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It was the gimmick heard ‘round the NBA, and it turned a potential wipeout into a series.

The Lakers had just ripped through the Phoenix Suns again, passing 30 points in a quarter for the sixth time in nine tries, taking a 32-29 lead in Game 3 Sunday of the Western Conference finals.

Then the game was changed, as were the Suns’ diminishing chances.

Phoenix employed a zone defense with its reserves early in the second quarter, holding the Lakers to 15 points in 12 minutes and creating a crawl space of hope for the undersized Suns.

The Lakers were caught off guard and established a team playoff record with 32 three-point shots in a 118-109 loss that moved the Suns to within a victory of evening the best-of-seven series.


“That’s not really what we want to do as a basketball team,” Coach Phil Jackson said immediately afterward, a theme that continued Monday before the Lakers began a practice centered on busting the zone.

“The zone invited us to settle from the outside and we never really got the ball to move where we wanted to go,” forward Pau Gasol said. “It was a mistake that tends to happen when you face a zone, especially when you’re not used to facing a zone.”

Gasol would know. He made 11 of 14 shots in the game but took only one in the fourth quarter as the Lakers panicked with a whopping 11 three-point attempts, four by Ron Artest.

It wasn’t a surprise to see Gasol go over passing and cutting possibilities against a zone with Artest before Monday’s practice.

Zone defenses became legal in the NBA before the 2001-02 season, though only a handful of teams have adopted it on a part-time basis over the years, and “never in a playoff game,” Jackson said.

A zone can theoretically be beaten with dribble penetration, quick passing and well-timed movement by post players who try to find an opening when a defense sags down toward the key.


“It’s not that hard to figure out,” Gasol said. “Guys need to know positions and openings and how to get the ball to certain places and how to use ball fakes for the defense to not intercept them. It takes a short practice to figure it out.”

Or there’s always Kobe Bryant’s solution: “No, we’re doomed.”

He was kidding when asked if the Lakers could solve the Suns’ defense in time for Game 4 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Jackson said he was no longer considering sitting Andrew Bynum after a string of punchless performances by the Lakers’ center. Slowed by torn cartilage in his right knee for almost four weeks, Bynum had two points and two rebounds in under eight minutes Sunday.

“I think he’s going to be fine,” Jackson said Monday. “I was worried that he was impinging his ability to play by being concerned about his health or his status. He said he’s OK.”

Four of Bynum’s last five games have been quiet at best, but he declined to blame his injury.

“I’m not putting it on the knee,” he said. “The pain has been the same. It hasn’t increased.”


Surgery has been out of the question because Bynum’s return this season would have been doubtful after the injury occurred April 30 against Oklahoma City. “Everything he’s done with therapy and procedures in the past have taken longer than” expected for his recovery, Jackson said. “Three or four weeks could have been six or eight.”

So the Lakers will use Bynum, averaging 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in the series. Whether they’re able to break the Suns’ defense will soon be known.

He’s back

Bryant struggled through one bad shooting night after the other, the discomfort in his swollen right knee increasing until he had more than an ounce of fluid drained after Game 4 in the first round.

Now he has eight consecutive solid games, including a 36-point, 11-assist, nine-rebound effort Sunday. “I had that nasty stuff sucked out of my knee,” he said. “Since then I’ve been fine.”



Good things don’t come in threes

The Lakers have won 10 of 13 playoff games, and there is a statistical correlation between excessive three-point shooting and the losses:


*--* LOSSES ATT MADE PCT 101-96 to Thunder 31 10 323 110-89 to Thunder 22 4 182 118-109 to Suns 32 9 281 *--*

*--* AVERAGES ATT MADE PCT 3 LOSSES 28.3 7.7 272 10 WINS 19.0 7.3 384 *--*




Bynum post-injury

Andrew Bynum tore cartilage in his right knee in Game 6 against Oklahoma City. Since then, his play has been inconsistent. Bynum’s recent playoff games:

*--* Date Opponent Min Bl PF Reb Ast Pts May 2 Utah Game 1 25 0 1 10 2 8 May 4 Utah Game 2 29 4 1 14 0 17 May 8 Utah Game 3 20 1 2 4 2 0 May 10 Utah Game 4 25 2 5 7 1 6 May 17A? Phoenix Game 1 19 0 1 4 0 4 May 19 Phoenix Game 2 18 0 4 7 0 13 May 23 Phoenix Game 3 8 0 4 2 0 2 *--*