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Lucas Is Back, and He's Brought Some Friends : Former Laker Enforcer Isn't Angry . . . Just 'Looking Forward to the Challenge'

May 16, 1987|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

Heard about the Maurice Lucas time clock?

It punches you .

Looking for just the right gag gift?

Sit down in the Maurice Lucas chair and two legs break.

Both pieces are absolutely perfect for the office, even if the man they were modeled after earned himself a pink slip for a somewhat less-than-perfect performance at his own office in the Forum.

But old enforcers don't fade away, although it sure looked as if that was going to happen last Sept. 26 when these words were spoken: "Luke, we think it's time for you to go, pal."

Only the Lakers didn't exactly say it that way. There may be no nice way to handle such things, but the way the Lakers treated Lucas certainly was a naughty one, according to Xavier McDaniel, who plays forward on Lucas' newest team, the Seattle SuperSonics.

"They treated him like an old dirty rag and threw him out the door," McDaniel said.

Get angry, Maurice. You may be old, you may be dirty, but you're certainly no rag. Now that you've got them in the playoffs, take a look at those Lakers.

Fix them with your icy stare, cold as a Pudding Pop.

Make them climb about 20 flights of stares. After all, you've got a right to be upset. You may have been traded five times in your 13-year professional basketball career but never, ever, were you (gasp!) waived until the Lakers did it to you last fall.

So, Luke, are you mad at those Lakers?

"Who?" he asked.

Oh, oh. This may be more serious than we thought.

The normal matchup is altered a little bit. The number you have dialed, Maurice Lucas vs. the world, has been changed. The new number is Maurice Lucas and the Seattle SuperSonics against the Lakers.

Please make a note of it. The National Basketball Assn.'s Western Conference championship series begins at 12:30 today in the Forum and it should be quite a show, especially for those who remember all the way back to last season, when Lucas was brought in from Phoenix as a hired gun.

The Lakers thought he was the one guy they needed to win consecutive NBA titles. And when they didn't, Lucas was gone to the next town. Seattle claimed Lucas on waivers four days after the Lakers had said goodby.

Were you some kind of scapegoat, Maurice?

"Obviously," he said.

Lucas acknowledges that this may not have been fair, and he may not be exactly pleased about it, but he's got more important things to worry about now. He is 35, he wants to play one more year, he wants the SuperSonics to be in the finals and he wants the Lakers to be out. That ought to cover it.

"I'm not playing for redemption," Lucas said. "Business is business. Unfortunately, there's just cold business at times. My position is that I've got a team I'm going there with and I've got a job to do."

With the Lakers last season, Lucas had a very busy time doing his job. He led the team in rebounding, even though he was coming off the bench; he averaged more points than anyone except the starters, he played outside on offense instead of inside, and he played defense against everyone from small forwards such as Mark Aguirre to centers such as Akeem Olajuwon in the playoffs.

In fact, Lucas did just about everything well except two things. He didn't win over Pat Riley, who wanted more out of Lucas in practice. And he didn't convince General Manager Jerry West that he was the guy West had been looking for all along.

West had a deep interest in A. C. Green, whom he drafted, and a player Riley loved for his work habits. When Lucas sees Green today, A. C. will be the Lakers' starting power forward, and Kurt Rambis will be getting Lucas' old minutes off the bench.

So far, it's difficult to quibble with the way the changes have worked. Lucas offered a critique of his former team. "The Lakers are playing very, very well this year," he said. "We only want to play the best, so we're looking forward to playing them."

Isn't that nice? Now, how do you really feel?

"Let's just say I'm looking forward to the challenge," Lucas said. "They didn't feel like I was the key ingredient. I've had a lot of fun this year, so what are you gonna do?

"Now I've helped somebody else. I've died a couple of times. Teams said I was washed up, but here I am again. I'm back."

There are many who never figured the SuperSonics would be here in the first place. Seattle finished the regular season with a 39-43 record and could become the first team with a record below .500 to get to the championship series since the Houston Rockets in 1981.

All Seattle has to do is beat the Lakers, something they managed only twice in six games during the season.

Can the SuperSonics beat the Lakers four times in the playoffs?

"Everybody can be beaten," McDaniel said.

SuperSonic Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said it's not going to very easy.

"The Lakers kill you with kindness," he said. "They're a class organization. They kill you with kindness and then they devastate you on the basketball court. In order for us to win, we're going to have to be perfect."

The SuperSonics never had to reach such a level in their six-game conference semifinal victory over Houston, and one of the reasons why was that the Rockets were unable to pressure Seattle's guards, which the Lakers will probably do.

Also, if Seattle is going to pull off yet another upset, the SuperSonics must be able to rebound with the Lakers as well as they did against the Rockets.

"We feel like we can compete with the Lakers, but we definitely feel like they're the better team," said Dale Ellis.

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