While A.C. Green took a wrecking ball to Houston's Twin Towers, the value of one of the Lakers' own high rises shot up considerably Sunday night.
That would be Mike Smrek, the Ivory Tower, whose usual neighborhood is the far end of the Laker bench but occupied prime territory in the Lakers' 101-92 win over the Rockets before 17,505 in the Forum.
Smrek--one of the guys ex-Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke must have had in mind when he said there were 285,000 Canadians in Los Angeles and they all hate hockey--scored just one point in nine minutes Sunday, which pales in comparison to Green's career-high 18 rebounds or Magic Johnson's first triple double this season: 23 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists.
But when Smrek entered the game with 2:47 left in the third quarter and Mychal Thompson in foul trouble, the Lakers led by seven, 70-63. When Smrek departed with 7:58 to play, the Lakers led by 15, 87-72.
"That's not going to happen too often," Houston Coach Bill Fitch said.
"But the game was pretty much decided then. It shouldn't happen that often, but I'm not going to give the guy a raise."
There was no question, however, that Smrek gave the Lakers a lift, blocking shots by Akeem Olajuwon and Rodney McCray, drawing Olajuwon's fifth foul, and grabbing three rebounds in nine minutes.
"That's got to be a confidence-builder for him and for the team," said Coach Pat Riley, whose pregame blackboard admonition to the team--No. 1: Rebound!--was answered by a massive 55-36 advantage for the Lakers.
"The guys want Mike to do well. He's got a big body, he's strong and can block some shots. In the right combinations, he can help us. I'm not afraid to play him anymore."
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Thompson both carrying five fouls, Smrek was a bonus for the Lakers Sunday night.
Green, meanwhile, continued to be a revelation, playing tough defense on Olajuwon, grabbing nine rebounds in the third quarter alone, and finishing with a total of 30 rebounds in the Lakers' first two games.
"He's got a heart as big as gold," said Laker guard Byron Scott, who shook off the rust from a 1-for-9 shooting performance in the opener to score 23 points Sunday.
"It's real hard for any one player to stay with A.C. the whole game because he never stops for 40 minutes. It's very hard for one man to block him out."
Two years ago, when Houston bounced the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals in five games, the Lakers didn't have the muscle to compete with Rocket 7-footers Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.
That was then, this is now: While Sampson demonstrated an uncanny knack of missing every shot in his repertoire in the first half--fallaway jumpers, left-handed hooks, finger-roll layups, two-foot chip shots in a 1-for-11 performance--Green kept hammering away inside.
The Lakers led the Rockets at the half, 51-39, after a 10-0 run that broke a 28-all tie, then Scott (10 points) and Green (9 rebounds) took care of business in the third period, which ended with the Lakers still ahead by 10, 76-66.
Johnson put the finishing touches on his triple-double in the fourth quarter with nine points, four assists and three rebounds.
"The only thing I noticed on the minus side about Green was he didn't do well on the foul line (2 of 6)," Fitch said. "But he's the reason I got upset with Ralph.
"Green took three rebounds away from Ralph on what were straight hustle plays."
Smrek can't compete with Sampson at the teller's window--the free agent from Ontario, who was signed last fall by the Lakers after being cut by Chicago is making the league minimum, while Sampson just signed a six-year, $12 million contract with the Rockets.
But he showed Sunday that there certainly are times he belongs on the same court.
"It's all going to depend on what I do when I get my time in there," said Smrek (as in Wreck), when asked if he thought this might a harbinger of more time to come.
"If I don't make mistakes, play good defense, and block a few shots, I'm sure he'd love to give me more time."
Abdul-Jabbar, who had 11 points and played some spry defense on Sampson, had words of praise for his caddy.
"He's improved over the summer and that's going to help all of us in the long run," Abdul-Jabbar said.
The Rockets, meanwhile, are a team in search of a backcourt. Robert Reid is out after having a cyst removed from his knee, and just about everybody else is a newcomer--World B. Free, Lester Conner, and Purvis Short, among others.
"As bad as we looked back there, I can't believe we won't get better," Fitch said. "I know we're not blessed with Magic and Scott in the backcourt, but we're not as bad as a lot of people think we are."