The Boston Celtics' series clinching, Game Six victory over the Orlando Magic was the first step to a much-anticipated rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals, and now it's up to the Los Angeles Lakers to see if they can join them.
An answered prayer from Ron Artest off of an errant Kobe Bryant shot gave the Lakers a 3-2 advantage in the series, and this will be the third time Los Angeles has had the opportunity to close out an opponent on the road.
But, the Lakers' victories over Oklahoma City and Utah are not similar to the Phoenix series because Los Angeles defeated Oklahoma City decisively in Game Five before eeking out a victory in Game Six, and they swept the Jazz in four games.
The Suns have the veteran experience the young Thunder team didn't, and Phoenix's use of various zone defenses have helped diminish the huge size advantage the Lakers have in the post.
If the Lakers can find a way to dispose of the Suns, they will join the Celtics in a Finals series most Los Angeles fans have hoped for since the Lakers were humiliated in 2008.
The images of that inglorious defeat are still fresh in the memories of most, as are the words of Paul Pierce, who belittled the Lakers' championship of 2009 by saying it was illegitimate because Los Angeles didn't defeat Boston for the title.
The Lakers would love nothing more than a chance to silence Pierce, and if they should advance, Los Angeles would have the privilege of beginning the series from the comforts of the Staples Center.
But, Phoenix comes first, and the Lakers can't afford to get complacent in Game Six, because a poor showing could give the Suns even more confidence if a Game Seven becomes necessary.
The most important thing for the Lakers is to bring the same type of defensive intensity they did in Game Five, and they must attack Phoenix's zone in the same manner.
The Suns are the best offensive team in basketball, so completely stopping them is impossible, but the Lakers have been successful when they have managed to obstruct Steve Nash's vision in the passing lanes.
The pick and roll offense has been the Suns' best weapon, but the Lakers were able to counter it by swarming Nash in the lane, and then cutting off Amar'e Stoudemire's path to the basket, and collapsing around him.
The Suns' reserves have been spectacular in the Suns' previous victories in Phoenix, and in Game Five in Los Angeles, and the Lakers can't afford to let them repeat their performance in Game Six—especially Channing Frye and Jared Dudley, each of whose three point shooting allowed the Suns to trim huge deficits in Game Five, and almost send the game to overtime.
The Suns will not lie down for Game Six and they will have the emotional advantage of the home crowd, so the Lakers must play focused with the intent of ending the series in this game.
It's easy to get caught looking ahead, especially when the Finals opponent will be the hated Celtics, but the Lakers must understand they are still in the thick of a series that is still very much up in the air.
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