PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns, trying desperately to jump off the sick bed and into the playoffs, had to play a game Tuesday night without three starters.
If that wasn't bad enough, they were playing the Lakers.
And if that wasn't bad enough, then what the Lakers did to them surely was. The Lakers drop-kicked the Suns to within 1 1/2 games of missing the playoffs with a 130-112 crusher at Veterans Coliseum.
While Phoenix struggles to keep ahead of Seattle for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, the Lakers continued rolling on their merry way to what looks like the championship series.
The blowout of the Suns was the Lakers' eighth consecutive victory and raised their season record to 50-18. Even though seven of the eight victories came against sub-.500 teams, it doesn't seem to matter a lot to the Lakers.
"There's no complaints, but no elation either," Magic Johnson said. "We're just playing all right."
Except for a defenseless first half when they played all wrong and allowed 61 points, the Lakers weren't threatened much by the Suns, who went into battle without forward Larry Nance (groin), James Edwards (knee) and Walter Davis (ankle).
If you add them up, Suns players have missed a total of 217 games because of injury or illness, which has forced Coach John MacLeod to use 21 different starting lineups this season.
"This is the worst time of the year for injuries," MacLeod said. "We're supposed to be mounting a charge, but you can't mount a charge if you don't have a cavalry."
The Lakers, meanwhile, had plenty of just about everything. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 26 points, Johnson scored 24 and Byron Scott had 21, including a rim-swaying dunk with just under five minutes left that started emptying the stands.
Scott took a behind-the-back pass from Johnson and threw the ball threw the basket over 6-8 Charles Jones, who was actually playing center.
"When Byron dunked, you could tell that was it right there," Johnson said.
The Lakers led 113-100 at that point, a lead that grew to 17 with 4:19 left when Coach Pat Riley began pulling his starters.
MacLeod had his pulled for him. Without his three starters, MacLeod coaxed 19 points from Alvan Adams, 17 points and 12 rebounds from Maurice Lucas and . . . well, that was about all.
Riley cautioned the Lakers about letting down against the undermanned Suns, but that didn't help them much in the first half when Phoenix shot 59%, trailed by just seven points and was playing pretty well.
"We were flat in a lot of areas, but we had to fight through that," Riley said.
The Suns even found themselves with an unexpected 73-70 lead early in the third quarter before they fell apart. Riley brought in Larry Spriggs for Kurt Rambis and Michael Cooper for James Worthy, and the Suns didn't score a point for 4 minutes 35 seconds.
When that was over, so was the game, almost. The Lakers had an 83-73 lead and Phoenix never got closer than the five-point deficit, 92-87, with under a minute left in the third quarter.
"We were right there and then they exploded," MacLeod said.
But two minutes later, the Lakers were ahead, 101-87, and all that was left was the spectacle of Scott's massive dunk.
"I always enjoy a jam," Scott said.
And the Lakers are having a great time beating a lot of poor teams. The next one they play is hardly a stiff, though.
"When we play Houston on Friday night, we'll be playing a team a lot of the so-called experts say is going to take us out of the playoffs," Riley said. "It's going to be a definite challenge for us."
Challenges have been hard to come by lately for the Lakers, except for getting up for teams they're supposed to beat, which is not always as easy as it sounds.
And for a half, the Suns were poised for an upset, no matter what health problems they have.
"They kind of shocked us," Scott said. "Pat started pulling everybody if they didn't play defense, so everybody started playing it."
The Suns scored only 51 points in the second half, and the Lakers wound up winning in a walk, another easy victory.
"I don't know if there's some chemical in our brains that twitches on or what," Riley said, trying to explain the Lakers' second-half inspiration.
That might do for starters, which is something the Suns didn't have enough of.
Laker Notes The Suns had reserve forward Mike Sanders back for the first time since he went on the injured list Thanksgiving Day with a knee injury. . . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made 12 of 17 field-goal attempts and needs to take 20 more shots to pass Elvin Hayes (24,272) for the all-time lead . . . The Lakers are 24-4 since Jan. 16 . . . The Lakers, who had 42 rebounds (Abdul-Jabbar led with eight) to 38 for the Suns, are 37-6 when they outrebound an opponent, but just 11-12 when they don't. They are 2-0 in games when they get as many rebounds as the other team.