The Phoenix Suns encountered a new kind of Laker Saturday. It had both of its eyes wide open, and fire in them.
For a young team with one player who has ever been in a conference finals--Tom Chambers, whose Seattle SuperSonics lasted four games against the Lakers in 1987--this took some getting used to. By the time the Suns got their feet under them, the Lakers were ahead, 50-34, and the Suns were in for the uphill fight they ultimately lost, 127-119.
Chambers? He shot five for 19 and had more than he could handle with James Worthy.
Another big Sun, Eddie Johnson, went six for 16. Kevin Johnson, point guard and the team's heart and soul, went one for three in the first period with two turnovers, although he came back strongly after that.
"I felt I really needed to come out and kind of do a little extra because I have been here," Chambers said.
"I felt I was pretty good about it. I was going to the hoop strong. I didn't think I was overly aggressive. Now, hopefully, I'll be able to go out and play the way I played all season.
"I just had four or five shots that didn't go in early. I thought they were my normal shots. That happens. I think I could have a good game shooting those same shots."
If he wanted to see shots go in, he didn't have to look any farther than the man he was guarding--Worthy, who made 13 of 22 en route to scoring 32 points, with a vintage see-if-you-can-guess-where-I'm-going assortment of whirling moves in the lane.
If nothing else, Chambers had a good view for critical perspective.
He rated it five stars, even to the point of agreeing that Worthy, at the top of his game, is unstoppable.
"One-on-one, yeah," Chambers said.
"But there are a lot of players in this league who are tough to stop one-on-one. You have to have help from your teammates. You have to do a good job of keeping yourself between him and the basket. You have to do a good job of moving your feet.
"Yeah, he's as tough as anyone in the league when he's playing with that much enthusiasm and that much quickness. He wants the ball and he gets it and he does something with it. He never throws up a bad shot. If you double-team him, he passes it.
"He's so quick down on the block. You give him an inch and Magic (Johnson) will hit him. A lot of times, you can make a little mistake and it doesn't hurt because the point guard isn't going to see it, but not here.
"James is really getting after it and giving them an inspiration, probably more so than anybody on their team."
Of course, Chambers' teammates also have to be ready to help guard Johnson, Byron Scott, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, A.C. Green, et al, so you begin to see the dimensions of the problem.
Throughout the somber Sun dressing room, there seemed to be a great reluctance to admit that they'd opened tight, even if they didn't get a shot off until their fourth possession, by which time the Lakers had two easy fast-break hoops and had flown to an 8-2 lead.
The Suns, who are giving away all that experience, don't want to concede anything, it seems.
"We came over here expecting to win," Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said. "We didn't come over for the weather. The weather's good in Phoenix."
So why did the Suns start so slowly if they weren't tight?
"They (the Lakers) seemed to be extremely ready for the game," Jeff Hornacek suggested. "We weren't ready at their level."
Late in the afternoon, Fitzsimmons seemed to tire of the subject of Worthy's use of Chambers and conceded something, after all.
"Worthy was very good, gentlemen," Fitzsimmons said. " So what else is new? Worthy is very good. I liked him when he was at North Carolina.
"He was drafted No. 1, wasn't he? (Worthy was the top pick in the nation in 1983). Jabbar was drafted No. 1, wasn't he? Magic was No. 1. Mychal (Thompson) was No. 1. Byron was picked fourth (on the first round in 1983). A.C. gets to be the overachiever. He was picked 20th (on the first round in 1985). They're good."
As good as they are, the Suns caught the Lakers and went ahead in the fourth quarter, even if the Lakers did take the lead back, lose Magic Johnson on fouls with 2:23 left and won, going away.
Color it a missed opportunity, Suns, who will be back at the Forum for Game 2 Tuesday night. They dressed hurriedly and flew home to Phoenix, to practice in familiar surroundings, with equally nice weather.