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Suns Try to Slow Pace, but Lakers Run Right Through Them, 123-98

April 01, 1985|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

Most teams run their offenses. The Phoenix Suns walked theirs Sunday night at the Forum against the Lakers. Call it the Phoenix Phour Corners.

Call it desperation.

"I don't think we can beat them slowing it down or running the ball," Sun center Alvan Adams said. "But at least we tried to do something different."

The problem for the Suns is that while they went into slow motion, the Lakers ran and ran and ran. They led by 24 at halftime and by 30 early in the third quarter before winning, 123-98.

"To come in here and try to play a speed game with their guys is suicidal," said Phoenix Coach John MacLeod, whose team is missing three starters because of injuries. "That's playing right into their hands.

"If we play exactly the way they want to play, they're going to win 100 of 100."

So MacLeod instructed his guards to hold the ball until the 24-second clock reached 10 and then start the offense, which requires patience, wise shot selection and good marksmanship.

It was the same strategy MacLeod used in Philadelphia earlier this season, when the Suns lost, 100-99.

"To play the Lakers successfully, the way we're banged up, you've got to play cat and mouse," MacLeod said.

The Suns did that well enough for the first quarter and were even, 26-26.

But then the Lakers countered with their midcourt trapping defense, which disrupted the Suns' offense and forced them into several hurried shots.

While the Lakers were scoring on seven of their first eight shots in the second quarter, the Suns scored on only one of their first seven.

Less than six minutes into the quarter, the Lakers had a 16-point lead. The Suns pulled to within nine, but then the Lakers outscored them, 17-2, in the final 3 1/2 minutes before halftime.

They were on their way to their 13th victory in the last 14 games. They lost only one game in March while improving their record to 55-19, second-best in the National Basketball Assn. It was the Lakers' 13th straight victory at the Forum.

It seemed like the only thing most of the 15,922 fans stayed around for in the second half was to see when 7-5 reserve center Chuck Nevitt would get the call. It came with 4:52 remaining. He finished with five blocked shots.

Asked about the merits of his strategy following the game, MacLeod said: "Either way, it's difficult."

He didn't have many alternatives.

The Suns, who have lost nine of their last 10 games, are playing without guard Walter Davis for the rest of the season. Forward Larry Nance missed 12 games before returning Saturday night in a loss to the Clippers in Phoenix, but he reaggravated a groin injury and may not play again this season. Center James Edwards has missed the last two games.

As if that weren't enough, a fourth starter, power forward Maurice Lucas, injured his knee Sunday night and will be X-rayed today.

Phoenix players already have missed 234 games because of injuries this season, four short of the all-time record set by Golden State during the 1982-83 season. If the Suns hadn't let Paul Westphal go before the season, they probably would have put the record out of reach by now.

Still, some of the Lakers thought Phoenix should have tried to play them straight up. They felt MacLeod all but admitted defeat before the game started by refusing to trade fastbreaks with them.

"If we were in that situation, I'd rather lose by 60 points than play that kind of offense," Laker guard Michael Cooper said. "I would want to come out and go hand to hand."

Guard Byron Scott said he thought the Suns were frustrated by the strategy.

"You could see it in their eyes," he said. "That's not the type of offense they're used to playing. With the people they have, they should be running even more than usual because they have a shorter lineup without Davis, Nance and Edwards."

But none of the Suns complained.

That wasn't the case three years ago, when MacLeod used the same offense at the Forum against the Lakers.

His point guard then was Dennis Johnson, who made it evident to everyone he was at odds with MacLeod over the game plan.

Johnson would cross mid-court with the ball and then stand there with it tucked under his arm while carrying on a pleasant conversation with Cooper.

When the clock would reach 10, Johnson would put the ball back on the floor and say, "Got to go, Coop. See you next time."

At least, he had a sense of humor about it.

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