The Lakers used to blow away teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers. But that was then and this is now.
The Lakers struggled to beat the Cavaliers, 90-89, Sunday night before 17,505 fans at the Forum.
James Worthy, who has been hobbled by a knee injury, scored 20 points, including the game-winner with 33 seconds left.
Worthy also had a hand in the defensive play of the game when he stole the ball from Cleveland guard Mark Price with 10 seconds left to preserve the win.
The Cavaliers, who beat the Lakers, 97-95, on a tip-in by Tyrone Corbin eight days ago in Cleveland almost did it again.
Trailing, 89-88, after Corbin hit a 12-foot jumper with 47 seconds remaining, the Lakers set up a play for Magic Johnson, who had hit the game-winning shot in Friday's 115-114 win over Boston.
But the Cavaliers had Magic well covered, so he fed Worthy under the basket. Worthy scooped in a shot to give the Lakers the lead.
"The play was designed for Magic," Worthy said. "But they cut him off. I stepped back and got good position. Fortunately the ball went in."
Cleveland never had a chance to get off a shot as the the Lakers did a good job of shutting down the Cavaliers' offense. Price didn't have anyone to pass to and Laker guard Byron Scott knocked the ball out of his hands and Worthy recovered.
Cleveland Coach Lenny Wilkens said Price blew the play.
"I'm not sure why Price hesitated like he did," Wilkens said. "He came off a screen good and I thought he was wide open. He just couldn't seem to get the shot off.
"I told him to call a timeout as soon as we got the ball to midcourt, but he didn't. Once we were over the halfcourt line I probably should have yelled, but I felt like we were into one of our plays enough."
Said Cleveland center Brad Daugherty: "The idea was for Mark and I to run a pick-and-roll. I thought he had a clear shot at first, but he didn't take it. After that, everything got so clogged up and he just lost the ball."
Said Price: "It was a bad play on my part. I had a pretty good shot, but there was still a lot of time on the clock and I didn't want to give the ball to the Lakers with too much time. I should have pulled it back out and called a timeout, and as a result, we didn't even get a shot."
The Lakers, who have won two straight, were lucky to win. They scored a season-low 40 points in the first half and had 19 turnovers.
Laker Coach Pat Riley was so mad that he didn't yell at his team at halftime.
"He just wrote 19 on the board," said Laker guard Byron Scott, who had 16 points. "He didn't have to say anything. He didn't have to scream and yell at us. We knew that we hadn't played well."
Said Riley: "Our passing in the first half was comical. We're one of the greatest passing teams ever, but we're just not thinking. We came into the game with the attitude that we didn't have to do the little things to win.
"It's one thing after another. They're veterans and I have to show as much patience as I can. You've got to save your temporary insanity."
The Lakers outscored the Cavaliers, 31-19, in the third quarter to take a 71-65 lead into the fourth period. A.C. Green scored 10 of his 14 points in the third period and Scott added 8 points.
But they couldn't shape the Cavaliers, who were led by Daugherty (19 points, 7 rebounds) and Price (16 points, 6 assists).
"We"ve got to put some margin between us and our opponents," said Magic Johnson, who had 16 points and 8 assists. "It seems to be a dog fight in every game. We've just got to keep winning the dog fights until we can finally get a blowout again."
The Lakers, who trailed 46-40 at halftime, didn't have the same intensity against the Cavaliers that they had in the win over Boston. They shot just 39.4%, hitting 15 of 38 shots.
The Lakers announced before the game that they have signed veteran forward Ray Tolbert (6-foot 9-inches, 240 pounds), who was cut by the New York Knicks on Dec. 6.
"I think it's everybody's dream to play for the Lakers. They're the best team in the world," Tolbert said. "It's almost like they (the Knicks) did me a favor by cutting me.
"Hopefully, I can contribute to the Lakers. I just have to do what I do best, which is to play good defense."
Tolbert replaces injured swingman Jeff Lamp on the Laker roster. Lamp underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
With Worthy still nursing a sore knee, the Lakers are counting on Tolbert to help out.
"I didn't want to bring in just a proverbial body. We didn't get him just to help out in practice," Riley said. "He's an excellent defensive player. I was impressed with him in New York."
Tolbert, 29, has played for New Jersey, Seattle, Detroit and New York since being drafted 18th in 1981 by the Nets out of Indiana. He also spent played one season in Italy and played in the Continental Basketball Assn. for two seasons. Tolbert averaged 4.3 points and 3.2 rebounds in 11 games with the Knicks this season.