HONOLULU — Looking as if he had never been away--OK, looking as if he had been away briefly--Magic Johnson returned to the Lakers.
He played 27 minutes in Friday night's exhibition opener and scored five points with 14 assists as the Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 124-112.
Johnson was electric and his teammates electrified.
"I was thrilled," Byron Scott said. "I was thrilled to death.
"I was excited for him. I think he was excited. Everybody on the team who had played with him was excited."
Said Johnson, beaming: "I've got the same game I've always had. Get the ball to the open man."
With Johnson pushing the pace of Coach Randy Pfund's new/old running game, the Lakers had a couple of stretches that could have come out of old Showtime highlight films. They ran on Trail Blazer errors, on Trail Blazer misses and--most impressive of all--, on Trail Blazer baskets.
The Lakers went on a 14-1 run in the first quarter, grabbed an 18-point lead, saw the Trail Blazers grind it down to 88-84 at the start of the fourth quarter and then spurted again.
Johnson took only four shots, the first coming 10 seconds into the game when Portland's Rod Strickland backed off, offering him a 20-footer. Johnson hit the shot.
After that, Johnson--bulked up to 235 pounds, 15 more than his old weight--worked on his quickness and timing, shadowing Strickland and running the Laker offense, but without trying to drive the lane or post up.
"This is just the beginning stages," Johnson said. "What I'm doing now is trying to get ready for Nov. 6 (the season opener against the Clippers.)"
Said Portland's Buck Williams: "It's not the same old Magic. It's a different Magic. He backs you in a little more instead of pushing the ball up the floor. But he's still real effective. He has the ability to raise the level of play for his team."
The Trail Blazers registered no alarm at encountering professional athletics' first known HIV-positive player.
Jerome Kersey, who expressed concern last season, said he welcomes Johnson back and barely gave it a thought Friday.
Williams, an influential figure in the Players Assn., said the group had retained Johns Hopkins doctors to brief its members.
"They have pretty much assured us it's pretty difficult to contract the virus playing basketball," Williams said.
Williams and Johnson have long carried on an on-court repartee. Williams was anything but worried about bumping into his old rival.
"I crunched him a couple of times," Williams said, laughing. "Which he expected from me.
"I said, 'Welcome back.' "
Magic Johnson has added a fifth exhibition appearance to his schedule, to get more work as the season draws near. He intends to play Oct. 28 against the Washington Bullets at Memphis, Tenn. . . . Johnson will not release a regular-season schedule. "If he changes it, people will assume he's sick," said Johnson's agent, Lon Rosen. "If he gets hurt, then he'd have to adjust it anyway and people will say, 'I bought tickets.' " . . . UCLA's Tracy Murray made five of 12 shots and scored 11 points in 19 minutes for the Trail Blazers.