Lakers scorch Suns, take 2-0 series lead
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers are halfway to another NBA Finals, and their fans already know who they want their dominant defending champions to play next.
Pau Gasol scored 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant had 21 points and 13 assists, and the Lakers roared away in the final minutes for a 124-112 victory over the Phoenix Suns last night to claim a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Ron Artest scored 18 points for the Lakers, who won their eighth straight playoff game and moved within striking distance of a showdown with the Celtics, who lead Orlando, 2-0, in the East. For the second straight game, the chants rained down from the Staples Center crowd in the final minutes: “We want Boston!’’
The Lakers remained unbeaten at home in the postseason despite a much-improved effort from the Suns, who lost the opener by 21 points. Phoenix tied it at 90-all heading to the final period of Game 2, but Gasol and Bryant flawlessly led the Lakers to another high-scoring victory.
“We’ve been able to play both styles of basketball,’’ Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “We like to control the pace, but we feel comfortable if it’s an accelerated pace.’’
The Lakers certainly seem to be accelerating the Suns’ exit from the playoffs after hitting better than 57 percent of their shots and scoring a jaw-dropping 252 points in the first two games.
“We can’t slow them down,’’ Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we played well offensively, but every time we tried to make an adjustment to slow them down offensively, they would go somewhere else. There’s a good reason they’re the world champs, but we’ll keep plugging away, keep trying.’’
Jason Richardson scored 27 points for Phoenix, and Steve Nash had 11 points and 15 assists. Amare Stoudemire, who belittled Lamar Odom’s 19-point, 19-rebound performance in the opener as “a lucky game,’’ finished with 18 points and six rebounds and Odom had 17 points and 11 boards in another superb game off the bench.
Grant Hill scored 14 of his 23 points in the third quarter as Phoenix erased a 14-point deficit. But the Lakers went back ahead by 11 midway through the fourth with a 9-0 run.