SEATTLE — If the Seattle SuperSonics could only figure out how to do this in May instead of November, we might have something.
But as impressive as it may have been, Seattle's 103-85 stomping of the Lakers--who were last seen here winning the NBA Western Conference title by 31 points--must be placed in the category of business as usual.
Well, not quite. It isn't every night that James Worthy, who torched Seattle for an average of 30.5 points in the four-game playoff sweep last spring, goes scoreless, as he did Tuesday night before retiring to the bench with an aching left knee that may require a doctor's attention.
It isn't every night that reserve guard Wes Matthews, who was involved in a third-quarter scuffle with Seattle strongman Xavier McDaniel, furnishes the SuperSonics with enough bulletin-board material to last till next spring--or until Jerry West's face returns to its normal color, whichever comes first.
Matthews, who is only a half-foot shorter and 35 pounds lighter than McDaniel: "I've got nothing to say except that he's a . . . And when he comes to L.A. he's mine.
" . . . He should have been thrown out of the game for grabbing my neck, and I won't forget it. I can't wait to play him again, because his bald head is mine."
Said Michael Cooper, who came to Matthews' rescue by pushing McDaniel into the scorer's table: "Wes really said that?"
Yes, he did. And the Lakers did come back from 25 points down at the time of the fight, 73-48, to make a game of it with a 22-4 run that made it 77-66 after three periods.
Matthews' three-pointer early in the fourth quarter brought the Lakers as close as they would get, 78-71, before the SuperSonics rallied behind McDaniel (34 points), Dale Ellis (18) and rookie Derrick McKey (14) to hand the Lakers' their second straight loss after an 8-0 start.
And while it doesn't happen every night that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has only two more points (10) than turnovers (8), or that the Lakers score fewer points than in any game since Jan. 26, 1985, when they had 83 against the Jazz in Utah, the point is still this: For whatever reason, this seems to happen to the Lakers here on an annual basis.
Last season, they lost by 14 points on their first visit here, by 24 the next. They've lost here at least once in each of the last seven seasons.
That, of course, didn't make it any more palatable for Pat Riley. It isn't every night, after all, that the coach-model sweats through his shirt.
"I don't feel nearly as bad about this loss as I did about Milwaukee--that was totally unacceptable," Riley said.
"But there were three obvious things: They were more physical, they have better athletes, and they play harder. That's what I saw."
Among the things Riley saw was Seattle center Alton Lister--who was benched the last five games--swat away 5 Laker shots and grab 13 rebounds. He also saw McKey score 14 points, reject 2 shots, including 1 by Abdul-Jabbar, make 3 steals and grab 5 rebounds.
He saw Seattle's defense harass the Lakers into shooting 38%--just 29.6% in the first quarter--while forcing the Lakers into making 24 turnovers. A.C. Green and Worthy shot a combined 0 for 9. Abdul-Jabbar was 5 for 15.
"They took us out of everything we tried, and we didn't respond well to their pressure," Riley said.
"Seattle was just on it. They've definitely closed the gap on us, if we played like that against them."
Asked about what effect the Matthews-McDaniel skirmish had on the Lakers, Riley cracked a smile.
"We should have done it earlier," he said.
Things were already heating up in the first half, which ended with Cooper hollering at Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff as the teams were leaving the floor.
"He was barking at me," Bickerstaff said. "He asked me if there was a dance after the game."
First, however, there was the rumble, which probably started when McDaniel set a hard pick on Matthews right after the Laker guard had come in for Magic Johnson, who scored 23 points for the Lakers.
On Seattle's next possession, Matthews stole the ball from Nate McMillan, then dribbled it off his foot. When he dove after the loose ball, McDaniel came his way, and it appeared that Matthews kicked a foot in X's face. That's when McDaniel made a grab for his neck, and Cooper intervened.
"My first reaction was I wasn't going to take any crap from him," McDaniel said.
McDaniel was called for a foul and assessed a technical as well, but Matthews didn't think the officials went far enough.
As far as Cooper is concerned, it won't go any further with McDaniel and himself. Later, after Cooper went to the floor attempting to block a McDaniel shot, X offered him a helping hand.
"The rivalry itself creates a lot of tension," Cooper said. "They're trying to show that last year wasn't a fluke. And they showed us tonight."