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NBA: Defending Garnett tough task for Lakers

L.A. has handled other big men, but the Celtics forward will be a different challenge.

BOSTON - While Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers used an explosive offense to reach the NBA Finals, their defensive adjustments were critical as well.

Now, after getting past the likes of Utah's Carlos Boozer and San Antonio's Tim Duncan in the Western Conference playoffs, they face perhaps their most daunting challenge in Boston's Kevin Garnett, a versatile 7-footer who can do damage from the inside as well as the perimeter.

"My favorite word in this series is going to be


," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said yesterday. "A guy like that, you need as much help as possible."

Pau Gasol figures to be matched up on Garnett most of the time when the Finals begin tonight, but Odom and just about everyone else who plays for the Lakers will be called upon to add support.

"You can't stop him," Gasol said. "I'll try to make it as tough for him as I can. I thought I did a decent job on Tim Duncan. Every one of us is going to have to do his best."

Their best was certainly good enough in the first three rounds of the playoffs. After sweeping Denver, the Lakers had their hands full against Utah before winning in six games, thanks in great part to their defensive effort against the burly Boozer, who was pretty well held in check in five of the six games.

Duncan dominated Gasol in the first half of the first game in the conference finals, but the Lakers were much more effective against the Spurs' star after that, and also did a good job defensively against Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen provide outside shooting threats, but the key would seem to be Garnett, a player the Lakers targeted last summer, with Odom reportedly part of the package offered to Minnesota. But they lost out to the Celtics.

Garnett spent his first 12 NBA seasons with the Timberwolves - a Western Conference team.

"We have faced him in the playoffs before," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Three of our players were in that 2004 playoffs against Minnesota and obviously know his effect on the series, even out to the three-point line as a shooter."

Garnett was the MVP that season, but the Timberwolves lost to the Lakers in the conference finals - the closest he came to reaching the NBA Finals before this year.

Garnett averaged 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in two games against Los Angeles this season. The Celtics won both, but they came before the Lakers acquired the 7-foot Gasol from Memphis on Feb. 1.

Garnett is averaging 21.1 points and 9.8 rebounds in 20 playoff games.

"You have to try to front him, try to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible," Odom said. "He's so tall, so strong, so athletic, he's going to catch the ball. Of course he can shoot the ball from 18, 19 feet. He dunks the basketball. So you have to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible."

Korver to have surgery.

Utah Jazz forward Kyle Korver was scheduled to have surgery to remove a bone spur on his left foot last night in New York.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor isn't sure how long the former 76er will have to stay off his foot, but expects Korver to be fine by training camp.

Suns have four hopefuls.

The search for a replacement for Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni apparently is down to four candidates.

While Suns general manager Steve Kerr didn't call them finalists, he praised the four individually and said all remained under consideration.

The last of the group, San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, was interviewed Tuesday, one day after Detroit Pistons assistant Terry Porter had his second interview for the job. Two other assistant coaches, Elston Turner of Houston and Tyrone Corbin of Utah, also have had second interviews.

Brown wants Moe.

Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown is pursuing Doug Moe to join his new coaching staff.

The Bobcats announced yesterday that Brown hired Dave Hanners as an assistant, and retained Phil Ford and Jeff Capel from former coach Sam Vincent's staff.

Brown indicated he was trying to get Moe, a teammate of his at North Carolina, to agree to return to the bench. The 69-year-old Moe is scheduled to retire as an assistant with the Nuggets.



Game 1:

Lakers at Celtics, tonight at 9