Maybe there's nothing wrong with being the NBA's second-best team. Not now, anyway.
In June, it's just possible the Lakers won't still be trying to run down the Boston Celtics from behind. But at this point in the regular season, it's clearly not much of a race.
The Celtics beat the Lakers again Sunday afternoon in the Forum, 105-99, a victory that not only meant a sweep of their two-game matchup with the Lakers, but also showed the league champions that they have a long way to go if they are to defend their title.
"This game was not a total disaster," Laker Coach Pat Riley said.
There are varying degrees of disaster, and the Lakers experienced most of them.
What happened to Magic Johnson? Still troubled by his bruised right knee, he played 38 minutes without a field goal. Johnson couldn't remember the last time that has happened to him, for good reason--it was almost three years ago.
Remember the Laker bench? Remember A.C. Green and Maurice Lucas? They were worth two points and one rebound in a combined 15 minutes.
How about the Laker offense? Until Michael Cooper's three-pointer with four seconds left, the Lakers didn't score in the last 3:52.
The sum of such mini-disasters isn't going to beat the Celtics, who won with injured forward Kevin McHale sitting on the bench, center Robert Parish playing less than half the game because of fouls and with a bench that proved to be a lot more valuable than the Lakers'.
With Magic limited to only six points, the Laker offense was basically limited to free throws, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Worthy finished with 35 points, two short of his career high, and Abdul-Jabbar had 23 points, 9 of them at the free-throw line.
"We had plenty of chances," Worthy said. "We just couldn't jump over that last barrier."
Down by three points at halftime and by six points after three quarters, the Lakers trailed, 98-88, with 5:55 to go when they made one late try to catch the Celtics.
Worthy dropped a close-in jumper, and after Danny Ainge turned the ball over, Worthy dunked on the fast break. Dennis Johnson missed, and Scott got another rare Laker fast-break basket on a corner jumper.
That put the Lakers within four points, 100-96, but they didn't score again until Cooper's three-pointer just before the buzzer.
After Dennis Johnson hit a jumper, the Lakers fell apart. They missed 10 consecutive shots, one of them an airball, or airhook, by Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers also committed two turnovers, one when they couldn't pass the ball inbounds in five seconds.
If that isn't a total disaster, then it comes pretty close. Meanwhile, the Lakers don't seem to be anywhere close to the Celtics.
Consider the teams' records since Christmas: The Celtics are 20-2, the Lakers 15-10.
Abdul-Jabbar said the Lakers could have proven they were on their way back if they had beaten the Celtics, but he said you can kiss that notion goodby for now.
"We would have proven we were on a par with them if we had won," he said. "Now, nobody has any reason to see us as the favorite. This was important, but not crucial. It's just something we have to use as an indication of where we have to go to play world championship basketball. We're not doing that now."
After playing poorly in a 15-point defeat three weeks ago at Boston Garden, the Lakers took their second game with the Celtics very seriously. So did the Celtics, who play a completely different style of game when McHale is out of the lineup.
No longer is their offense dominated by inside play. Instead, they're a bunch of jump-shooters, who gave the Lakers all sorts of problems Sunday. Laker defenders tried to double-team the ball on the perimeter, but they were slow in getting back to the open man when the Celtics moved the ball quickly.
Dennis Johnson scored 12 of his 23 points in the first quarter. Another guard, Jerry Sichting, came off the bench to score nine points in a second quarter noteworthy for a few of the usual Laker-Celtic disagreements.
Scott gave Sichting a two-handed shove to the chest after they exchanged unpleasantries, which earned Scott a personal foul and a technical foul.
Later, backup Celtic center Greg Kite committed a couple of hard fouls, first on Worthy and then on Abdul-Jabbar, in order to prevent them from scoring layups.
The postgame woofing was what you might expect.
Abdul-Jabbar: "I'm not surprised. They're known as a cheap-shot team."
Sichting: "Byron doesn't want anyone touching him. If he wanted to fight, OK, but I all I wanted do do was play basketball."
Ainge: "The Lakers, I don't know what they are trying to prove. They get a hard foul and they want to retaliate. Hey, that's part of the game."
As always, a big part of any Laker-Celtic game is Larry Bird. He played 43 minutes and came close to his third consecutive triple double, finishing with 22 points, 18 rebounds and 7 assists.