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Scott Ostler

Each Laker Has a Way of Facing Game Day

May 21, 1986|Scott Ostler

This is a game day, so game-day routines will be followed.

This might turn out to be the last game day of the season for the Lakers, since they trail the Houston Rockets, 3-1, but you have to go with what got you here.

James Worthy will eat dinner about 2:30 this afternoon, then stretch out in bed to watch back-to-back re-runs of "Gunsmoke." After Marshall Dillon has saved Dodge City twice, James will arise and get ready for work.

Kurt Rambis will feed his infant son, take the family dog for a walk, then fall asleep watching either "Kung Fu" or "Rockford Files."

Magic Johnson will listen to music, and, as he does before every game, receive a bouquet of balloons and a delivery of flowers. Balloons, tunes and roses.

Michael Cooper will take his pregame meal sitting in front of his television, watching videotapes. He'll study the game films intently--forward, reverse, slo-mo. . . . Looking for something. What? Something the Rockets do that can be exploited. A step, a fake, a slight hesitation before a pass. . . . Something that will make a difference .

Detective Cooper already will have read all the L.A. newspapers, looking for more clues. Indications of a psychological weakness somewhere. A cocky statement by a Rocket player that Cooper can use as motivation.

Before leaving for the Forum, Cooper will put on some music--maybe an old Earth, Wind and Fire album--take a shower, get ready. Wanda Cooper will screen the phone calls, but she'll let Michael talk with his uncle, Tom Butler, who calls before every game with words of encouragement and technical advice.

Tom's call is part of the routine, a routine that must be honored.

Chick Hearn will be, well, what's a stronger word for nervous? He'll take his dog for several walks this afternoon, then Chick will hose down the back yard several times. He'll start serious clock-watching around noon, then he'll lie down for a nap, which will turn out to be a half-hour fidget.

All morning he'll pepper his wife, Marge, with cosmic questions about the Lakers.

"But he's not really talking to me," Marge says. "He's talking to the air."

For the Lakers and their families, this is a crisis time. Within the space of a season, they have gone from World Champs to a struggling, desperate team on the verge of elimination from the playoffs. To save pride, face, dignity, rings, all that, all they have to do is win tonight, Friday and Monday against a team that is afire.

The Lakers returned from Houston Sunday night. That gave them three days and nights to contemplate life, and death. It's not an easy time.

"I think Kurt is pretty up-tight," Linda Rambis said. "It's more frustration than anything else. It would be one thing if he could put his finger on what's going wrong, but you can't put your finger on it.

"He's been real edgy. We had a screaming match last night. Thank God we have the little guy to break up the tension. Oh, and Kurt had a nightmare, I just remembered. I forgot to ask him what it was about, but we were both asleep, and I shifted and bumped into him, and he jumped about 50 feet."

Rambis is assigned to guarding Akeem (the Dream) Olajuwon, the Rockets' inhuman human. You would think Rambis had paid his bad-dream dues during the games.

Each player deals with the crisis time in his own way. Worthy has been staying calm. Worthy is a calm guy.

"Around the house he hasn't been changing his demeanor or disposition," Angela Worthy says. "He does a very good job keeping basketball in perspective. He doesn't come home, rant and rave, throw things. He knows it's time to do or die, and he's been very calm about it.

"People were calling up after the (last) game, really bummed out. I want to win, but I also realize that a lot worse things could happen. There are people starving in this world."

The Houston Rockets, for instance. World's hungriest team.

Do the Rockets have a weakness? If so, Michael Cooper will find it.

"He's been real quiet, quieter than usual," Wanda Cooper says. "He hasn't even been playing with the kids. He's been thinking a lot. He'll just sit around and chew on his thumbnail or whatever it is he bites. He's very introspective.

"He's been watching (game) films. I tape the games and edit out the commercials. Monday he watched films for at least seven hours. I think he's looking for something. He's not ready for the season to be over.

"We haven't been going out to dinners or movies. He says he doesn't want to look like he's taking it all casually. And he can't enjoy a movie or a nice dinner when the team is losing. Michael likes to wallow in whatever it is. If it's winning, he talks to everyone, waves to the neighbors, people drive by the house and honk and yell 'Go, Coop!' But they're losing, and he doesn't want to deal with all of that."

Pat Riley was up very early this morning, preparing his notes for the team's morning shoot-around. He'll get back home this afternoon at about 2, eat lunch, grab a quick nap, then head back to the Forum to continue his pregame preparation.

"It's not a rah-rah time," Chris Riley says. "It's a time of introspection. We've been through so many crises, he doesn't panic. He gets more introspective."

The world, or that portion of it populated by Laker fans, is searching desperately for solutions, answers, ways to win.

"I think it would be a great shot in the arm if the wives would come in at the end of practice (today) and give a little pep rally," Angela Worthy said. "We could do a satire of the Laker girls, some kind of boosting skit. They need something. Something is missing."

It's a nice idea. But there won't be a pep rally today. Nothing new, nothing different.

This is a game day, and game-day routines will be carried out.

Then the Lakers will play their game. If it's good enough, they will play it again Friday.

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