Kobe blinds Suns

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LOS ANGELES, May 18- Kobe Bryant, showing no rust after a week without practice, scored 40 points and the Los Angeles Lakers ripped Phoenix 128-107 on Monday in the opener of the NBA Western Conference playoff finals.Bryant scored 21 points in the third quarter, his highest-scoring period in any game this season, despite not having worked out in the past week with the reigning NBA champion Lakers due to nagging knee injuries.

"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, make their defense have to make an adjustment," Bryant said.

Bryant’s 11th career 40-point playoff effort, and career-high sixth playoff game in a row with at least 30 points, came after he conducted only shooting drills during an idle week following a second-round playoff sweep of Utah.

"I feel a lot better. (Resting helped) tremendously. I was able to get stronger," Bryant said.

The Lakers, who host game two in the best-of-seven series on Wednesday, hope to advance to a third consecutive NBA Finals, where they would face the winner of the Eastern Conference championship series between Orlando and Boston.

"It’s not like we’re going to hang our heads and not try to win game two," said Suns guard Steve Nash. "We just didn’t plkay well. Kobe was outstanding. We just have to try to play better. I expect better things in game two."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson had been concerned that Bryant’s absence from workouts might make it tougher for him to blend with the team or shoot well, but such fears were unfounded.

"It felt like he got exactly what he had to have, the amount of rest and shooting practice he had to have," Jackson said.

"He was able to get involved. We were concerned his shooting might not be as keen or his reaction might be off, but it wasn’t."

Spanish star Pau Gasol added 21 points for the Lakers while teammate Lamar Odom came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 19 rebounds, a reserve role Bryant said is critcal to the Lakers’ success.

"We become a much tougher matchup," Bryant said. "He is such a great player. He sacrifices a lot coming off the bench for our team. When he does that, it means a lot."

Los Angeles ended the first quarter with an 18-4 run to grab a 33-26 lead, the Suns missing nine of their last 11 shots in a period that ended with a baseline basket by Bryant at the buzzer.

The Lakers pushed the lead to 62-55 at half-time, with Odom having 15 points and eight rebounds in the first two quarters.

"I just wanted to stay focused and I was able to do that," Odom said.

Jackson credited Odom’s play with lifting the Lakers at the beginning of the game.

"It jump-started us in the first quarter, got us off to a good start, and his rebounding in the second half was important for us," Jackson said.

Bryant, who hit 13-of-23 from the field in the game, took command in the third quarter as the Lakers stretched the lead to as many as 19 points before settling for a 93-79 edge entering the fourth quarter.

A 12-2 Lakers run boosted the Los Angeles lead to 115-89 and from there it was simply a matter of running out the final six minutes to claim victory.

Suns coach Alvin Gentry was confident his club could make some adjustments to make scoring more difficult for the Lakers.

"They got into the teeth of our defense much too often and much too easy," Gentry said. "It was them breaking down our perimeter defense and driving into the paint. That’s a standpoint I think we can get better in."

Amare Stoudemire, who led the Suns with 23 points, could only shake his head and look to game two.

"We didn’t play well. We didn’t quite use the strategy we talked about before the game," Stoudemire said. "Kobe is going to get his numbers. We have to contain the other guys. We have to do a better job Wednesday."

Odom is the major "other guy" on Phoenix’s mind.

"He did a great job in the first half," Stoudemire said. "We have to do a better job of keeping those guys off the boards."

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