PHOENIX -- And on the day after, the Suns laughed. Not at the happy place they now find themselves, tied two games apiece with the Lakers in the Western Conference finals after two straight home wins, or even themselves, but at everyone who had doubted them following a miserable first two games in Los Angeles.
"We were supposed to lose, right?" Suns guard Jared Dudley said jokingly. "I'm supposed to be on vacation right now, right?"
If any tension has risen along with expectations following wins of Games 3 and 4, it certainly wasn't apparent Wednesday morning as the team conducted a light practice before boarding a flight to Los Angeles for Thursday's Game 5 at Staples Center.
Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Leandro Barbosa played a game of knockout after practice, Dudley started planning his next video for JMZ [http://twitter.com/jaredDudley619] , and everyone else seemed to linger a little longer than they had to, basking perhaps, in the afterglow of Tuesday night's impressive win over the suddenly reeling Lakers.
"We're confident and we're loose, but we're determined. We're not satisfied yet," Suns forward Amare Stoudemire said. "We just have to make sure we have the same intensity we've had the last two games. We have to approach Game 5 as if it was Game 7. It's a matter of will. Us implementing our will on the game."
Still, the Suns are aware of their role in this series -- spoiler, underdog, scrappy overachievers. Whatever description you prefer, they're fine with.
They aren't however, conceding the idea that they were able to even the series because of the Lakers failings.
"Everybody on this team believes that we've worked hard and have a right to be where we are," Suns forward Grant Hill said. "Nothing was given to us, we had to fight for it and earn it."
Looking back on how poorly things went in Games 1 and 2, Suns coach Alvin Gentry now says that a lot of the blame should fall on his shoulders for trying to get too creative with a new defensive scheme.
In the first two games, the Suns played almost exclusively man-to-man defense, and tried to front the post to help mitigate the Lakers' size advantage. The result were two lopsided losses, huge games for Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, and questions about Stoudemire's ability to defend, well, anyone.
In Games 3 and 4, Gentry decided to scrap all of those best-laid, but ultimately fruitless plans, and deploy a zone defense against the Lakers. The results have been well-documented.
"Me being the smart coach that I am, I tried to change a couple things and try to do things differently, and that definitely didn't work out," Gentry said jokingly. "That's more on me than it is on the guys. [In Games 3 and 4] we kind of went back to who we are."
Nash's nose, straightening?
Steve Nash's nose is still broken. It might, however, be straightening out some. Asked if there were any lingering effects from the poke Derek Fisher took across the bridge of his nose in Game 4, Nash smiled and said, "No, it stung for a second but it's not bad. They've kind of put it back the way it was, back to some semblance of normal, if there was a normal."
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com