EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – For much of the Los Angeles Lakers' final practice before the Western Conference finals, Jordan Farmar(notes), Adam Morrison(notes) and the rest of the team's reserves raced the ball up court and fired shot after shot. Backup center D.J. Mbenga(notes), whose range rarely extends much outside the lane, hoisted 3-pointers, a curious decision given that Mbenga has attempted just two during his entire NBA career.
The reason for the chaotic scene? The Lakers' reserves were trying to prepare the starters for what they figure to face against the Phoenix Suns.
The Lakers' preparation for the Suns wasn't limited to scrimmaging in practice. Their first two playoff opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz, also preferred to play at a fast pace. Neither, however, is quite as adept at it as the Suns, who are averaging 105.8 points in the postseason while shooting an NBA-best 41.7 percent from 3-point range.
While the Thunder and Jazz were solid defensive tests, the Lakers know the Suns pose a more creative challenge that includes anything from Steve Nash(notes) abruptly pulling up for 3-pointers to Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) thundering down the lane off pick-and-rolls. Jason Richardson(notes) has also thrived in these playoffs, making 51.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.
The Suns "have some sense of what they're doing on their runs," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They're going to cast it up. They're going to shoot 3-pointers, they plan on doing it and they're going to set it up for that."
The Lakers won three of the teams' four meetings this season and are 7-2 against the Suns since acquiring Pau Gasol(notes). Los Angeles also has a length advantage over Phoenix, which could get some help from the return of center Robin Lopez(notes). The reigning NBA champs are considered a strong favorite in this series, but the key for the Suns is to try to negate the Lakers' size by speeding the pace as much as possible – especially with Los Angeles still nursing some injuries.
Kobe Bryant(notes) has played through knee and finger injuries, though the week off between series figures to help him. Center Andrew Bynum(notes) has been slowed by a right knee injury that is worsening. It's anyone's guess what Bynum will provide from game to game. The Lakers are hoping their size will help them get a lot of offensive rebounds that could keep the Suns from running wild, but if Bynum struggles to get back on defense, Los Angeles could lean heavily on versatile forward Lamar Odom(notes).
"They have a great point guard who pushes the ball really, really well and makes smart decisions," Gasol said. "It will put us in a position where we have to put a lot of focus … going back defensively and sprinting – sprinting a lot. It's just what it's going to take.
"We really have to support our guards. It happened against Oklahoma. The games we were better, we were sprinting back and building walls on [the Thunder's Russell] Westbrook and all those guys. It's really important Andrew, myself and Lamar get back defensively, talk to our guards and make sure we support them."
When asked if the Suns' up-tempo offense could force him to not play Bynum as much, Jackson said: "Speed is a big part of it. We have to stay up with it."
And as much as the Lakers tried to use their reserves to imitate the Suns, Jackson knows there's no perfect way to prepare for the real thing.
"Reality is reaction," Jackson said. "It's about getting yourself ready to react and play. You can do all the strategizing you have to do. But if you don't make the appropriate reactions, then you're going to have trouble."