The Lakers, who could have used a breather Sunday night, figured to get one in the San Antonio Spurs, last-place team in the NBA's Midwest Division and loser of more road games than any team in the league.
Instead, the Lakers came within a last-gasp shot of losing their third straight game. They nearly squandered a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead before Alvin Robertson's off-balance bid for a game-winning three-point basket bounced off the top of the backboard and out of bounds, preserving the Lakers' 111-109 win before a Forum crowd of 15,794.
"I caught the ball and was supposed to go to either (Walter) Berry for a drive or (Jon) Sundvold for a three-pointer, but I more or less just panicked and threw it up," said Robertson, the Spurs' All-Star guard who scored 20 points Sunday but badly misfired from the corner after taking the in-bounds pass from Ed Nealy.
"The shot wasn't even close. Sundvold later told me I did have time."
The Lakers, who are 24-0 in games in which they've led after three quarters, appeared to have this one locked up after guard Michael Cooper blocked a shot by San Antonio guard Anthony Jones and went coast-to-coast for the basket that gave them a 99-90 lead with 9:54 to play.
But for the next 7 1/2 minutes, the Lakers managed just two baskets--a sky hook by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a 12-footer in the lane by Byron Scott. And the Spurs fought back to within one, 104-103, on a fast-break basket by rookie Berry, the top draft choice that Portland gave away for a backup center.
Magic Johnson, who scored 26 points, made four straight free throws to increase the Laker lead to five, 108-103.
Robertson went around Abdul-Jabbar for a reverse layup to cut it to three, but James Worthy, who tied his season-high with 30 points, eluded a steal attempt by David Greenwood and fed Scott for a wide-open jumper that made it 110-105 with 2:02 to go.
Robertson shot over Cooper to cut it to three again, and the Spurs got the ball back when Berry rebounded a Magic miss.
When Sundvold stepped out of bounds with less than a minute to play, the Lakers were primed to put the Spurs away. But Berry blocked a shot off a drive by Johnson and A.C. Green missed an open 17-footer from the key.
Spurs' ball again, and again San Antonio failed to cash in, as Berry--who scored 17 points--missed two free throws, giving him four straight misses from the line in the fourth quarter.
With 25 seconds to go, Spurs center Mychal Thompson drew a charge from Magic, and Thompson scored on the other end, making it a one-point game, 110-109, with 12 seconds left.
Cooper was fouled by Sundvold with five seconds left, missed the first free throw and made the second. At the end, the ball wound up in Robertson's hands, and uncharacteristically, he didn't know what to do with it.
"They had a lot of time," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "I'm surprised they took that shot. He (Robertson) never panics."
And the Lakers, now 17-1 at the Forum, almost never lose at home, even when they're playing for the fourth time in five nights.
"We played eight games that were ridiculously easy for us," Riley said, referring to the team's eight-game winning streak that ended with consecutive losses to Golden State and Utah on the road.
"We were playing like we were 23 points better than people and we got our clocks cleaned for it. It's nice to get a win the way we've been struggling."
Despite shooting 66.7% in the first half and getting 16 points before intermission by Worthy, who didn't have a basket in the first half the night before in Oakland, the Lakers couldn't shake San Antonio.
"Teams are starting to get physical with us," Cooper said. "We're going to have to jump out and instigate things ourselves. we can't wait."
How physical was it? Well, Abdul-Jabbar said at times, it got out of hand, which may have been because all he saw were San Antonio hands and bodies.
"You'll see that when Kareem got the ball," said San Antonio's Thompson, "we were like flies on fried chicken at a picnic. We were all over him."
But even that wasn't enough for the Spurs, winners of just 9 of 35 games this season.
"There's no such thing as a moral victory," said Robertson, whose long-time backcourt partner, Johnny Moore, did not play Sunday because of the after-effects of desert fever, a rare form of meningitis that sidelined him last season.
"Close doesn't count and tonight we're walking out of this building with a loss, just like so many other teams."