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Scott Ostler

Lucas 'Means' Well, and That May Be Why the Lakers Signed Him

October 23, 1985|SCOTT OSTLER

As game faces go, Maurice Lucas has a dandy.

Mean?

Maurice Lucas' game face is mean enough to wear trick-or-treating.

And the face is no false advertising. With Maurice Lucas, what you see is what you get. The scowl comes complete with a matching attitude and set of elbows.

If Jamaal Wilkes was silk, Maurice Lucas is sandpaper. He rubs opponents the wrong way.

"If I was to play against myself and do the things to me I do to other people, I'd be mad at me," Lucas said, matter-of-factly.

Lucas is the newest Laker, hired to play backup power forward and center, to shoot some jump shots and some glares.

So far Luke--as he prefers to be called, although he is no Skywalker--has only been involved in one major altercation. But then the season doesn't start until Friday night.

Lucas mixed it up with Celtic center Robert Parish last Friday in an exhibition game brawl that could have been held in an Old West saloon.

Nobody is sure exactly what touched it off. Parish has an all-world scowl of his own, and maybe their eyes met from across the room and it was magic. It won't be the last disagreement Lucas is involved in this season. The question is not whether he will fight again, but how often. And, the extracurricular battling aside, how much will Maurice Lucas help the Lakers?

As the team prepares to defend its title, Lucas is probably the major unknown quantity.

This will be a very important chapter in Lucas' pro career, otherwise known as The Adventures of Malice in Thunderland.

At 33, Lucas comes to the Lakers after stops at St. Louis and Kentucky of the old American Basketball Assn., and Portland, New Jersey, New York and Phoenix of the NBA.

The Lakers picked him up because, even after winning three titles in the last five seasons, they felt a need for more muscle.

Not that Lucas is simply a Lyle Alzado in short pants. Luke has a deadly, if not soaring, jump shot. He can move well in a set offense, gets interior rebound position about as well as anyone around, and can kick the ball out to your Magic Johnson types.

But above all, and at the heart of his game, is the glare. Luke makes the late Sonny Liston look like Dick Clark.

The look is no accident. This is a man who not only enjoys his tough-guy image, but uses it to his full advantage, works to maintain it, and takes pride in it.

"I put my game face on before a game, and when I get out there, I'm serious," Lucas said. "I come to take care of some business."

Ask him about his tough-guy reputation.

"Yeah, when I was a lot younger, I'd be in a lot of fights" he said.

What about now that you're a lot older?

"That depends."

He expounded: "I play very physical, aggressive. My aggressive play has pretty much kept me around this long. . . . I've been in my share of altercations. That's the way I play.

"I just play and bang. I do mostly all the dirty work. I don't do anything cheap or dirty, I never try to hurt anyone, and you very seldom see me hit someone above the chest or below the waist."

Or use any hidden foreign objects or illegal sleeper holds.

Of course there is another side of Lucas. Off the court, he is a pleasant looking man, a witty and charming fellow, a semi-vegetarian--no red meat for the last 14 years--who meditates daily.

At Phoenix last season, his scoring and rebounding statistics fell off to career lows, and it is said that he often slowed the Phoenix offense.

But teams such as the Lakers have a way of reviving a guy's career. In the off-season, Lucas sweated off 15 pounds, the better to fit into the Lakers' running game.

At his best, back in the days when he was averaging 20 points and 11 1/2 rebounds for the then-feared Portland Trail Blazers, Lucas was easily one of the top two or three power forwards in the game. Many considered him the prototype big man, a banger who could play basketball, too.

What about now?

Well, the NBA game has changed in the last decade. It's faster. Among power forwards, there is a tendency to put less emphasis on power and more on speed and finesse.

But the Lakers have enough talent that they can allow a guy like Lucas to concentrate on his specialty.

"I'm finding out their (the other Lakers') strengths and weaknesses, and showing them mine," Lucas said in training camp. "And we'll see if we can't cover for each other."

We'll also see if Maurice Lucas can still mix it up with the big guys and keep up with the greyhounds, or if he has become, at a relatively advanced age, just another scary face.

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