Lakers lose? Yes, newspapers must publish bad news. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. We wanted the Lakers to win their 17th consecutive game Tuesday night at Phoenix. We wanted them to break their own record of 33 in a row, to boldly go where no NBA team had gone before.
We could picture it as the Lakers went after:
18 IN A ROW--Tonight at home against Minnesota.
We could see two people giving the Lakers trouble: Jerome (Pooh) Richardson, the former UCLA player who is now known to Native Americans in his part of the country as Dances With Timberwolves, and Tony Campbell, the former Laker who is better known as Plays Little Defense. We could see the Lakers winning by two points when the Timberwolves draw a technical foul for using too many anonymous players.
19 IN A ROW--Friday against Boston.
Since this game would be played at the Forum rather than at Boston Garden, the obvious advantages for the Lakers include a floor that isn't bolted like the Frankenstein monster's neck and a central air-conditioning system that wasn't installed during the Roosevelt Administration. Celtics lose by one point when Brian Shaw draws technical foul for cursing at referee in Italian.
24 IN A ROW--Feb. 24 at Detroit.
Nationally televised game at Palace of Auburn Hills gets off to bad start when Isiah Thomas, injured and wearing civilian clothes, decides to nevertheless give Magic Johnson a traditional pregame kiss. Johnson, still suffering from aftereffects of temporary amnesia, fails to recognize Thomas and punches him silly. Lakers win by one point when Dennis Rodman draws technical foul for acting like Dennis Rodman.
25 IN A ROW--Next night at Philadelphia.
Back-to-back road games affect tired Lakers. But incentive is regained after Charles Barkley tells reporters he is greater than any Laker who ever lived, in or out of goggles. 76ers lose by five points and are criticized by Barkley for not being Barkleys.
30 IN A ROW--March 7 at Milwaukee.
Laker 33-game winning streak ended here in 1972. Amazing thing is, Milwaukee still has exactly the same team. Six guys 6-foot-3 and six guys 6-foot-9, all of them interchangeable. "It was different when we had what's-his-name, Alcindor," says team official as Bucks lose by six.
31 IN A ROW--March 9 at Washington.
Really feeling pressure now, Lakers play without injured Magic Johnson, injured James Worthy and injured player to be named later but still defeat Bullets, 101-99, despite 99 points by Bernard King.
32 IN A ROW--March 10 at Orlando.
Vlade Divac's unexplained absence after being last seen in Yugoslavia Exhibit at Epcot Center notwithstanding, Lakers extend streak as Los Angeles Magic gets triple-double and Orlando Magic doesn't.
33 IN A ROW--March 12 at Miami.
Heat is on as Lakers try to tie record. With score tied in final seconds, Magic Johnson distracts Miami center Rony Seikaly into looking the wrong way by whispering that he has located the missing letter in Seikaly's first name. Yawning General Manager Jerry West, asked by reporters about Lakers winning 33 in a row, comments: "You seen one NBA team win 33 straight, you seen 'em all."
34 IN A ROW--March 15 against Denver.
Asking the Lakers to win a home game against Denver is like asking a fish to eat a worm. How can they refuse? Lakers get a scare when fatigue sets in after scoring 150th point in first half, but regain control in overtime after Magic Johnson discreetly advises Nugget players to have Paul Westhead removed as coach. "An old strategy, but one that always works for the Lakers," Westhead admits.
The NBA's new longest winning streak probably would end right here. San Antonio comes to town two days later and catches the Lakers looking ahead to their next game with the Clippers.
(In the NBA, everybody looks forward to their next game with the Clippers.)
Think about what the Lakers already have accomplished by winning 16 games in a row. There are several teams in the league who still haven't won \o7 16 games\f7 , period. And it's February. In fact, it's mid-February. The All-Star Game is \o7 behind\f7 us. As a rule, the good teams usually like to win at least 16 games by the end of the Bob Hope golf tournament or the baseball season opener.
This is just a hunch, mind you, but I am willing to wager that the Sacramento Kings don't win 16 games in a row \o7 ever\f7 . Clip this out and save it. Maybe in the year 2020, when Sacramento's center is a 9-foot-2 test-tube baby, the Kings will win 16 games in a row, but I doubt it. All we know for sure about that year is that Dick Motta will still be coaching.
When the Lakers won 33 in a row, they pounded people. The night their streak reached five, they beat Philadelphia by 40 points--at Philadelphia. The night their streak reached 23, they beat Golden State by 30. Next night, they beat Phoenix by 26. \o7 Next\f7 night, they scored 154 points against Philly in a game that did not go into overtime.
The night of victory No. 33, L.A. won at Atlanta by 44 points. Atlanta was allowed to remain in the league.
Winning five games in a row is tricky enough in the NBA, although Denver recently did it, shooting this theory to pieces.
Never in a hundred years did anyone picture the latest Laker team rattling off victories this way. Instead, the New Lakers turned into the Old Lakers.
Pat Riley, who \o7 still\f7 doesn't get enough credit--dammit, Pat, you did do a good job, swear to God--left the Lakers in good hands. They still had Johnson, still had James Worthy and they still had Jerry West, who was dying to give Mike Dunleavy his first NBA coaching job. By doing so, West extended his streak of good general-managerial decisions to something like 33 in a row.
We hated to see the Lakers lose Tuesday. They might not win 16 games in a row again for \o7 weeks\f7 .