The Lakers can still claim unbeaten status, but the Dallas Mavericks made a shambles of Forum protocol Friday night.
Usually, when the Lakers have a 27-point lead with 33 seconds left in the third quarter, as they did against the Mavericks, it's time for:
--Chick Hearn to bang shut the refrigerator door.
--The Mike Smrek pools to be organized in the colonnade.
But just when all the action was shifting to the parking lots, the Mavericks drove the Lakers to distraction. A 99-72 advantage became a one-point game before Michael Cooper's two free throws with two seconds left sealed a 119-116 win, running the Laker record to 8-0.
"We were like a luxury vessel out on the ocean taking water fast," said Mychal Thompson, who was on the deck when the Maverick subs blitzed the Laker subs in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, slicing a dozen points off the Laker lead.
"Luckily, we were saved," Thompson continued. "We threw in the lifeboats--Kareem, Magic and A.C."
But even the lifeboats had sprung a few leaks before the Lakers reached high ground.
Not even an inspired spurt by Byron Scott--who followed a 16-point third quarter by stealing a pass by Brad Davis, hitting a jumper from the top of the key, grabbing a defensive rebound, then throwing in his fourth three-pointer of the night--was enough to put the Lakers out of danger.
Five straight Laker turnovers and a run of botched free throws--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar missed a pair, Magic Johnson missed two, and Cooper missed one--kept the Mavericks in the game.
"We were one step ahead of the posse," Laker Coach Pat Riley said, "but at the same time, we were only one step off the street."
Maverick forward Mark Aguirre--who had 35 points, despite sitting out all but nine minutes of the first half because of foul trouble--nearly showed the Lakers the door himself.
Aguirre scored eight points in the last 3:27, including two free throws with 18 seconds left that made it 116-114.
Cooper, who finished with 16 points, was fouled by Roy Tarpley with seven seconds to go. His first free throw rimmed out, his second hit the front of the rim and bounced in.
"Coop didn't look overly confident at the line," Riley noted.
Rolando Blackman, who had an awful shooting night (4 for 14), was fouled by Johnson near the three-point arc with four seconds left and made both free throws to cut it to one. That's when Cooper, fouled on the inbounds pass from Abdul-Jabbar, took a push from Sam Perkins, then put away the Mavericks with two free throws.
The Mavericks failed to get off a final shot.
"Maybe we needed a game like this," said Johnson, who finished with 20 points and a season-high 15 assists. "It gave us the chance to execute at the end of the game."
Wait a minute: Did Johnson really want the practice?
"Hey, I wanted to win by 30," he said. "I wanted to sit on the bench."
So, what happened?
"My fault," Riley said. "We played as well as we could for three periods, but I broke the rotation too quick.
" . . . The guys off the bench started making mistakes and didn't stay with what we were doing."
It didn't hurt the Mavericks that they started the fourth quarter by making 11 of their first 13 shots. Davis made four quick baskets, Roy Tarpley had three, and Perkins and Schrempf had two each in that stretch.
"They were closing their eyes and hitting their shots," said Laker guard Wes Matthews, who was singed by Davis. "Riley wanted to give us some time, but they got hot, and he had to call in the troops."
Trooper that he is, Magic wasn't pointing any fingers at the reserves.
"You can't blame the guys for anything," he said. "A lot of times they get a lead for us. This time, they just didn't get it done."
Which meant no time for Smrek and some time to worry for Riley, even though he claimed afterward that he wasn't sweating this one.
"I knew in my heart we weren't going to lose this game," he said. "Our guys are too smart to let that happen."
And Riley's too smart to let them forget what almost happened.
"I'll be able to remind them emphatically," he said.