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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lakers whip Suns behind Kobe's 40

LOS ANGELES (AP) Kobe Bryant dribbled toward the Lakers' bench, luring Channing Frye and Jason Richardson along with him. Bryant leaned back and launched a feather-soft jumper over Phoenix's double team, neatly beating the first-quarter buzzer.

That's about when the Suns should have noted the bright yellow brace on Bryant's right knee is the color of a caution sign.

Even with a balky knee and a litany of additional woes, Bryant still is among the most dangerous postseason scorers in NBA history — and he had no problem giving Los Angeles an early leg up in the Western Conference finals.

Bryant scored 40 points, Lamar Odom added 19 points and 19 rebounds, and the Lakers opened the series with ruthless offensive efficiency in a 128-107 victory on Monday night.

"Just being aggressive, playing my game," Bryant said. "Got shots, took them. Got lanes to the basket, took them."

Pau Gasol had 21 points for the top-seeded Lakers, who won their seventh straight playoff game and snapped the Suns' six-game streak with a phenomenal second half, highlighted by Bryant's 21-point third quarter.

Bryant barely stepped on the Lakers' practice court during the past week to rest his ailing knee, ankle, finger and back — all minor impediments to a major talent.

"I practice so much during the season," Bryant said. "In the off-season, I work a lot. To take a week off, I'm not going to lose all the work I put in prior to that."

The defending NBA champions beat third-seeded Phoenix at its own up-tempo game when necessary, fluidly running the court to set up baskets for Bryant in his sixth straight 30-point game. Bryant then rested for most of the fourth quarter in the 11th 40-point game of his playoff career.

"They played great, one of the best games I've seen them play in the playoffs this season," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.

"Kobe kind of controlled the whole game. I thought we could have withstood the game that he had . . . but when he's making his jumper like that, there's not a whole lot you can do about it."

Game 2 is Wednesday night at Staples Center.

Amare Stoudemire scored 23 points and Steve Nash had 13 points and 13 assists for Phoenix, which hadn't lost since April 24.

Robin Lopez started at center and scored 14 points in his playoff debut, but Phoenix couldn't keep up with the champs' height and 58-percent shooting in the Suns' first conference finals appearance since 2006.

Phoenix also ran into the same height problems faced by Utah and Oklahoma City earlier in the Lakers' playoff run. Los Angeles committed just nine turnovers in Game 1 — its third straight single-digit turnover game — while outrebounding the smaller Suns 42-34.

"They're probably going to continue to be taller than us as the series goes on, so we've got to . . . make everything as tough as possible," said Nash, whose injured eye didn't bother him. "We played hard, but we didn't make enough shots, and we had a few too many breakdowns."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson revealed before the game that Bryant's right knee was drained "a while ago," moving it to the top of the injury list for last season's NBA Finals MVP. But Bryant showed no ill effects this night.

Brown still around

CLEVELAND (AP) The Cleveland Cavaliers began their off-season review. It didn't begin with Mike Brown being shown the door.

Brown remained in place as coach on Monday as the Cavs began working on their assessment of what went wrong this season. Cleveland was ousted from the playoffs last week by the Boston Celtics, who upset the NBA's top regular-season team in six games.

Cavs general manager Danny Ferry and the team's other decision makers took the weekend off to get away from the emotion of the stunning loss, which could hasten superstar LeBron James' exit as a free agent.

On Friday, owner Dan Gilbert said his evaluation of the organization — "from top to bottom" — would likely be completed within seven-to-10 days.

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