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Lakers Get the Better of a Close Call, 116-114 : Pro basketball: The NBA remains unbeaten in McDonald's Open, but it gets by with a little help from its friends.

October 20, 1991|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Where will you meet your Waterloo? The Lakers went eyeball to eyeball with theirs here but escaped by means of their skill, their experience and their referee.

They blew most of a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead Saturday but hung on to defeat Spain's Joventut Badalona, 116-114, managing to keep the NBA unbeaten in five years of the McDonald's Open.

"I'm glad to have been here," a relieved Laker Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "I'm also glad it's somebody else's turn now."

Here's how close it was:

Joventut got the ball with 47 seconds left and a chance to tie--or go ahead--when Corny Thompson blocked A.C. Green's layup from behind.

Badalona didn't call time out and used up too much of the 24-second clock. Finally guard Rafael Jofresa drove to the basket and hit Carlos Ruf, an awkward 6-foot-11 backup center who had already scored 11 points in the quarter, including a three-pointer.

Ruf shoved a jump hook almost over the basket. The ball ricocheted out of bounds.

The respected Ed Rush, the NBA half of this split officiating crew, ruled Laker ball.

The television replay showed that the ball bounced off James Worthy.

Rush had had his hands full of complaining Spaniards and had hit Coach Manuel (Lolo) Sainz with a technical foul.

Sainz later said: "The ref (Rush) . . . was obviously patriotic tonight."

Not that the call was exactly controversial, in retrospect.

Said an NBA official, breaking down the voting for the tournament's most valuable player: "Magic Johnson got 10 votes, Byron Scott got two and Ed Rush got five."

The Lakers got the ball back with 23 seconds left. Badalona neglected to foul, and history was cheated for another year.

Little enough had been expected of this matchup after the Lakers beat French champion Limoges Friday, 132-101.

Said Sainz beforehand: "We are in a position right now to have a great dream. Perhaps tomorrow we have to wake up and smell the coffee."

By mid-second quarter, when the Lakers led by 19 points, destiny seemed to be percolating, but Badalona stayed close. The game was hard-fought. Scott had to be separated from Jordi Villacampa, a hard-nosed guard who plays on Spain's national team. Villacampa said Scott and Johnson were talking to him all game.

Said Scott: "I think he's a dirty player. Other than that, no problem."

In the fourth quarter, Badalona got hot and the near sellout crowd, previously content to worship the Lakers, got its money's worth, even at 450 francs ($80) for the good seats. When the noise and smoke cleared, Badalona--and Europe--were one jump hook short.

"If before the game, they told me we were going to lose by 12, I'd have been happy," Sainz said. "But if you have a chance to win, it hurts. When you stop and think, you could have made history."

The Lakers didn't want to stop for anything. They wanted to be home.

Obliged to vacation in a far-off time zone around three-hour practices, with the NBA's burden to carry against psyched opponents with nothing to lose, they might have declined . . . if they'd had a choice.

"TV is TV," Worthy said. "Whether it's in Paris or Boston, there's a lot of attention placed on what's going on and that adds pressure."

Johnson, a winner of five NBA titles, an NCAA Final Four and the McDonald's Open, charmed the European media once more, complimenting continental players, expressing his pleasure in representing his league and team.

"I always thought, even before I came here, the Olympics were going to be tough," Johnson said. "It's not going to be a cakewalk by any means.

"I'm happy to get out. We want to get home to get our rest, get back on our own timetable. We're a tired team right now. We've been through so much in the last week or so.

"We need to get back, get some rest and get ready for the real season."

The Lakers fly home today, are off Monday, then play four games in five nights, including a weekend swing through Utah and British Columbia. Get ready to see a lot of rookies.

So they leave this incomparable city, even more experienced. As classical educations go, they've had theirs.

Laker Notes

Mike Dunleavy used 16 players against Limoges but was obliged to use James Worthy 39 minutes, Byron Scott 38 and Magic Johnson 35 Saturday. Only 10 Lakers played. . . . Johnson was voted to the all-tournament team, along with Vlade Divac, Byron Scott, James Worthy, Spain's Jordi Villacampa and France's Richard Dacoury.

* SIDELINED: Clipper forward Charles Smith undergoes arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will miss four to six weeks. C13

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