INDIANAPOLIS — OK, professor, which will it be? Green machines or purple reigns?
Thursday night, Dr. Jack Ramsay was in a unique coaching position to make the call. By virtue of inhuman treatment from the National Basketball Assn. schedule maker, Ramsay's team, the Indiana Pacers, was forced to play the Boston Celtics and the Lakers on consecutive nights. No other team in the league faces that torture this season.
The Pacers lost by 10 points, 118-108, at home to the Lakers Thursday night after losing by 30 points, 130-100, at Boston Garden the night before.
"The Lakers are a great team," Ramsay said, "and I think you saw why tonight. . . . If I had to choose between them and the Celtics, I don't know who I'd pick. The Lakers are well-coached, highly motivated and play well together.
"I don't see anyone on that team who plays just for himself."
What Ramsay saw instead was a team that played remarkably well--winning its sixth straight game and fourth in five nights on the road--when it had every reason to be looking for the nearest bed.
A park bench would have done, except that everywhere the Lakers looked Thursday, it was snowing. Even in Atlanta, where a freak five-inch snowstorm wreaked havoc with their travel plans after their victory Wednesday night.
Instead of a mid-morning arrival here, the Lakers hung around for nearly three hours before the runways were cleared in Atlanta. The Lakers got here in mid-afternoon, which was late enough to interfere with the nap plans of all but the most dedicated sleepers.
It was also enough to make a coach want to reach for his No-Doz.
"Usually in the past on a night like tonight, I would have thought I would really have to go to the bench, get the guys out of there early," Laker Coach Pat Riley said.
"But (assistant) Bill Bertka said, 'Read the team in the first period before you decide.' And they came out and showed me a lot of spark.
"They showed me they wanted it. They played better this game than all three of the others (on this trip)."
How's this for sleepwalking?
--Magic Johnson had 29 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for his third triple-double of the season. Eleven of his points came in the fourth quarter, after the Pacers had trimmed an 18-point Laker lead to one, 84-83, with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 20 points (10 in the first quarter, when the Lakers jumped ahead early) 6 rebounds and a season-tying high of 4 blocked shots.
--James Worthy scored 22 points and missed just two shots from the floor in 31 minutes.
--Michael Cooper scored 14 points, hit two three-pointers, including a running 40-footer at the end of the first quarter, and would have been perfect from the twilight zone had the officials paid more attention to his footwork and given him a third three-pointer instead of signaling it was good for just two.
Cooper also came up with the evening's defensive spectacular, swatting away a driving attempt by Indiana's Vern Fleming on a Pacer three-on-one break in the fourth quarter, then drawing a charge from Fleming after the panicked Pacer guard retrieved the ball and tried to drive again.
--Byron Scott scored 15 points but more importantly made just one turnover in 36 minutes, giving him a total of four turnovers in his last six games.
--And Kurt Rambis came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 10 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
"I think it's a credit to the team," said Rambis, who managed to grab all of an hour's rest Thursday. "If we'd come out here and dragged up and down the court and played lousy, everyone would have written it off and said it was because of the schedule. We didn't want to do that.
"Everybody blocked out all the hassles and the excuses, and did what we had to do."
The biggest-excuse maker, of course, could have been Abdul-Jabbar, who had every right to flash his birth certificate and pack it in early. That didn't happen. Why not?
"I sleep every chance I can get," said the 39-year-old center, who slept a couple of hours during the morning delay and a couple of hours in the afternoon. "There's nothing mystical about that."
Maybe there isn't, but even Riley has to wonder.
"Back-to-back nights and he was spry," Riley said admiringly. "I can't get in his mind, but Kareem knows what he has to do. And on this trip, he definitely has elevated his performance."
The Lakers are now a league-best 32-8, 14-7 on the road, where only two other teams--Boston and Detroit--are as much as one game above .500.
"I'd rather be 8-32 if you'd guarantee me that we'd win the world championship," Riley said. "But we're going to drive and continue to drive. We're not going to pace ourselves. We tried that last year and flattened out."