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Beating Post-Celtic Blues Is Only Tough Part for Lakers

February 17, 1988|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

You know how it is with Celtics, you can never find one when you need one.

How were the Lakers to stay awake, to avoid their traditional post-Boston depression?

Well, the Clippers did show up Tuesday night with Greg Kite, but take him out of his green uniform and keep him out of fights and he wasn't enough to fire up the home team. So the Lakers slept until mid-second quarter, when the Clippers had a 12-point lead. Then, Michael Cooper came in and woke everybody up with all his thrashing around on defense. Thus roused, his teammates staged the expected rally and completed the expected rout, 119-100, at the Forum.

Were the Clippers surprised, or what?

"Reality set in," said the Clippers' Michael Cage.

"They ain't the world champs for nothing," said the Clippers' Larry Drew.

As mismatches go, this one was up there. The Lakers (39-9) with 28 wins in 31 games, came in as 19-point favorites over the Clippers, who are 11-36 with 24 losses in their last 27 games and 17 straight on the road.

"I don't give a damn what we do," said Clipper Coach Gene Shue, "our points end up being 100.

"They used to wind up being 97. We've been running more, so now our points are up to 100."

But seriously folks . . .

This wasn't the way this game began. The Clippers came in with their customary string of losses--"We're in the midst of our newest losing streak," said Shue before the game--but with some history on their side. The Lakers had just played the Celtics. Last season, they had lost both games after their Boston games. The first L.A. Clipper victory over the Lakers had come after a Boston game in 1986.

Sure enough, the Lakers came out with something missing.

Like field goal tries. The game was 3:44 old before anyone but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shot the ball. And he only put up three (making two). By that time, the Clippers had jumped to a 15-7 lead, and they were just getting warmed up. Drew canned his first six shots, all from 20 feet, and early in the second period, the Clippers led, 43-31.

"It (a letdown) is always in the back of your mind, but I don't like to fall prey to that," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "There's no reason to let that happen if you're professional.

"But we weren't the aggressors out there. Our rotations on defense were slow. We weren't getting to the shooter. Our trapping defense was soft."

Fairy tales may come true, but none did Tuesday night. Byron Scott knocked down a three-pointer. Magic Johnson hit Mychal Thompson for a dunk on a fast break. Benoit Benjamin, who ranks third in the National Basketball Assn. in shot blocking and seems to take it seriously, knocked down a James Worthy shot that had already passed its apogee for one of his three goaltending calls, and the rally was on. Worthy scored nine points in the last 6:10 of the half, and the Clippers' lead was down to 55-52 at intermission.

Soon it was gone forever. The Lakers eased past them with a 30-19 third period and went and hid.

"The Lakers can turn it up a notch," Shue said. "They start playing defense. Cooper came in and started lifting them up."

If the Laker starters are prone to playing down to the opposition, the same could never be said for Cooper, who has the nervous system of a hummingbird.

"This is the low point of the year," Cooper said. "The season is half over. The think the guys are--I won't say 'coasting'--but taking it a game at a time."

And Cooper?

"I find it very easy to get up. I'm on the bench. As the game progresses, it's very easy for me to get up for games."

He played well defensively, he shot 5 for 11 (and 4 for 6 inside the three-point line), finishing with 11 points and 6 assists. Most impressive of all, he dove for a relatively meaningless loose ball late in the game and suffered a cut on his chin that required five stitches.

"That's what he's all about," Riley said.

Doesn't Riley worry that Cooper is going to kill himself?

"No," Riley said, "because if he stops, I'm going to kill him."

Laker-Clipper Notes Of course, in his Forum debut as a Clipper, Greg Kite was booed. "At least they know who I am," said the ex-Celtic, uh, physical player. "I may be the only player in the NBA who can get booed in his hometown." As long as Benoit Benjamin remains a Clipper, he won't be the only one. . . . Quintin Dailey, the Clippers' third leading scorer (13.6), missed the game with a bruised right knee. He's on a day-to-day basis. . . . Michael Cage started the night needing 15 rebounds to wrest the league lead away from Charles Oakley, but finished with 10. . . . Going into this game, after four meetings--one of which the Clippers won--the Lakers were averaging 111 points, the Clippers 93, an 18-point difference. . . . Gene Shue: "We just have too many holes. There are too many times during the course of the game when we don't have enough offense in there. No matter how I juggle the lineup, there are just too many times we can't score."

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