Suns’ Stoudemire shrugs off blame |

Suns’ Stoudemire shrugs off blame

AP Sports Writer

PHOENIX (AP) – Amare Stoudemire is taking a lot of heat for his defense, or lack of it, thus far in the Western Conference finals. Then again, nobody ever confused him with Kevin Garnett as an NBA stopper – and he is playing against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The teams returned to practice on Friday after a day off, with the Lakers up 2-0 as the series shifts to Phoenix for Game 3 on Sunday night.

Stoudemire indicated defensive strategy, not his individual failings, were to blame for Phoenix’s interior defensive woes.

“I’m doing everything the coaching staff is asking me to do, every single thing,” he said after the Suns’ workout, “from fronting the post, to doubling Kobe, to helping out. Those guys are big down there.”

Phoenix is trying to become the first team in 47 tries to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a seven-game series against a Phil Jackson-coached team. Those teams, of course, have been laden with talent, and these Lakers are no exceptions.

Steve Nash said the only way for Phoenix to beat the defending NBA champions is with the effort and chemistry that made the Suns such a surprising success this season.

“They’re a more talented team than we are,” Nash said. “They’re a more balanced team. It’s probably not a stretch in most people’s minds just to say they’re a better team than we are. So how do we overcome that? That’s just all spirit, fight and belief. We’ve got to rely heavily on those characteristics with this group.”

Stoudemire might be playing his final games for Phoenix. He can opt out of the final year of his contract with the Suns after this season and would like a maximum deal. He was one of the most dominant players in the NBA since the All-Star break, but two games against the Lakers have rekindled debate as to whether he is worth that much money.

“I understand. That’s fine, that’s fine,” Stoudemire said. “Last year, this same team with Shaq, we didn’t make the playoffs. You get rid of Shaq and add me and we’re in the Western Conference finals. That alone should tell you what I bring to the team.”

Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said critics should lay off his All-Star forward.

“I think you guys are making way, way too much of that,” Gentry said. “We had a lot of guys out of position on certain plays. If you’re telling me because of the statement he made everybody is looking at him more closely then OK, fine. But to say that he’s the guy that’s out of position is not an accurate statement. That’s not true at all.”

Gentry was referring to Stoudemire’s statement that Lamar Odom had “a lucky game” with 19 points and 19 rebounds in the series opener.

Odom, who had 17 points and 11 boards in Game 2, has caused matchup problems for the Suns, but Pau Gasol has been even more of a nightmare. The Spanish 7-footer is averaging 25 points in the series, shooting 66 percent (21 of 32).

“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Kobe Bryant said. “He’s still underrated. His work around the paint, his work in the mid-range, turnaround (shots), passing abilities, defensive ability. Those are things we’re all fully aware he’s capable of doing.”

Stoudemire said Gasol is helped by the company he keeps.

“He’s very, very crafty,” Stoudemire said. “He’s great using his left and right hand. He’s a phenomenal player. But he has help. He has a lot of help with (Andrew) Bynum, Odom, (Ron) Artest. The lineup they have on the court, you’ve got to guard all those guys, not just Gasol.”

Stoudemire didn’t even mention Bryant, who followed his 40-point performance in Game 1 with 21 points and a career playoff high 13 assists in Game 2.

On offense, Stoudemire could use some help, especially from Channing Frye. Frye led the Suns with 172 3-pointers in the regular season. The 6-foot-11 player can bring out big defenders, opening space for Stoudemire, when he’s sinking shots from the top of the key. But he’s 1 of 13 in the series.

“It’s happened before,” Frye said of his cold spell. “I was just a little off-rhythm and they did a good job of taking advantage of that. … For me it’s just going out there and relaxing and just playing.”

Gasol said it’s important for the Lakers not to relax as the series moves into hostile ground.

“You stretch the series, put yourself in the position where you can lose the series and get knocked out,” he said, “so we really don’t want to do that at all. So we understand where we’re at, what we’re playing for and the importance of every game. We’re a veteran team, it’s not our first rodeo here.”