The dog days of the NBA season nearly leaped up and bit the Lakers Sunday in front of 13,186 fans at the Forum.
But with two seconds left in overtime, Portland forward Mychal Thompson threw a perfect inbounds pass to the Lakers' Michael Cooper. The Lakers managed to slink away with a 135-133 victory over the Trail Blazers, a victory they made a lot more difficult than necessary.
It seemed only fitting that a turnover would decide this game, but that's the way the Lakers were playing it. They finished with 30 turnovers, which were worth 37 points to the Trail Blazers.
Portland missed 64-of-114 shots. The Trail Blazers had only 10 turnovers, but they never got a chance to take a potential game-tying shot after Thompson threw the ball away to Cooper.
Magic Johnson, who scored a season-high 39 points, could have pretty well bagged the game on the previous possession but he made only one-of-two free throws, and that meant Portland did not need a three-pointer to tie.
Thompson was trying to inbound the ball to Kiki Vandeweghe, but Vandeweghe got held up and Thompson had no one to throw to except Cooper.
"It was just a dumb play on my part," Thompson said. "I've got no excuses."
There were plenty of dumb plays to go around, and nearly as many great ones, too. That's the kind of stuff that happens, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, when you're just playing out the season.
"We weren't there mentally like we should have been," Abdul-Jabbar said. "It's kind of tough. We just want to start the playoffs, and it's difficult because we can't yet. Everything has been decided already.
"We'll be sharp mentally when the playoffs start," Abdul-Jabbar said. "It's kind of obvious we weren't today."
The Lakers led by 13 points late in the third quarter, but the Trail Blazers came back--with some help from the Lakers.
Thompson's dunk brought Portland to within 105-104 with 6:47 left in regulation, a comeback made possible by Laker turnovers. Until Abdul-Jabbar's hook shot a minute later, the Lakers had produced 10 turnovers and exactly seven points in the quarter.
"We were too concerned with forcing the issue and we were making bad decisions," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "Those things happen, but we can't continue to allow them in the big games."
Johnson played for the first time this season wearing two knee pads, one of them covering the bruised right knee that forced him out of Friday night's game with Kansas City.
Maybe he should consider the pads a permanent part of his uniform. Johnson played 46 minutes, made 11-of-16 field goal attempts, 17-of-19 free throws, had 11 assists and 9 rebounds.
Johnson scored just one of his points in overtime, but Kurt Rambis came up with two of his nine offensive rebounds in overtime to keep the Lakers from losing.
"We were doing what was needed in order to win," Johnson said. "We've been on a roll and playing very well, but also we have to save some energy for the playoffs and not use it all in these last few games. Sometimes, games like this just happen."
Portland received 21 points and 20 rebounds from rookie center Sam Bowie, 24 points from Vandeweghe and 23 points and 13 assists from Clyde Drexler, but the Trail Blazers couldn't handle Johnson.
"The way he was driving the middle, it looked like Casper the Ghost was guarding him," Vandeweghe said.
Nobody was guarding Bowie, however, when he shanked two free throws midway through the fourth quarter as the Trail Blazers were bouncing back.
With a minute left in regulation, Byron Scott made a three-pointer, his only shot of the quarter, to give the Lakers what looked like a safe lead, 122-118. That lasted all of 15 seconds.
Bowie's three-point play cut the lead to one, and Johnson's two free throws got the Laker lead up to three before Bowie was fouled and went to the line with 25 seconds remaining.
He made the first free throw and missed the second, but James Worthy batted the ball back to Bowie, who drove the middle for a basket that sent the game into overtime.
The Lakers actually had one more shot at preventing overtime, but Abdul-Jabbar's hook was off. He began the extra period with a hook that dropped, and the Trail Blazers got no closer than the length of Thompson's errant pass with two seconds left.
Rambis finished with 15 rebounds, and the Lakers wound up with a season-high of 61. That was nice, but the bench scoring wasn't. The Laker non-starters were outscored by Portland's, 51-15, which could have been as distressing as all the turnovers if the Lakers had lost.
The Lakers avoided that outcome, even though they had to play the last 2:11 of overtime without Abdul-Jabbar, who fouled out.
"We would have been disappointing if we had lost, but we didn't," Abdul-Jabbar said. "These last few games don't mean much. College ball is over and everyone is just waiting, I guess."
With just four games left until the playoffs, the waiting is nearly over.