you play at this level. Great year, we broke the Spurs curse, talk to you blogmasters again next season. P.S. Amare is not a max contract player. Djuric needs to step in full time for Nash.

  • Sean

    John
    Shame Shame Shame…
    Do you drop your guard so easy! Each and every starter for the suns has the ‘ability’ to out perform the lakers. Its just a matter if they chose to fight it out or not. Amare for one, does have the ability to gaurd Gasol and Odem, we saw it. But he also has the ability to choose not too, and we painfully observed that in the fourth quarter. I mean what the hell is Amare and Dudley doing on the outside of Gasol ??? Put some body on Pau, the guy is 7 feet but he is lanky as heck, so physically force him to take the shot! All I am saying here is if Amare choses to play smart Defense, and lopez gets more minutes then there is still plenty of hope. Add JRiCH and Grant, and Dudley playing well and any game is our game. My Advice to Gentry watch the third quarter tape again and again and again, consider who was in the game and consider the defense. Kobe was in the game and he wasn’t scoring. Gasol and Odem were slowed down. Third quarter. Thats all they need to study

  • http://nba.com Adrian

    That`s a very very very Poor defense man! i thought suns team especially Stoudamire blocks their shot! and another thing is Gasol needs to stop or get him away from the rim man!. now its only a miracle suns will win game 3. Where hoping man that`s suns beat that Damn! L.A. PLEASEEEE BEAT them! for the last time i will beg for your win..