Who says there's no intrigue when the Lakers play the Denver Nuggets? The last time they met, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was told he had been sued by Nugget star Alex English.
This time, the Nuggets left their process servers at home. Their game, such as it is, never showed up, either, as the Lakers romped, 143-107, Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of 17,505 at the Forum.
If the season ended today, the Lakers would meet the Nuggets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, although the Nuggets are sinking fast. This was their 12th loss in the last 15 games, leaving them just a half-game ahead of the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Lakers and Nuggets have met four times in the regular season. The Lakers have won all four, by an average margin of 25.2 points.
For the Nuggets, this was not what you'd call a playoff tuneup. What do you call it?
"The most insignificant loss of the year," Denver Coach Doug Moe said.
"We're 0-3 at the Clippers, 0-2 against the Lakers. Which hurts more: a loss like this, or a loss at the Clippers? Are you kidding me?
"This was a meaningless game for us. The games that are important for us are the Clipper games. Those are tough losses to take."
A sympathetic listener offered this silver lining to Moe: The losses to the Clippers might have saved that franchise.
"Probably did," Moe said with a grin. "We're nice guys. They wouldn't be in double figures (in wins) except for us."
Tuesday, Denver's only lead was after the opening basket.
Six minutes into the game, the Lakers had doubled the Nuggets' score, 28-14. The lead was 15 at the end of the first quarter, 42-27, 26 at the half, 83-57, and 33 at the end of three, 114-81. The biggest lead of the game was 38, 138-100.
"Our defense was so bad, if we had kept running, the score would have been 200-111," Moe said. "We had to slow it down."
So did the Lakers, only if by sending their starters to the bench.
There was assist-a-minute Magic Johnson, who had a season-high 20 in 28 minutes before sitting out the fourth quarter for the second straight night and 13th time this season.
For rebounds-a-minute, there was Kurt Rambis, who came off the bench to grab 15 in 20 minutes.
Points a minute? Take your pick among James Worthy (23 in 26), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (22 in 27) A.C. Green (21 in 29) or even Wes Matthews (10 in 9).
For frills, there was rookie Billy Thompson, who threw in jams on five of his six baskets, including a 360-spin, tomahawk dunk off a mid-dribble pass by Matthews that brought down the house.
And for fouls, there was Abdul-Jabbar, who made history when he was called for an offensive foul after bumping into Denver's Danny Schayes. With that foul, Abdul-Jabbar passed Elvin Hayes as the worst offender in NBA history--4,194 fouls--and earned him a new nickname from Michael Cooper.
"Mr. Hacker," Cooper said. "But I'm close behind him."
Space them out over his 18 seasons, and Abdul-Jabbar is averaging just three fouls a game.
"What can I say--it was a bum rap," Abdul-Jabbar deadpanned. "I'll never live that one down."
And besides, he added, "Half of them were bad calls."
The record-breaker? "It could have gone either way," he said.
At the outset of the game, Abdul-Jabbar went his own way. Instead of coming out for the pregame handshake with the Nugget captain--English--Laker captain Abdul-Jabbar sent out Magic Johnson instead.
Last month, English had filed suit in Denver District Court to collect $150,000 he claims he and Dallas guard Brad Davis loaned to Abdul-Jabbar in 1985.
Abdul-Jabbar admitted he had never played against someone who had sued him before, especially someone with whom he had both a professional and personal relationship. But he denied that brought any extra emotion into the game.
"This has nothing to do with feelings," he said. "This is about protecting yourself, and when the situation arises, you deal with it legally. Emotion isn't part of it."
Abdul-Jabbar said he and English haven't spoken since the suit.
Said English: "I knew I couldn't make it through the night without someone asking me that question. I have no comment."
The Lakers seemed amused when relayed Moe's comments about the game's insignificance.
"He said that?" Cooper said. "Ha, ha, ha, ha. Yeah, right."
Said Abdul-Jabbar: "I didn't know we were that insignificant, but I'm glad we won it, insignificant or not."
How's this for significance? With 19 games left in the season, the Lakers are 49-14 and have a three-game lead over the Boston Celtics for the best record in the league. They are 5-0 in March, a month in which they are 32-4 since the '84-85 season.