With 15 games left before playoff time, the Lakers continue to look a lot more like themselves. They won their eighth consecutive game Sunday night when Magic Johnson got a triple-double and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored a ton of points.
Actually, they weighed out to 43 points, which were just enough for the Lakers to get past the Houston Rockets, 116-111, before a sellout crowd of 17,505 in the Forum.
Abdul-Jabbar didn't score as many points as he did the last time the Lakers played the Rockets when he had 46, but what he had looked pretty good to Pat Riley.
"We needed every one of them," Riley said. "He played 40 minutes and somewhere along the way I'd like to give him some rest. But there's no rest for the weary. Not in the NBA."
For the Rockets, there is no rest when playing the Lakers. Houston has lost three straight to the Lakers and 20 of the last 22. However, Rocket Coach Bill Fitch found something positive in the latest setback.
"I think we gained a little confidence in playing them," he said.
In the meantime, Johnson finished with his first-triple double since Nov. 29 and his third of the season. Johnson scored 19 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 12 assists.
"We got up for them," Johnson said. "Our big man always plays well against them."
Johnson dropped in a pair of free throws with 2:49 to play, right after Akeem Olajuwon's power move inside, to give the Lakers a 108-104 lead. Then Johnson stole a pass from Ralph Sampson and assisted Byron Scott on a corner jumper to put the Lakers up by six points with just over two minutes remaining.
That was enough for the Lakers to keep their winning streak alive and counting. In the Lakers' eight-game streak, the only victory that has come against a winning team was this one.
What's left for the Lakers?
"We still need work and we still need 12 healthy bodies," Abdul-Jabbar said.
Even in defeat, the Rockets preferred to treat themselves to something of a moral victory.
"If I had played halfway decent, we would have had a good chance," said newly promoted point guard Allen Leavell, who has replaced John Lucas.
"We're not worried about the Lakers," he said. "They might have beaten us three in a row, but we feel like we can get a game from them. We'll see them again."
Just like last season, the Rockets and Lakers expect to face each other in the playoffs.
"If they want to think of this as a moral victory, fine," Riley said. "We think of it as a win. We're not letting the team off the hook. We hold a psychological edge. We gave them something to think about."
Because of bad weather, it took the Rockets eight hours to get to Los Angeles, but it didn't take very long for them to get the lead. The problem was it didn't last very long.
Sampson and Olajuwon combined for 23 points in the first quarter and the Rockets took a 37-31 lead.
Olajuwon wasn't even supposed to be playing. The Rockets said Saturday that he would stay in Houston to rest his right knee, but they decided to leave the final decision up to Olajuwon and he wanted to play.
When Olajuwon sat down to start the second quarter, the Lakers went back ahead. Abdul-Jabbar finished a 23-point first half by scoring 11 consecutive points in a three-minute span and the Lakers opened up a eight-point lead, which the Rockets cut to 62-58 by halftime.
The Lakers had some trouble along the way. They committed 22 turnovers, nine in the third quarter, and missed 12 free throws. But the Rockets were having some problems of their own.
Lewis Lloyd missed 11 of 14 shots and Leavell made only 3 of 14 shots in his third start since replacing Lucas. The Rockets shot only 43.9%.
Two other guards picked up the slack. Robert Reid, who scored 21 points in 28 minutes, and rookie Steve Harris, who had 12 points in 14 minutes, hurt the Lakers.
"What we didn't get out of our starting guards, we got out of Reid and Harris," Fitch said. "So we did get something out of this game."
The Lakers have already clinched their fifth straight Pacific Division title and lead Portland by 19 games. Already, the Lakers have set their sights on larger game. They reduced their magic number to five over Houston for wrapping up the best record in the Western Conference.
Maurice Lucas was not in uniform and missed the game because of a sprained right knee . . . The Lakers sold out the Forum for the 19th time in 34 games this season. They are averaging 16,687 for each home game. Last season, the Lakers had 11 Forum sellouts.