SACRAMENTO — As the pressure placed upon David Rivers intensified at the free-throw line with each timeout the Sacramento Kings called Monday night, the Lakers' rookie guard did something strange for someone in his position.
Actually, it was more of a smirk. Rivers flashed it at the Kings' bench after Coach Jerry Reynolds had called a second timeout in a ploy to rattle Rivers, who was fouled with four seconds to play and the Lakers clinging to a one-point lead.
Once he got around to shooting, Rivers was accurate. He calmly swished both shots, and the Lakers foiled a last-second, King three-point shot to hold on to a 100-97 victory before a sellout crowd of 16,517 in the Arco Arena.
"That didn't bother me at all," said Rivers, who laughed about it afterward. "It's a common coach's move to put somebody on ice like that. It didn't make any difference to me. I already had made the shots in my mind. I saw them go in."
Visualizing baskets is not something Rivers has not had much of an opportunity to do in his rookie season. But Monday it helped the Lakers erase some unpleasant memories from Sacramento.
Last month, the Lakers played perhaps their worst game of the season, dropping their eighth consecutive road game. Sacramento also is the city where Byron Scott's urological disorder first surfaced, and Coach Pat Riley finally decided a team meeting was necessary.
Monday's visit was considerably more pleasant for the Lakers, thanks to Rivers and others. Scott, who scored 35 points in Sunday's victory over the Celtics, had a game-high 33. James Worthy had 20 points and A.C. Green had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
As a result, the Lakers' redemption from last month's loss was secure, and they managed to go 2 1/2 games in front of the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division race.
They could not have done it without Rivers, who probably would not have played if not for the injury that has kept Magic Johnson out of action. But then, the Lakers might not have found themselves in such a close game had Johnson, who has a partially torn left hamstring, played.
The Lakers managed to win despite several anxious moments.
After Sacramento's Kenny Smith made one of two free throws to cut the Laker lead to 98-97 with 26 seconds to play, the Lakers set up for a final shot. But it seemed as if they were simply trying to run out the clock.
With five seconds left on the game clock, and three on the shot clock, Michael Cooper was trapped in the corner with the ball. Teammate Mychal Thompson called a timeout, which Riley didn't like at the time.
"I didn't want that because then they (the Kings) still have a chance to win," Riley said. "If we don't call a timeout and we don't score, maybe they wouldn't have had a chance to set up a play. I think it was a good call now, but . . . "
Thompson offered his side.
"I figured we needed to get off a good shot, and we wouldn't have done that with Coop stuck in the corner," he said. "I thought it would help."
All it did was give the Kings a chance to foul a Laker as soon as the ball was inbounded. Riley used the time out to replace Thompson, a poor free-throw shooter, with Rivers.
Rivers had made 28 of 31 free throws this season, none of which were nearly as vital as Monday night's. In fact, the only other time in his professional career that Rivers has shot free throws in the final seconds--an exhibition game against Washington in October--he missed both.
"I mentioned that game to him as he walked out to shoot," Riley said. "Actually, nobody said anything to him. But he was breathing quite shallow and seemed calm."
Rivers said the pressure did not affect him. He said he tuned out the fans who were roaring and disregarded the subtle mind games by King players.
"I just concentrated on visualizing them going in," Rivers said. "I've always had confidence in my game, especially my free-throw shooting. I made a lot of big shots at Notre Dame.
"You just have to block out everything. I've learned to shoot that way from high school through Notre Dame and now here. You've got to blank out and concentrate only on that."
After Rivers made both shots and received high-fives from teammates, the Kings called another timeout to perhaps visualize a game-winning three-point attempt.
Reynolds wanted Ricky Berry, who had made two three-point shots earlier, to take the shot. Berry finally received the ball in three-point range with 2 seconds left, but Worthy was draped over him. Berry double-pumped simply to get off the shot, which clanged off the front rim.
Cooper got the rebound, and the Lakers improved their road record to 14-13, securing their third victory in four games without Johnson.
Scott, treated for back spasms before the game, has been major factor in the last two Laker victories. Perhaps more than any other player, he felt relieved to come into Sacramento and leave with a victory and his health.