Having dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers quickly and decisively in the first round of the National Basketball Assn. playoffs, the Lakers will take a break until at least Sunday while awaiting their opponent for the Western Conference semifinals.
There will be no side trip to Santa Barbara, as in previous seasons during long playoff breaks. In fact, Coach Pat Riley planned to give his players only Thursday off before convening again today to prepare for the winner of the Seattle-Houston series.
And the Lakers trod lightly when their second-round preference was mentioned.
Riley was typically diplomatic, saying: "My preference is either one of them." Based solely on games against Seattle and Houston this season, it would seem that the Lakers would rather play the Rockets, despite the presence of center Akeem Olajuwon.
The Lakers posted a 3-1 regular-season record against Houston, the only loss being by five points at the Summit March 5. The Lakers had a 4-2 record against the SuperSonics, incurring the losses at Seattle. And two of their three home victories over Seattle were by a total of only four points.
Fearful that an extended break will end a hot streak during which his team has won 10 of 11 games--seven of the last eight in the regular season and all three so far in the playoffs--Riley is hoping that the Lakers will not have to wait until Tuesday night to begin the second round. If Seattle, which holds a 2-1 lead over Houston, wins Game 4 tonight at Houston, the Lakers will play host to the SuperSonics starting Sunday at the Forum. But if a fifth game is necessary, the second-round series would not begin until Tuesday night.
"Too many days off wouldn't be helpful, the way we're playing now," Riley said. "We did what we had to do (in the first round), now we sit back and prepare for either (Seattle or Houston). We're in a good groove now, and you want to make it last."
But that's not why Laker players want to start the second round Sunday. The prospect of four straight days of practice is hardly appealing.
"That would be unfortunate," center Mychal Thompson said. "He'd work our tails off. Practice is harder than games most of the time."
Thompson also has another reason to want to start the playoffs Sunday against Seattle--to avoid having to face Olajuwon.
"He's tough on us big guys," Thompson said. "I don't know any center in the league who wants to go against Akeem."
In the Portland series, the Lakers' only disadvantage figured to be the inside game. But the tandem of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Thompson clearly outplayed Portland's four big men--Kevin Duckworth, Sam Bowie, Steve Johnson and Caldwell Jones.
Abdul-Jabbar and Thompson combined to average 28.6 points and 10.6 rebounds. Portland's four big men combined to average 25.1 points and 16.8 rebounds. And A.C. Green, the Lakers' power forward, led all rebounders with a 9.6 average.
The Lakers dominated most statistical categories in the first-round series:
--The Lakers shot 52%; the Trail Blazers 45.3%. Whereas Portland shot better than 50% only in Game 3, the Lakers shot better than 50% twice and 48% in Game 2.
--The Lakers held a 136-124 rebounding advantage against a team with a height advantage.
--The Lakers finished with a 44-30 advantage in steals.
--In the 12 quarters of the series, the Lakers had the advantage in all but three. And the Trail Blazers held the lead for only 13 of the 144 minutes.
"We're playing very well now," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I was kind of disappointed near the end (of the regular season), but we picked it up a notch in the last week of the season and it's continued now."
Laker guard Byron Scott was elbowed sharply in the head by Portland center Sam Bowie in the second half of Wednesday night's game. Scott said that, after the blow, his left ear bled internally. Scott, who made seven of 11 shots Wednesday night, including three three-point baskets, said he also still has some pain in his troublesome right palm. . . . Magic Johnson was the Lakers' leading scorer in the series, averaging 27.3 points. Scott averaged 22.3 and James Worthy 19.6. . . . Clyde Drexler, who led the Trail Blazers with a 27.6 scoring average in the series, on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's inspired play in the series: "He looked like he was 21 again. It was an incredible performance by a legend in his own time."
This marked the fourth straight season that the Trail Blazers have been eliminated in the first round. In the wake of the latest first-round elimination, new Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen soon will determine the fate of interim Coach Rick Adelman and--as long rumored in Portland--Bucky Buckwalter, the vice president of basketball operations. "I'll just have to wait like everyone else," Adelman said after Wednesday's loss. "I hope it won't be too long. I really have no idea what they are going to do."