LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal was his usual unstoppable self after a sluggish start, dominating the middle and scoring at will.
Nevertheless, coach Scott Skiles figured the Phoenix Suns had a much bigger problem Sunday: themselves.
''Shaq is Shaq,'' Skiles said after O'Neal scored 37 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 105-77 victory over the Suns in the opener of their Western Conference semifinals. ''Our problem was not Shaquille O'Neal, our problem was our ineptness handling the ball.''
Skiles pointed to the 28 points the Lakers scored after 23 Phoenix turnovers, and the four points scored by his team after only 12 turnovers by Los Angeles.
''That's the game right there,'' he said.
There were other factors, of course:
--O'Neal made a shambles of the Suns' inside game on both ends of the court, making 14 of 21 shots after a 1-for-7 start and helping limit Phoenix to 34 points in the paint.
--Phoenix made only 28 of 77 shots (36.4 percent), and a miserable 3-of-18 from 3-point range.
--The Lakers made 40 of 92 shots (43.5 percent), 4-of-11 from 3-point range, and outrebounded the Suns 52-42.
The Suns were in the game at halftime, trailing 46-41. The Lakers outscored them in the final 24 minutes 59-36.
''We ran into the No. 1 team in the NBA, and they showed us why today,'' said Anfernee Hardaway, who led the Suns with 25 points.
After the first quarter, that is. The Lakers followed O'Neal's lead, shooting just 5-of-23 in the opening period. However, thanks in part to seven Phoenix turnovers, the game was tied 18-18.
''It was good for us because even though we kind of stunk up the place offensively, we still managed to stay in the game with our defense,'' said Kobe Bryant, who scored 25 points and put the clamps on Jason Kidd.
The Suns hung tough in the second period, but the game got away from them in the third, which ended with the Lakers on top 75-60.
Phoenix entered the game rested, having eliminated the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs last Tuesday night. The Lakers, meanwhile, were extended to five games by Sacramento, winning the finale 113-86 Friday night.
Those factors turned out to be of little consequence as the Lakers made it five wins in as many games against the Suns this season, and 17-3 in the last 20 games between the teams.
''I thought our players looked tired in the first half, they got a little bit of an energy boost in the third quarter,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
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