DALLAS — With Magic Johnson out of the lineup Tuesday night, Coach Pat Riley kept throwing different players at the Dallas Mavericks, but what was the combination that finally unlocked a 133-115 Laker victory?
Whichever one had A.C. Green in it.
Green, in only his second NBA game, had 16 rebounds, the most by a Laker rookie since Kurt Rambis got 17 rebounds in a game in 1982. Green also scored 17 points, but that was not the big surprise of the evening.
No, it was the Laker rebounding. Actually, it's a little hard to believe.
The Lakers outrebounded Dallas, 37-9, in the second half and 60-31 for the game to knock out the Mavericks in what historically has been very un-Lakerlike fashion.
Green not only had more rebounds than any other player, he also outrebounded the entire Dallas team in the second half, 12-9.
Seven Lakers, led by James Worthy with 21 points, scored in double figures to rescue a victory that appeared to be very much in doubt when the Mavericks shot off to a 14-point lead in the first half.
The Lakers moved back within five points at halftime, then scored 69 points in the second half by squeezing rebound after rebound and letting Michael Cooper run the fast break. There was no Magic in the Laker running game, but Green was there and his presence was duly noted.
"He was awesome tonight," Riley said. "He is a remarkable player."
In 28 minutes, Green made 8 of 10 shots. Six of his 16 rebounds were offensive and, on the other end, Green was able to frustrate Mark Aguirre, the scoring machine on the still largely center-less Mavericks.
All in all, not a bad night for Green, the 6-foot 9-inch rookie who wasn't drafted until the last pick in the first round, which makes General Manager Jerry West very happy that he took him.
"I just wanted to try to get every rebound I possibly could," Green said. "Every game is a learning experience for me."
The Lakers also learned something about Green.
"He can flat-out play ," Maurice Lucas said. "You hate to put any pressure on him because he's so young, but he plays like a seasoned pro.
"The opponents don't yet realize how strong he is," Lucas said. "Gosh, he weighs 220 pounds. It's so hard to block him out."
Green was on the court when the Lakers climbed back into the game in the second quarter, part of a combination of players that succeeded even though Riley found the mix a little odd. Green, Rambis and Mitch Kupchak were on the front line with two shooters, Mike McGee and Byron Scott, in the backcourt.
"I'm not really experimenting with Earvin not being here, but I am finding things out," Riley said. "We had an unlikely lineup out there when we came back, but it worked. Who would have known that?"
The Mavericks do now. They were still within 106-104 early in the fourth quarter before the Lakers closed with a rush to take a 123-108 lead with 4:35 left in the game.
Green, starting the fourth quarter in yet another of Riley's player combinations, began the surge with a basket off a power move inside, then rebounded a missed shot by Rolando Blackman and started the Laker fast break.
McGee missed a jumper, and Rambis missed after a rebound, but Green was right there to make up for all that. He got the ball back and scored for a six-point Laker lead.
Jay Vincent missed for the Mavericks, Rambis rebounded, and the Lakers got off three shots. They missed them all but kept getting the rebound, and Rambis finally dropped in the fourth shot.
Another three-pointer by McGee spread the Mavericks defense before Worthy, Green, Cooper and McGee all scored to put the game out of reach. Not even consecutive interceptions thrown by Rambis hurt the Lakers, who are 2-0 this season without Johnson, still ill with the shingles.
"I'm glad that Magic wasn't here because they would have won by 60," Dallas Coach Dick Motta said.
Rambis had 12 rebounds in 21 minutes and was not bothered by thought of his two passes that were picked off.
"I just did that to bug Riley," Rambis said. "He was looking a little too calm."
The Mavericks got 25 points from Aguirre and 20 from Blackman, but Green overshadowed everybody in the second half.
Green scored 15 points in addition to his 12 rebounds in 17 minutes of playing time in the second half.
"He didn't do anything wrong," Kupchak said. "That's pretty unusual for a rookie, but then it's also pretty unusual for anybody."
The Lakers found themselves in a 46-32 hole in the second quarter when Dallas shooters, led by Blackman who had eight points in the period, were having success with their outside game. But when the Mavericks began missing, the Lakers took control of the backboards.
Motta said his memory failed him in the second half.
"We got how nine rebounds?" he asked. "I can't remember any of them."
Lucas supported Green and Rambis with 8 rebounds in 18 minutes while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 9 rebounds and 20 points in just 28 minutes.
Cooper, who played 55 minutes in Saturday night's game, worked 38 minutes more against the Mavericks. He finished with 19 points, 11 assists and a strong desire for Johnson to get well soon.
"At this pace, I'll probably last about 10 games," Cooper said. "I'll just disappear bit by bit until I melt away completely."