INDIANAPOLIS — As profound philosophical discussion, it will never threaten Plato's Dialogues--or, for that matter, Red on Roundball.
But for the purpose of placing in perspective the Lakers' winning streak--which reached 14 Saturday night in a gritty 101-98 victory over the Indiana Pacers--here, in unexpurgated form, is the postgame exchange that took place between Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green when a third party posed the following question:
Now that the Lakers have matched the second longest streak in team history--and the longest in the NBA since Boston won 14 straight in the 1985-86 season--does anyone dare think of (tremble, tremble) the hallowed 33-game record streak set by the 1971-72 Lakers?
"Oh, yeah," Thompson said brightly. "How many games we got left?"
Green, sitting alongside Thompson: "Don't even start."
Thompson: "Why not? We've got 50-something left (51) now, and who ever thinks of losing a game? (To Green): What's wrong with that?"
Green: "I'll talk about it on the bus. (To Milt Wagner): Milt, will you come over here and shut Mychal up?"
Thompson: "If Moses can part the Red Sea, why can't we win 50 in a row?"
Green, to trainer Gary Vitti: "Vitt, get him a treatment. He's running at the mouth again. (Responding to the original question) I don't even think about it right now. It's too far down the road. I concentrate on each game as it comes."
Thompson: "That's so boring. Who wants to read that?"
Green: "That's how you answer a question. You don't give them stupid fluff."
Thompson: "He's just jealous because he can't talk. We're not playing as well as we can play. We're hitting some dead spots, like you do on the Boston Garden floor. But we're working our way through it. Until we play a perfect 48 minutes, we can't be happy about our game."
Green: "That's better. You can write that down. (Asked if Thompson's attitude bothered him) Mychal who?"
Of this you can be certain: Jerry West, Thompson's self-appointed censor, would be proud of Green, even if the Laker forward might have made his general manager sweat a little when he missed two free throws with three seconds left. Those misses, however, became inconsequential when Byron Scott collared the rebound, just as Scott had done at the close of the Lakers' Houdini act Friday night, when they escaped with a 106-104 win in Detroit.
Saturday, Scott had two huge rebounds in the last half-minute. He also grabbed the miss of Chuck Person's hurried 20-footer with the Lakers clinging to a 100-99 lead. The Pacers were forced to foul, and Scott--who scored 20 points, the seventh straight game he has gotten at least that many--calmly put away both free throws.
Indiana called a timeout, at which point Coach Jack Ramsay sent in rookie Reggie Miller, the mad bomber from UCLA. But Michael Cooper, who has played pickup ball against Miller the last three summers, and Scott double-teamed the Pacer guard, and Person--last season's NBA rookie of the year--misfired from about 30 feet out. Green picked off the miss, one of his game-high 12 rebounds (11 on the defensive boards), and the streak was intact.
The Lakers, to be sure, were well aware of how close a call they'd had.
"We may have been vulnerable tonight," James Worthy said, "especially after a last-second shot game Friday night.
"But you can conjure up enough intensity, at least mentally. I don't think everybody had it physically tonight, but I think we've learned that we can focus for 48 minutes, and rest later."
If Worthy was inclined to take a breather, it wasn't apparent Saturday night. He dove to the floor in pursuit--futile, as it turned out--of a loose ball in the first quarter, and gave a jolt to his sore left knee when he soared to block a fast-break layup attempt by Pacer guard John Long.
The Lakers, however, were clearly struggling. Indiana center Steve Stipanovich--equally effective inside and out--scored 26 points on 12 of 16 shots. His counterpart, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sat out an extended 11-minute stretch in the second half, scored just nine points--the fourth time this season he's been under double figures--and had two airballs masquerade as sky hooks down the stretch.
Magic Johnson, too, was off his game in the first half--one of five shooting, six points--and the Pacers were scoring many of their points on second shots. Miller's three-pointer with 4:57 left in the half gave Indiana a nine-point lead, 44-35, and the Pacers were still ahead by four at the half, 52-48. It could have been worse if Scott hadn't kept his hot hand and thrown in a dozen points.
The lead was still three, 76-73, after three quarters, but the Lakers' trapping defense was starting to take its toll on the Pacers. They had committed just two turnovers in the first half but yielded the ball five times on steals in the third period.