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Lakers Face Surprising SuperSonics

May 16, 1987|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

Mychal Thompson, for one, believes in fairy tales.

"If you come from a Third World country, you've got to believe in Cinderella," said the Laker import from the Bahamas.

But no Laker, mainlander or islander, has ever heard the version in which a scowling Maurice Lucas tries to squeeze his oversized foot into a glass slipper. Or the version with a character named X.

"No question," Magic Johnson said. "I never would have believed it. But after seeing what they've done in the playoffs, I can believe it."

Yet, here they are, the less-than-fabled Seattle SuperSonics, no longer tilting at windmills but taking dead aim at the Lakers in the National Basketball Assn. Western Conference finals, which begin today at the Forum (Channel 2, 12:30 p.m.).

Seattle won 26 fewer regular- season games than the Lakers this season. At 39-43, the SuperSonics have the worst record of any NBA team that has advanced to the conference finals in 21 seasons.

"You could say they probably shouldn't be here," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "But they are."

What danger can they possibly pose to the Lakers, who are facing their fifth different opponent in the six straight seasons they have advanced this far? Before cuing up the "We Want Boston" chant, consider the demolition of Dallas and the demise of a Dream--Houston's Akeem Olajuwon--both perpetrated by the SuperSonics.

"They're not here just because it's destiny," Thompson said. "You've got to work for it, and they deserve to be here. If they weren't a good team, they wouldn't be where they are.

"The playoffs are a different atmosphere altogether. Weird things happen when there's a lot of energy and intensity on the floor."

By now, the Lakers are well acquainted with the scoring exploits of Seattle's three slingers: Dale Ellis, Tom Chambers and Xavier (X Man) McDaniel, all of whom averaged more than 20 points a game in the regular season. When the teams played here in March, the Lakers shot 84% in the third quarter--and were outscored, 44-43.

"We've got to try to contain them as much as possible," said Laker Defense Minister Michael Cooper. "You can't let two of 'em have a real big game.

"I'll probably guard a number of their guys. I don't think I'll be keyed in to just one individual. You might see me some at point guarding Tom Chambers. But we've got to put a lot of pressure on Ellis in the backcourt."

Ellis and Chambers do most of their damage from the outside; McDaniel is an inside operator.

"He's a lot like a Larry Smith, except a Larry Smith who can score at will," Thompson said of McDaniel, comparing him to the Golden State Warriors' monster rebounder.

"When you've got a guy who's that dangerous, that intense and physical around the hoop, you've got your work cut out for you."

And then there's Lucas, who needs no introduction here, although his departure last September after just one season with the Lakers still makes him contentious--as if he needed a reason.

"Luke is going to try to mess with the whole team," Thompson said. "He's a tough player, a hard-nosed player. He loves that kind of physical contact.

"I think he's going for his World Wrestling Federation career after the playoffs are over. He'd be a perfect villain, that's for sure."

Riley doesn't understand why Lucas would be harboring any bad feelings.

"I'm sure it's going to be an issue," Riley said. "But when Luke came in here, he knew exactly why he was here.

"I remember reading an interview in which Luke said, 'Hey, I'm a hired gun at this stage of my career.' When we hired Luke last year, we knew exactly why we brought him in here. And I thought he had a great season.

"But when it was over, we felt it was time to move with A. C. (Green). That was the only reason."

In Seattle, Riley said, Lucas has unquestionably become the leader.

"No doubt he has made more impact on that team than ours from a standpoint of personalities," Riley said. "He's like a patriarch there, and I think that's given him added strength."

Seattle undermined Houston's Twin Towers--Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson--with a pressing, trapping defense that forced the Rockets' undermanned backcourt into innumerable turnovers. That won't be as easy against the Lakers.

"If they pick up Magic, he's used to it," Cooper said. "We're all used to it. And we can go to a three-guard front to alleviate some of the pressure."

Seattle is a different team from the one the Lakers defeated four times in six games during the regular season.

"(But) we won 30 more games than they won," Riley said. "If we do things we're supposed to do, we should win."

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