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Lakers Aren't at a Loss in Phoenix

January 17, 1988|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — So, what form does life take after a loss to the Clippers?

Pat Riley slept about an hour, tops.

Byron Scott bit his tongue but was incensed at some of the things said by, among others, the wives of Clipper players.

Mychal Thompson tried to explain to people that losing to the Clippers was not the same as losing to a high school team.

And Magic Johnson was pleasantly surprised to get a standing ovation when he was introduced at the UCLA game.

Then the Lakers, collectively, restored some semblance of order to the universe Saturday night with a 107-96 win over the Suns in their first game since their 15-game streak was abruptly terminated by the Clippers three nights before.

At least, the Suns can take solace in the fact that few people here will even notice they lost, what with the governor facing impeachment proceedings and pro football's Cardinals planning a move to town.

When the Lakers lose, however, especially to the Clippers, inquiring minds want to know if the sky is falling.

"It was unbelievable," Riley said. "People said, 'What happened?' I said, 'Nothing.' I said, 'Life happened, and now you move on.' Why keep thinking about that game?

"But I was miserable. Chris (his wife) and I sat and talked about it, and then I slept about an hour. That was it. I kept thinking about the game, what could have been and why we lost. I thought about the turnover (when Johnson lost the ball in the last half-minute of overtime) and the forced shot (by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). I saw James Worthy all alone, waving for the ball. But that's history."

Saturday night, the Lakers found it infinitely easier to spot Worthy, who had 25 points--19 in the first half, when the Lakers took a 55-44 lead that eventually grew to 21, 95-74, and was never challenged by the Suns.

"I thought the guys came back strong, real strong," Riley said. "We were sharp as hell."

And that, Scott said, is far preferable to catching hell from friends, acquaintances--and worst of all, anyone associated with the Clippers.

"It's tough to listen to people," said Scott, who played six-time all-star Walter Davis to a virtual standoff (Scott had 19 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists; Davis had 21 points, 1 rebound and 5 assists).

"After four years, you take it and keep your mouth shut. It (the loss) stings, and not to degrade the Clippers in any way, but I think out of the teams we played in the streak, we would have rather lost to anyone but the Clippers."

Why's that?

"Because they're in L.A.," Scott said, "and to be honest, I don't think they accepted it--I don't think they showed any kind of class after the win. The things they said, their wives were saying, I didn't like it.

"Our wives got mad at what their wives said to them (outside the teams' dressing rooms). Anita (Scott) and Wanda (Cooper) got pretty upset. They said to the Clipper wives, 'You didn't win a championship, you only won a game.'

"They didn't have any class. But after 11 straight losses, I guess you can't expect it."

While Scott was doing a slow burn, Mychal Thompson--who came off the bench for a sub-par Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (9 points, 3 of 10 shooting) to score 15 points--was quick to explain to people that there was no shame in losing to the Clippers.

"We had to let the public know that the Clippers are professionals," Thompson said. "It wasn't like we rolled over."

It was important, however, Thompson said, that the Lakers avoid falling into the pattern that followed their season-opening eight-game winning streak, when they lost six of nine games.

"We didn't look forward to falling into the return of the rut," Thompson said.

Johnson was a little apprehensive about showing up at Pauley Pavilion the night after the Clipper loss. But the warm response he got upon being introduced cheered him measurably.

"I couldn't believe it," said Johnson, who had 18 points and 9 assists and didn't commit a turnover in 33 minutes.

"But I think now our fans are appreciative of the Lakers no matter what happens. When I first came here, the Lakers were successful, but all it was Dodgers, Dodgers, Dodgers. Even when we played in the playoffs and the Dodgers were in training camp, the Dodgers would be on the first page and we'd be on the second. We could never get the respect they had.

"But we're there now. The fans like us, whether we win or lose."

So Magic isn't planning to pull a Bo Jackson, and make a bid to play center field for the Dodgers?

"No way," he said, laughing. "I can hardly handle the job I have now."

Laker Notes

Laker Coach Pat Riley said James Worthy was doubtful to play Saturday night because of tendinitis in his left knee. "Then he comes out and has 19 at the half," Riley said. "He's a hard read. Nobody on this team has more heart." . . . Riley said the Laker defensive play was much improved from the Clipper game. "In the post, more than anything else," he said. "You can't let guys like (Michael) Cage and (Benoit) Benjamin get 17 and 16 rebounds. Somebody wasn't taking care of business, period. You can't allow Cage and Benjamin to rebound like that. That means they're not having to work on blocking somebody out. I thought James was exceptional tonight. He had real good position on Larry (Nance) defensively. Nance got his points (20), but not 33 or 34." . . . Phoenix rookie Armon Gilliam, the second player taken in the draft who had missed 27 games with an injured toe, scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds.

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