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Lakers Begin to Evaluate : Analysis: West wasn't happy with last three-point attempt, but Pfund deserves another shot at job.

May 11, 1993|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By devising a slow, deliberate, pound-the-ball-into-the-post strategy, Coach Randy Pfund put the Lakers on even footing with the Phoenix Suns in a playoff series that figured to be one-sided.

But was their inability to take that final step, to make one last shot with 13.6 seconds to play in the fourth quarter and the score tied his failure? Was it theirs? Or was it an inevitable loss to a better team?

The Lakers had the ball and their passage to the second round in their hands, but instead got a ticket home when Byron Scott's three-point attempt from the right side with two seconds left bounced off the rim.

Overrun in overtime, the Lakers were left to begin their postseason evaluations. Besides deciding whether to re-sign unrestricted free agents Scott (doubtful) and A.C. Green (they probably will try) and whether Doug Christie is really a point guard, club executives will rate Pfund's work.

The morning after their 112-104 defeat, a grim-faced Jerry West offered his first assessment. It was of Scott's three-pointer, and it wasn't kind. "The obvious thing you're thinking is, you can make one more shot," West said. "Even though we got a shot, I didn't think it was a very good shot."

But West watched the game on television at his home, and he hadn't spoken to Pfund before reaching that conclusion.

More went into Scott's miss than was apparent.

With no one of Magic Johnson's passing ability, with no "go-to" player, Pfund had to cobble a team from reluctant point guard Sedale Threatt, fading veterans James Worthy and Scott, and unrefined rookies. On the final play of the fourth quarter with the Lakers' playoff future--and perhaps his own--at stake, he tried to make the most of a little passing skill here, a little shooting touch there and a dash of rebounding.

Should he be judged on its failure or on how close it came to succeeding--and that the Lakers were even in position to win the game?

Although Pfund was in his first season as coach, he learned enough in seven years as an assistant to Pat Riley and Mike Dunleavy to handle playoff pressure calmly. Believing that his team wasn't getting favorable foul calls, he revised his playbook for late-game situations to eliminate taking the ball to the basket for fear a foul might not be called and a shot missed, which could give the opposition another chance. He especially didn't want Worthy on the line, because although Worthy was 10 for 20 from the field, he had taken the fewest free throws, 211, of the Lakers' regulars.

Why, then, have Threatt hold the ball for so long?

"I like to put the ball in situations where we don't have just one option, because Sedale is as much a shooter as he is a deliverer, so I didn't want to put Sedale in a situation where he's got to make a pass," Pfund said. "I want to leave it open for him to be able to shoot the ball. It was a multi-option play--Vlade (Divac) in the post, James Worthy on a pick-and-roll. If you don't have it, swing it. We had them pinned down on the weak side. . . .

"There are four things that can happen in that situation, and you want to make sure you get as many as you can. One, you've got to make sure you get the ball inbounds, and sometimes that can be a problem. Secondly, you want to make sure you get a shot and you don't fumble it away, and that happens a lot more than you think in late-game situations.

"I told them in the huddle I'd prefer we take a shot at the buzzer and not give (the Suns) a chance to come back and beat us. I knew in saying that I might have sacrificed the quality of the shot, but I didn't want (Dan) Majerle throwing another dagger at me (a game-winning shot). The fourth thing is you want the shot to go in. And we got three out of four.

"That was my call. If I had Michael Jordan, I probably would have had him driving to the basket. But I don't. You can't force a last shot."

The option of going to Worthy was eliminated when he didn't come out to Threatt for a pass. And the Suns' defense had tightened, with Kevin Johnson on Threatt and Majerle on Worthy.

"I didn't want James away from the ball, so I designed something James could be involved in, too, and give us that option," Pfund said. "And that made sense to me, having Vlade down there if we needed him but to have the possibility of Sedale or James getting something. . . .

"We have a last-second play we designed where A.C. ends up on the weak-side boards for a miss. Of course, in that situation it wasn't as crucial because we got the shot at the buzzer. But who knows, maybe the shot comes earlier and A.C. gets the rebound."

The pass came a second after Scott expected, late enough for Danny Ainge to distract him.

"Danny hit my hand and I knew it wouldn't fall," Scott said.

The question becomes whether it will also lead to Pfund's fall.

If he is fired, it will be because he didn't make defense a priority, as West would have liked, and because he didn't find a successful strategy until so late. But mitigating the blame is West's recognition that Pfund had limited talent to work with.

"There will be different players here," West said.

Keeping the same coach, though, makes sense.

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