Suns Don't Miss a Beat in Beating L.A. Again

Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — The phone calls started filling up Mike D'Antoni's voice mail before the Lakers and Phoenix Suns even began their series.

They were from Clipper assistants who worked with D'Antoni in the past. They wished him good luck against the Lakers.

"Now I don't know if that was because we're friends," D'Antoni said, smiling, "or because they wanted us" instead of the Lakers.

If the latter, the Clippers got what they wanted. They also got hit with a loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Suns galloping away in the fourth quarter Monday as speed topped strength, 130-123.

The Suns continued to run, picking up where they left off against the Lakers. They also continued a ferocious pick-and-roll scheme that carved up the Clippers just as it did toward the end of the Laker series.

The Suns have averaged 122.8 points their last four games after averaging only 97.5 their first four playoff games.

They put up 74 points in the second half — a good game total during the season for, say, Portland — as Nash delivered 31 points and 12 assists. Beforehand, he was handed the most-valuable-player trophy by NBA Commissioner David Stern.

"It probably puts a little bit of pressure on you," Nash said. "You hate to be awarded the MVP and have an awful game and fall on your face. I just tried not to embarrass myself after being singled out and recognized and having the commissioner fly in."

Nash, who turned his ankle Saturday against the Lakers and had been fighting a sore back, looked swift and spry.

He had six assists in the first quarter as the Suns outscored the Clippers by four, and 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns outscored them by five.

It was even better than a year ago, when he was presented the MVP award in front of the home crowd before Game 1 of the West semifinals against Dallas.

D'Antoni couldn't remember Nash's statistics in that game, but he had an educated guess.

"Since he probably screwed up zero games [last season], I'd say he did real well," D'Antoni said. "Between real well and great."

Nash had 11 points and 13 assists that night. The Suns won by 25 points.

There are times the Suns are on the losing side of a rout, such as their 119-105 loss to the Clippers here in March. They didn't even reach for that game video over the last two days, a mind-set D'Antoni might have learned from Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy.

D'Antoni, who turned 55 on Monday, is more than familiar with the Clipper staff.

He worked with Clipper assistants Kim Hughes in Denver and Jim Eyen in Portland. He was also an assistant under Dunleavy during a tumultuous 2000-01 season in Portland characterized by infighting and player suspensions.

"Experience-wise, it was great for me to see all that without being under fire, which Mike was," D'Antoni said.

Now the Suns are firing up the scoreboards.

They had a "quiet" first half against the Clippers and trailed, 61-56, but put up 37 points in the third quarter and another 37 in the fourth.

Overall, they made 47 of 86 shots (54.7%) and sank an impressive 12 of 27 three-point shots (44.4%).

"You can't have one lull against this team," Clipper forward Elton Brand said. "They're too good, especially in that open court."

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