The first question asked of Magic Johnson, after another productive work day, came like a pinpoint lob pass on a fast break. His options, it seemed, were either to dunk it forcefully or lay it in gently.
"When did you think you had them beat?" the Laker guard was asked Sunday afternoon.
A brief pause followed, as if Johnson were editing his thoughts after the Lakers once again easily handled the Portland Trail Blazers, 113-105, in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Was it sunrise on Sunday?
Training camp, perhaps?
Eventually, Johnson, who had 35 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and five steals, took the cautious route, saying he thought the lead was secure early in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers built as much as a 23-point edge before a Trail Blazer run made the point differential deceptively closer.
But to many who have seen the first two games of this best-of-five series, the Laker victories have been almost indistinguishable from past seasons when they have destroyed first-round opponents.
"I know that the games have indicated otherwise but they have made us work," Laker Coach Pat Riley said.
"But when we're playing like that out there at home, we should win. We've pushed it up a level or two now in the past two games."
Another strong effort in Game 3 at Portland on Wednesday night will give the Lakers a first-round playoff sweep for the fifth straight season. Their first-round record stands at 17-0.
The Lakers have been so dominant that even the Trail Blazers' 23-8 run to end the game hardly caused furrowed brows.
"I'm not worried about the last six minutes," Riley said. "I thought we played extremely well."
Nothing changed for the Trail Blazers in Game 2, except their lineup.
Attempting to jump-start their running offense and perhaps catch the Lakers in a matchup problem, Coach Rick Adelman started guard Danny Young in place of power forward Caldwell Jones.
In theory, it appeared to be a good move. Riley and other Lakers said it caught them by surprise. But in reality, it backfired miserably and the results were as painfully predictable for the Trail Blazers as the blowout in Game 1.
Guard Clyde Drexler, moved to the front court in the new alignment, apparently could not guard Laker power forward A.C. Green. Drexler, the Trail Blazers' main offensive threat, was called for three fouls in the first 3 1/2 minutes and spent the rest of the first quarter on the bench.
Young, meanwhile, soon joined Drexler on the bench after suffering a dislocated finger on his shooting hand. He eventually returned, as did Drexler. But the Lakers led by 12 points after the first quarter, 10 at halftime and did not suffer a lapse until late in the fourth quarter.
"That team is too good to come from behind against," said Drexler, who scored 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter. "Same old Lakers we've always seen."
Typically, the Lakers kept the pressure on, negating Portland's attempt to establish driving lanes for Drexler and Jerome Kersey by using a half-court trap that flustered the Trail Blazers.
After making just 46% of their shots in Game 1, the Trail Blazers shot just 39.6% Sunday. Only Drexler, who made 10 of 22 shots, and Porter, who made eight of 16, effectively handled the Lakers' pressure. But even they had to work for their points.
"If you want to eliminate what they do best--which is having Clyde, Kersey and (guard Terry) Porter drive to the basket--what the trap does is get them out of alignment and make them start their offense after a few more passes," Riley said. "Our defense has played extremely well, taking away some gaps. And we got a lot of points off the defense."
Johnson stole any hopes of a Portland comeback in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. The period began with the Lakers holding an 86-76 lead. They weren't threatened, yet weren't cruising yet, either.
That's when Johnson went to work. He stripped the ball from Trail Blazer forward Steve Johnson underneath and drove the length of the court for a layup. He was fouled by Kersey, and sank the accompanying free throw for an 89-76 lead.
A minute later, after Orlando Woolridge blocked a shot by Drexler, Johnson converted his fourth three-point shot of the game for a 92-76 lead.
In the next two minutes, Johnson stole the ball from Sam Bowie, which led to free throws by Woolridge, and then tipped away a pass by Young, leading to Michael Cooper's three-point basket.
With 8:14 to play and the Lakers holding a 20-point lead after that 16-6 surge, Johnson was taken out. Apparently, he was going to be given the rest of the day off.
Johnson, however, returned with 4:26 to play after a 12-2 Portland run eventually blossomed into a 23-8 surge that dropped the point spread to single figures.
"The fourth quarter was still important, because it's still a game at that point," Johnson said. "It can either go up to 16 (points) or down to six. But when we got up by 20 with eight or seven minutes to go, I thought we had them then."