If this first-round playoff series against the Suns is Byron Scott’s last postseason adventure with the Lakers--and he’s so sure it is, he already speaks of his 10-year stay in nostalgic tones--he intends to make it memorable.
“I’d definitely like to go out at my best, go down fighting,” Scott said Thursday as the Lakers prepared for tonight’s opener at the America West Arena.
“Hopefully, that’s the type of team we’ll have in this series and we’ll play aggressive basketball. It pretty much has to start with myself and Sedale (Threatt) at guard, because the other guys will take notice if we do.
“I would like to go out being known as a winner with this organization and make sure the Phoenix Suns know they’re in a tough series.”
Humbled by their worst season in 18 years and still unsure of what comes after Showtime, the Lakers hope they can muster enough combativeness to compete with the Suns, who were 5-0 against the Lakers this season while amassing an NBA-best 62-20 record.
“Most people are thinking since we have not beaten Phoenix, we don’t have much of a chance,” said forward A.C. Green, who will join Scott in free agency after the season. “Sure, they’re very good, but I know it’s possible and I’m preparing myself for a tough war. It’s the only way we’re going to beat them, thinking that way on every play, every possession.
“Emotionally, we can’t afford to be flat out there. I’ll take responsibility for that. You see a need and you take the lead. I can’t defer it to anyone else or delegate it or it might not get done.
“If this is my last year with this team, I want to go out the same way I went in, playing hard and playing to win.”
That pride, once a Laker trademark but battered during a 39-43 season, is still respected by the Suns.
“The only thing that does concern me is they are the Lakers and they have a certain amount of pride and are tested,” said Charles Barkley, the NBA’s fifth-best scorer and sixth-best rebounder this season. “We have a lot of young players who haven’t been there, and that is a concern, somewhat.”
The Suns appear to have few other concerns about the Lakers, whom they outscored by an average of 14 points during five regular-season games. Even losing starting point guard Kevin Johnson to a sprained left knee seems a minor obstacle because Negele Knight and Frank Johnson provide elements that compensate for the absence of Phoenix’s third-leading scorer. The Lakers are without Anthony Peeler, who has a sprained right foot.
“All their guards are good,” Threatt said. “You’ve got to look at Danny Ainge: He’s an All-Star and a great shooter from three-point range. Then you’ve got Dan Majerle, who’s a great outside shooter, and in Frank Johnson, you’ve got a veteran and a tough defender. . . . (Knight) can run the options quick and break you down.”
Said Scott: “Negele Knight does a good job getting them in their offense. He doesn’t try to do too much. He plays good defense so you can’t take advantage there.”
Probably the Suns’ biggest advantage is Barkley, whose drive and dominance enhance his statistics--26.5 points, 12.2 rebounds--and make him a leading most-valuable-player candidate.
“We have to be concerned with more than just Barkley,” Laker Coach Randy Pfund said. “But I do know this, and I’ve already set the theme, and the theme is we have to shut him down. We’re going to have to do things defensively that limit his ability to up his game, up his level of play.”
Guarding him will be Elden Campbell, who replaced James Worthy at power forward with 13 games left in the season. Pfund said he will occasionally have Green double-team Barkley, although that leads to open shots. The Suns shot .518 against the Lakers, better than their .493 overall figure.
Said Campbell: “I have to try to stay with him. You’ve got to keep your presence there in front of him. You’re not going to block all his shots, but you’ve got to make him take the worst shots possible and make sure he’s not going to just shoot open shots.”
Barkley says he is ready for whatever the Lakers try.
“I think I’ll play all right and my guys will play all right,” he said. “We’ve just got to take it.
And if Barkley doesn’t take the lead, former Cal State Fullerton standout Cedric Ceballos--who averaged 12.8 points and shot a league-leading .576--might do it. Or reserve forward Richard Dumas, who averaged 15.8 points.
“Obviously, there’s no easy answer to how to shut down the Phoenix Suns,” Pfund said. “If there was, the rumor would have gotten around.”
Like Scott and Green, Pfund may be in his final Laker playoff series, although his exit would be by firing. He says that possibility won’t push him toward caution.
“I’m not going to play it safe,” he said. “I don’t see it from that perspective. We’ve come here to win basketball games and how we’re evaluated is something that will happen later.”
LAKERS vs. PHOENIX SUNS
Western Conference First Round
All times PDT
Tonight: at Phoenix, 7:30 Channel 9, TNT
Sunday: at Phoenix, noon, NBC
Tuesday: at Forum, 7:30, Prime Ticket
Thursday: at Forum,* TBA, Prime Ticket
May 9: at Phoenix,* TBA
* If necessary