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Friday, May 28, 2010
'The kid on the other team'

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Long before Richardson and Artest provided the most entertaining minute of the Lakers season, two backup guards stole the show.

Sasha Vujacic, a sixth-year veteran guard out of Slovenia was matched up in the second half against Goran Dragic, a second-year guard out of the same country and things got a little feisty.

Vujacic, playing for the just the second time all playoffs since severely spraining his left ankle at the end of the regular season, went hard at Dragic, who had eight points and eight assists in the Suns' Game 4 win.

The two were called for a double technical foul with 9:43 to play in the fourth quarter and not long after, Vujacic hit a 3-pointer to give him five points for the game as opposed to just two for Dragic.

Vujacic was asked about his "countryman" after the game and treated him much the way that Bryant dismissed Raja Bell back in 2006 in the playoffs against the Suns.

"My countryman?" Vujacic asked. "Oh, the kid on the other team? I don't think I'm fighting my countryman. I'm playing good defense. You got to exploit the weaknesses of your opponent and I think that if that's Nash, if that's Grant Hill, if that's Barbosa, whoever that is, you got to exploit their weaknesses. He's still young and he's learning so a little bit of pressure helps."

Dragic made the Slovenian national team last summer, the same team that Vujacic tried out for and was cut because of injury.

"He's much younger than I am, I never heard of him when I was back home," Vujacic said. "He's playing in a good team, great offense for him, Doug Collins called him a 'herky-jerky player' so he can't find himself in a better position."

Vujacic said he did not deserve a technical when him and Dragic got tangled up after Pau Gasol was fouled by Channing Frye early on in the fourth.

Four technical fouls were called in the game, including one on Bryant shortly thereafter. It was Bryant's third technical of the playoffs, seven gets you a one-game suspension.

"I don't know why I got a technical foul to be honest with you," Vujacic said. "He pushed me, but I didn't want to react & I've been involved in playoffs for a long time, I didn't [push him], go check. I didn't want to react to something like that because it's dumb and there's a lot at stake. We're in the finals of the conference and we're defending our title so everybody that comes across you got to eliminate."

Mental lapse in 4th

The Lakers let a 17-point second-quarter lead dip to eight in the third before building it back to 18, then watched as the Suns slowly chipped away at it bucket by bucket until Jason Richardson banked in a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining in the fourth to tie it.

All of the smiles on the faces of Lakers players that surrounded Ron Artest after his game-winning tip in turned to frowns in the postgame news conferences when reminded of the complete collapse that almost occurred.

"I'm concerned," Kobe Bryant said. "We had a mental lapse. Mental lapses, in transition defense and giving up 3-point shots and great looks when our defense had been steady pretty much all night, except for that spurt where they got back into it."

The Lakers held the Suns to just 45 points on 42.5 percent shooting in building an eight-point lead at the break. In the second half Phoenix scored 56 points on 51.4 percent shooting and almost pulled off the upset.

The nature of the loss left the Suns feeling confident heading back home for Saturday's Game 6, even though a loss will end their season.

"We came back obviously with a great effort," Steve Nash said, who scored nine points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter when the Suns made their final push. "Maybe we deserved this game, maybe we didn't and lost. They held home court. We'll go back and do the same and we'll come back here for Game 7."

With memories of the 3-1 series lead that the Lakers held in the first round over Phoenix back in his rookie season in 2006 still fresh in his mind, Andrew Bynum was clear about stating the urgency of winning Game 6.

"We got to go there and definitely try to close them out," Bynum said. "Play with the same energy and intensity and really just try to shut them down . . . We know we need to move on. That's what we're looking at. That's our motivation. Win one more game and we're there at the big show."

They said it

" 'Recover,' I like that choice of words." -- Jackson to a reporter before the game who suggested that the Lakers needed to "recover" from their two losses in Games 3 and 4 in Phoenix.

This and that

The Lakers are now 9-0 in Game 5 since Pau Gasol joined the team and 19-0 all time in Game 5 at home when the series is tied 2-2 . . . Kobe Bryant is now tied with Magic Johnson for the most Lakers playoff games in a career with 190 . . . The Lakers are shooting just 42.1 percent in the playoffs against the zone versus 48.2 percent against man to man.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com