DENVER — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is about seven inches taller than Denver's Bill Hanzlik, and his wallet outweighs Hanzlik's by at least a million dollars, give or take a few hundred thou.
Abdul-Jabbar can't do anything about his height advantage, but after the Lakers' 128-122 win over the Nuggets at McNichols Arena Wednesday night, he did what he could to enhance Hanzlik's bank account--even though Hanzlik tried to pick his pocket a time or two.
"(Putting) Hanzlik on me, they ought to give him a raise," said Abdul-Jabbar, whose shots over the overmatched Hanzlik in the last 2:48 grounded Denver's madcap bombers just in time.
The Nuggets, down by 13 with 5:35 to go, struck for 16 points in blitzkrieg fashion, cutting the Laker lead to 121-119 in three minutes' time.
Hanzlik had set up the last basket of that run by knocking the ball from Abdul-Jabbar's hands and feeding Alex English for a fast-break basket.
But that's when the 7-2 Abdul-Jabbar, who had scored the Lakers' previous basket with a bank shot over the 6-7 Hanzlik, knocking him to the floor in the process, went to work on Hanzlik again after a Laker timeout.
This time, it was the sky hook, which Hanzlik could only admire from afar after Abdul-Jabbar launched it from somewhere in the ionosphere.
James Worthy and Michael Cooper followed with consecutive steals, Magic Johnson fed Worthy for a jam and then clicked on two free throws, and the Lakers dodged a Denver bullet one night after being shot up by the Washington Bullets.
In the process, Abdul-Jabbar rejoined the Laker offense, scoring 25 points for his first 20-plus game in the last eight starts.
That, among other things, was something the Lakers had talked about behind a locked dressing-room door before Wednesday night's game.
"The last 13 games we just did some inventory," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "I don't think we're playing very disciplined right now. We're not really focused and disciplined as far as reading the rhythm of the game goes, and our shot selection hasn't been good."
Riley wasn't about to put a muzzle on Magic Johnson, who proceeded to score 37 points, pass out 16 assists and grab 9 rebounds, which left him one short of a triple-double. That would have allowed Magic to match Denver's Fat Lever, who had his league-leading 11th triple-double--10 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds.
But Riley did suggest that the other Laker guards, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, think twice about putting the ball up from long range if Abdul-Jabbar was available down low for some high-percentage stuff.
"I don't necessarily have to be the emphasis of the offense," Abdul-Jabbar said, "but I need to get the ball when I've got a good shot.
"I'd get position but would have to give it up before I got the ball and ended up not getting good shots. Tonight, they gave me the ball when I had good position, which made us much more effective."
The only position the Nuggets need is a little room on their side of the half-court line. Each time the Lakers seemingly had a comfortable lead, Denver charged back. A 90-78 Laker lead with 3:23 to go in the third quarter was down to 93-91, with Alex English (27 points) and Darrel Walker (24 points off the bench) leading the way.
The Lakers got it back up to 15 at 114-99 with 6:58 left, but Walker scored 8 of the next 11 Denver points, with Mike Evans' three-pointer accounting for the rest.
But then the Lakers regrouped around Abdul-Jabbar, while Denver Coach Doug Moe was left to moan that the referees let Abdul-Jabbar push Hanzlik at will.
"Hanzlik played great defense on Kareem," said Moe, who was also hit with a first-half technical, "but they allowed Kareem to do whatever he wanted.
"One token call, that's all we ask. Hanzlik was trying to hold his ground . . . the other guy is 900 pounds and backing into him with his butt. Isn't that a crying shame?
"They said Hanzlik fouled him with his belly. Isn't that terrible? He (Hanzlik) should be banned from the league.
"You'd think they (the officials) would have the decency to give him (Hanzlik) a break."
At the end, Moe chose to use Hanzlik, who is normally a guard but has played some center, instead of Danny Schayes or Wayne Cooper in hopes that Hanzlik would draw an offensive foul call.
"They've got him (Hanzlik) doing everything," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Sometimes you can play right into their hands. I did make a turnover and miss some free throws.
"A risk? It is. Maybe they shouldn't do that. But I'm not a swing man, a center-guard."
And if that became a trend?
"I'll be asking for tickets, 'cause that would send me home."
For his part, Hanzlik was just glad he didn't break under the weight of Abdul-Jabbar.
"He's still got to put it in the hoop," Hanzlik said. "He made some big shots at the end. The call is 50-50, I can't complain that much.