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Kupchak, Laker Offense Are Back : L.A. Turns It On Against Sacramento and Wins, 135-105

April 04, 1986|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

Mitch Kupchak returned to the Laker lineup and played like his old self, when he had two healthy knees. Maybe it was to celebrate old times that Kupchak threw himself into his work as he did.

Kupchak, who had eight points in six minutes Thursday night, was not reluctant to mix it up or make hard cuts to test his surgically repaired left knee. Kupchak had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee March 5 and immediately went on the disabled list.

After the Lakers administered a 135-105 blowout of the Sacramento Kings at the Forum, Kupchak said he had considered, at least for awhile, getting out of basketball when he injured his left knee last month.

"It did come up," Kupchak said. "I can't say it didn't."

Kupchak, who was out of action for nearly two years after he tore up his left knee in a game during the 1981-82 season, also contemplated giving up basketball last summer but finally decided against it.

"They cleared a space for me," Kupchak said. "Maybe things will change this summer. I'll re-evaluate my position again then. I'll continue to play out the season, but I wouldn't want to put the Lakers in an awkward position for next season, especially since Petur (Gudmundsson) is playing so well."

The Lakers will pay Kupchak $1.15 million, including deferred payments, to play next season, so if he chooses not to come back, he will be turning his back on a great deal of money.

Kupchak, however, isn't really the type to let money stand in the way of doing what he thinks is right for him.

"A lot of other players would have taken the money, found an island somewhere and just relaxed," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "Mitch isn't like that. Everybody keeps writing him off, throwing dirt over the body, but Mitch is a unique athlete."

The Lakers were pretty unique themselves against the Kings. For one thing, they blistered somebody, and that hasn't happened a lot lately.

Only twice in their previous 12 games have the Lakers defeated an opponent by a double-figure margin, but their easy victory over the Kings was their biggest win since March 5 when they swamped the Utah Jazz by 46 points.

"There was no letup," said James Worthy, who scored 22 points. "We just can't afford to let up and let teams back into the game."

That didn't happen this time. Nine Lakers scored in double figures, led by Byron Scott with 24 points in 33 minutes. Magic Johnson passed out 16 assists, even though he attempted only six shots. He didn't need to shoot any more.

The Lakers, who led by 18 points at the half, wound up outrebounding the Kings, 55-38, and shot 58.8% in the thoroughly dominating style that they showed earlier in the season.

How good was the Laker offense? Consider two fast breaks that occurred back-to-back in the third quarter. By then, the rout was on, but they were interesting anyway.

On one, Johnson threw inside to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose pass to Scott slid threw Scott's hands. But Kurt Rambis caught the ball and scored on a layup.

The next time, Abdul-Jabbar stole the ball and threw a baseball pass half the length of the court to Scott, who shoveled the ball off to Worthy, then with Terry Tyler flying past, Worthy double-clutched and dumped in a layup.

Lucky and good is a pretty tough combination.

Worthy scored 17 points in the first half and the Laker fast break worked as well as it has in a long time. A three-point play by Rambis with one second left gave the Lakers a 70-52 lead at halftime.

By then, the Kings were well on their way to another in a very long line of losses in the Forum. The last time the Kings beat the Lakers on their home court was Oct. 20, 1974.

How long ago was that?

"A long, long time," said Reggie Theus, who was then a 16-year-old high school student.

Since then, the Kings have dropped 30 straight to the Lakers at the Forum, counting two playoff games. That's as good a reason as any for the Kings to finish in the seventh playoff berth and avoid meeting the Lakers in the first round.

"If you have a choice, you definitely don't want to play the reigning NBA champions," Theus said. "We play well against everybody else in the conference, but not against them."

Kupchak didn't get into the game until midway through the fourth quarter. The first time he touched the ball, he scored.

Kupchak made both of his shots, all four free throws and had two rebounds. Still, he wasn't completely satisfied.

"I didn't experience any pain, but I thought I was tentative," he said. "I was on edge. Not scared, but apprehensive."

But not retired, either.

Laker Notes

Michael Cooper's consecutive game streak reached 400, counting playoffs. Cooper has played in 330 regular season games and hasn't missed one since April 2, 1982 when he had a pulled groin muscle. Cooper kept his streak alive last season despite a broken hand and a broken nose this season. . . . Mike McGee woke up Thursday morning with a sore knee, so he didn't play against the Kings. In his five-year career, it was the first time McGee missed a game due to an injury. . . . Before the Laker game, Cazzie Russell's jump shot with six seconds left won the Laker Legends game for the Gold team, 60-59. Russell led all scorers with 26 points. Teammate Zelmo Beatty had 18. For the Purple team, LeRoy Ellis had 18 points and Lucius Allen had 15.

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