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Lakers Back on Track, Romp to a 122-97 Win

December 16, 1987|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

That was no Phoenix rising from the ashes Tuesday night at the Forum, that was the return of the Laker blowout, back after a month-long hiatus.

Enough of those shaves closer than the one done on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's head. The Lakers, who have had two one-point wins, two two-point losses and an overtime game in their last six outings, won going away for a change, beating the Phoenix Suns, 122-97.

Last season, the Lakers won 18 games by 20 points or more. Until Tuesday night, there had been two, the last coming almost a month ago, when they waxed the Portland Trail Blazers, 142-115.

This one became academic at the start of the fourth quarter, when the Lakers extended an 18-point lead--96-78--to 32 with a 14-0 run in the first four minutes.

"They're back on track," said Phoenix Coach John Wetzel. "They'd been a little unsettled, and everybody had been talking about their demise, but when they get James Worthy back at full strength, they'll be back where they were."

And where are the Suns? Well, they may be picking up the pieces from last year's devastating drug scandal, but, without star guard Walter Davis and top rookie Armon Gilliam, both injured, the Suns were easily eclipsed by the Lakers.

"We have a long way to go," Wetzel said. "A lot of work to do. Obviously, when we play the real good teams, we're not in the same ballpark."

The Lakers, meanwhile, have been at their best against the best--take a look at the videotape of last Friday's win in Boston--and as consistent as a YMCA team against the rest of the league.

They corrected that tendency Tuesday night, with Byron Scott and A.C. Green especially coming up big, while Magic Johnson was content to play setup man.

Scott had 31 points, 9 assists and 5 steals, all season highs, while Green had 22 points and 14 rebounds. Johnson, meanwhile, took just two shots in the first half, nine for the game, and finished with seven points and nine assists.

Playing a trapping defense that resulted in 13 steals, 22 Phoenix turnovers and uncounted hurried shots, the Lakers also were able to get their running game in order again.

"It's nice to extend it one game," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "We did a lot of good things defensively that we've been emphasizing.

"Back on track is winning, and there's still a lot of work to be done. But tonight we executed our offense, and executed it well at times."

Riley said he didn't know whether Johnson purposely eschewed his shot Tuesday.

"Even with him, there might have been some indecision," Riley said. "Should he take over, should he get everyone involved? But he runs the show, and tonight he was trying to get the ball to people."

One of those people was Scott, who had 19 points in the first half, which ended with the Lakers leading by 15 at 69-54.

"We have a lot of guys who need to get in some kind of rhythm to play their best," Johnson said, "and Byron had his rhythm going, he was in a groove."

Worthy, who had 19 points, said there was a difference in the way the Lakers ran Tuesday.

"Tonight, we ran with a purpose," he said. "The last couple of weeks, we'd just been running up and down the court. Tonight, we had the court balanced better, and were able to get more layups. And when we didn't, we did better on going to second or third options."

The Suns had little choice but to go to Larry Nance, who had 27 points.

"Tonight they played like the Lakers of old," Phoenix guard Jay Humphries said. "They got out and ran and played with a lot of enthusiasm. That's something they haven't been doing lately.

"From the games I saw on TV from their last road trip it looked like they were having problems with their running game. I didn't notice any problems tonight, though."

Riley even cleared his bench, allowing the newest Laker, Ray Tolbert, to score his first basket in the game's final 26 seconds after an earlier hoop was disallowed when Mike Smrek was called for offensive interference.

"We didn't discount the fact that they were a quality team," said Wetzel, adding that he never took seriously the bad vibes the Lakers supposedly were sending out.

"And when they put quality players on the floor," he added, "they can create havoc when they play together."

Back on track?

"You can't say that," Scott said. "We thought we were after the Boston game, and we sputtered to beat Cleveland. We've just got to continue to work as hard again."

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