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  • Game info: 10:30 pm EDT Thu May 4, 2006
  • TV: TNT

TNT’s John Thompson: Video Lakers-Suns grudge match

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; Lakers lead 3-2.

The Phoenix Suns avoided first-round elimination for one game. It’ll be tougher to do it again without defensive stopper Raja Bell.

With Bell suspended for Game 6, the Los Angeles Lakers look to eliminate the Suns in their best-of-seven series when the teams meet at Staples Center.

Bell lost his cool during the fourth quarter of Phoenix’s 114-97 win in Game 5 on Tuesday, leveling Bryant on a drive to the basket by the Lakers superstar. Bell received his second technical of the game—he and Bryant were issued a double-technical in the first half—to get an automatic ejection.

“I have no respect for him,” Bell said on Wednesday. “I think he’s a pompous, arrogant individual.

“When I get hit in the face multiple times, you’ve stepped across the line with me,” he said. “It’s not basketball anymore. It was basketball for four games, then when he hit me in the face, that was the last straw last night. It still doesn’t excuse me, but that’s just the way I felt about it.”

Bryant, who was ejected four minutes later for arguing with referee Leon Wood, does not feel he did anything bad enough to provoke Bell’s outburst.

“I’m not trying to go out there and elbow somebody, that’s not the way I play,” said Bryant, who had 29 points. “If you get elbowed, you still have to keep your cool. I get elbowed all the time.”

Bell’s one-game suspension, for excessive and unnecessary contact, was just another call the Suns felt hasn’t gone their way this series.

“We’re playing a very heated battle and people on the outside are constantly telling guys that we’ve got to be more physical,” Phoenix point guard Steve Nash said. “It’s tough, and he’s faced a lot this series. He’s done a great job on Kobe, and Kobe gets away with whatever he wants. That’s kind of frustrating.”

The series has been marked by physical play, and Tuesday’s game was no exception, with several elbows thrown by both teams.

“That’s how I grew up playing basketball in Philadelphia,” Bryant said. “I love playing that style. It excites me more than anything.”

Bell’s actions overshadowed a strong effort by Phoenix to remain alive in the series. Trailing 3-1 and heading home after a crushing, one-point loss to the Lakers in Game 4, the Suns broke out their fast-paced offense and scored more than 100 points for the first time since winning Game 1.

Boris Diaw nearly had a triple-double after being named the NBA’s most improved player earlier in the day, finishing with 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Still, without Bell, who has hounded Bryant in every matchup this season, the Suns will be hard pressed to slow down the Lakers, and they’ll lose one of their key scorers.

Bell averaged a career-high 14.7 points this season and led the team with 197 3-pointers.

The Lakers are not without distractions of their own. Center Kwame Brown is under investigation for sexual assault by Los Angeles police, something the team found out about hours before Game 5. Brown started and scored 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting, but was plagued by foul trouble.

The alleged incident occurred early Saturday morning following the Lakers’ Game 3 victory. No charges have been filed and Brown maintains he is innocent.

“I think the only thing it did was take our mind off the game,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who has never lost a first-round series.

Of the seven teams to rally from a 3-1 series deficit, five went on to win the NBA title.

The Suns have never come back from a 3-1 deficit, but they did rebound from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Warriors in the 1976 conference finals.

Game 7, if necessary, is Saturday in Phoenix.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Suns - 2nd seed. Lakers - 7th seed.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Suns - F James Jones, F Shawn Marion, C Diaw, G Nash, G Leandro Barbosa. Lakers - F Luke Walton, F Lamar Odom, C Brown, G Smush Parker, G Bryant.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Suns - Nash, 22.0 ppg and 10.5 apg; Marion, 8.8 rpg. Lakers - Bryant, 24.2 ppg and 6.0 apg; Odom, 12.2 rpg.

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