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X PICKS HIS SPOTS : McDaniel Is Up for Lakers, but He Downplays Incident With Matthews

December 20, 1987|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

Wes Matthews couldn't say anything while Xavier McDaniel's fingers were wrapped around his windpipe in Seattle last month, but once he caught his breath, the Laker backup guard vowed that McDaniel's "bald head will be mine" the next time the Seattle SuperSonics come to the Forum.

Well, that time arrives tonight, but if anyone really believes McDaniel's smooth-as-marble skull will somehow wind up as a trophy in Matthews' locker, they obviously haven't checked with X, as he is known.

"Let's just say I'm not going to be watching over my shoulder," McDaniel said by telephone from Seattle. "I don't think he'll try anything.

"I'm just coming to play ball and knock heads. That's what I'm paid for, for 82 games, to bang bodies."

McDaniel didn't need Matthews for added incentive against the Lakers, a team that he branded as a personal Public Enemy No. 1 ever since his first game against them at the Forum two years ago.

With Seattle trailing, 107-106, and eight seconds left to play, rookie McDaniel went to the free-throw line for two shots. After being harassed by then-Laker forward Maurice Lucas, McDaniel missed both free throws. The Lakers won, then added insult to injury.

"A couple of their players--and I won't name names--said I choked," McDaniel said. "Ever since then, I've had something to prove."

The proof is in the numbers: In his next game against the Lakers, McDaniel shot 12 free throws and made them all. And in 18 games, including the playoffs, McDaniel is averaging 24.1 points and 9.1 rebounds against the Lakers. In their last six meetings, he has raised his scoring average to 28.8 points a game, including 34 points in their last game.

And whenever McDaniel feels he might be mellowing toward the Lakers, he just flips on his TV set and sticks in a tape of last season's Western Conference finals against the Lakers, in which the SuperSonics were swept in four games, including a 31-point Game 4 blowout at Seattle.

"I watched Game 4 a lot this summer," McDaniel said. "I watched it just to make me mad coming into the season. I'd rewind it and play it over and over. It was embarrassing for me and my teammates, to lose like that at home."

It didn't make it any easier that McDaniel's opposite number at small forward, James Worthy, had a spectacular series, averaging more than 30 points a game.

"I was embarrassed by the series, but not because James went off," McDaniel said. "No one is going to stop James but James. He'd probably average more points if he were playing with another team.

"I play against him and Larry (Bird), and they both scorch me and kill me, but I'm not embarrassed. I don't think James plays as hard until the playoffs. But he can afford to take a night off. I can't afford that with the Seattle SuperSonics."

That's because neither he nor the SuperSonics have arrived yet, although they're both getting closer. The SuperSonics led by 11 before losing to the Lakers, 113-109, in the season opener at the Forum, then torched the Lakers by 18, 103-85, at Seattle on Nov. 24.

"I don't think the talent level is much different," McDaniel said. "The difference is experience. Those guys all have playoff experience. Even A.C. Green has been there twice.

"But I think (Seattle rookie) Derrick McKey is just as talented as anybody on their team. There's Tom (Chambers) and Dale (Ellis). Our point guard, Nate (McMillan) may not be much of a shooter, but we don't ask him to shoot.

"I still give the Lakers the edge, but we're right there with them. Sooner or later, we're going to catch up."

And increasingly, McDaniel, now in his third season since being drafted No. 1 out of Wichita State, is being recognized as one of the game's best small forwards, rather than as a hothead who fought his way through the league.

"I get a lot of feedback about me not being an All-Star because people think I'm a roughhouse player," McDaniel said. "I'm only 205 pounds. I just play as hard as I can. If I roughhouse, what do people think Charles Barkley is doing?"

The 6-foot 8-inch McDaniel does play a different game than many small forwards.

"The majority of small forwards are finesse players," he said. "I'm a power player. I can post up a guy 6-10, jump up and score over him, no problem."

He also can get himself involved in scraps with guys 7 inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than himself, as he demonstrated last month when he and Matthews tangled in Seatte.

Both players dove for a loose ball, Matthews came up with his foot flailing, McDaniel applied a chokehold, which loosened only when Michael Cooper pushed him into the scorer's table.

Afterward, Matthews called McDaniel a whiner while calling into question his sexual preference, then issued his "bald head will be mine" challenge. McDaniel's response?

"Like Mike Tyson said to Larry Holmes," he said at the time. "Anytime, anyplace, anywhere."

McDaniel says he regrets saying anything now. "If I had to do it over, I wouldn't say anything," he said. "That's not me.

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