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Riley Turns Down Kentucky, Wakes Up Lakers, 122-97

March 28, 1985|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Asked earlier this week what it would take for him to consider returning to his old Kentucky home, Laker Coach Pat Riley said a phone call and "an awfully big horse farm."

The phone call came Wednesday, when Kentucky Athletic Director Cliff Hagan asked Riley if he would interested in becoming a candidate for the head coaching job vacated last Friday night by Joe B. Hall.

As for the horse farm, Riley didn't allow the negotiations to progress that far. He told Hagan thanks, but no thanks.

Then, Riley turned his attention back to the job at hand, preparing the Lakers to challenge Boston and anyone else in their way for the National Basketball Assn. championship.

The Lakers looked ready enough Wednesday night at the Kingdome, burying the Seattle SuperSonics, 122-97.

"I was flattered," Riley said of the call from Hagan. "That is one of the best college coaching jobs in the country, but it's not the right time for me. I don't know if it will ever be the right time."

When it appeared that Hall might retire after last season, Riley was approached unofficially about the job. A former All-American basketball player at Kentucky, he expressed some interest at the time.

Hall decided against retirement then, but he told Riley last summer that he probably would not remain in the job for more than one more season.

Riley might have considered that an invitation to keep his options open, but he apparently made the decision not to pursue the Kentucky job during the off-season, when he signed a multi-year contract with the Lakers.

"I've got the best job in the league," Riley said following Wednesday night's victory. "I'm just starting my career here. We've got a job to do."

The Lakers have been doing it extremely well lately, winning 10 of their last 11 games and 22 of their last 25.

If they win seven of their last 10 regular-season games, they will finish with 60 victories for only the second time since 1973. At 53-19, they are tied with Philadelphia for the NBA's second-best record.

Only Boston has a better record.

"It's now a tossup between L.A. and Boston," Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens said.

Asked which team would win in a seven-game series, Wilkens said, "Today, I would pick the Lakers. But 10 games from now, that might change."

The Lakers were undefeated in March until Tuesday night, when they lost, 116-113, in overtime at Portland.

"We've been on the right track for two months," Riley said. "But sometimes you can be on the right track and get run over by a train. That's what happened last night."

If anyone was going to be run over Wednesday night, it wasn't going to be the Lakers.

They opened the game by making 10 of their first 14 shots and led by 17 points less than eight minutes into the first quarter.

The SuperSonics cut the lead to six against the Lakers' second team in the second quarter but were again down by 17 at the end of three quarters and fell behind by 26 early in the fourth.

What do you expect from a team that starts a rookie named Frank Brickowski at center against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

Perhaps that's not fair to Brickowski because several of his teammates are equally anonymous, but none of them was so clearly overmatched as he was against the Lakers.

"Brickowski's very physical," Riley said, "but he's still learning how to play."

He has received an advanced course in recent days because of the season-ending finger injury to All-Star center Jack Sikma. Seattle has lost all four games since Sikma's injury and is rapidly falling out of playoff contention.

With Sikma in the lineup, the Sonics beat the Lakers in three of their previous four meetings this season. They had held the Lakers to an average of 105 points a game, almost 12 less than their season average.

But the only player who performed exceptionally well for them in this game was power forward Tom Chambers, who came off the bench to score 34 points.

Rookie forward Tim McCormick had 16 points and 15 rebounds, but he missed 7 of 15 shots from the free-throw line. Maybe his name should be Brickowski.

For the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott scored 21, James Worthy 19 and Magic Johnson 15. He also had 10 assists.

In 20 minutes, Mitch Kupchak had 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Laker Notes

The Lakers return home for games against Dallas Friday night and Phoenix Sunday night. . . . Of their remaining 10 games, six are at the Forum. . . . A Seattle columnist speculated in print Wednesday that Sonic Coach Lenny Wilkens isn't doing everything within his power to win games. If the Sonics finish strong and earn a playoff berth, they likely will meet the Lakers in the first round. If the Sonics continue to play under .500 and don't make the playoffs, they will be included in the lottery for the first-draft choice. That would give them a chance to add Patrick Ewing to their roster next season. . . . If the Sonics don't make the playoffs, this probably was the Lakers' last game in the Kingdome. The Sonics are returning to the Coliseum next season.

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