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A Reality Check

Streaking Bulls Steal the Lakers' Magic

February 03, 1996|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ever hear a real big bubble burst?

It sounds like this:

"Magic is pretty much the same. He's not around the same guys, and they have a way to go before they can be considered contenders."

The words came from Scottie Pippen, the damage from all the Chicago Bulls, who Friday night put Laker emotions and the Magic Johnson comeback hysteria on the tracks together and rolled through town without so much as slowing down, leaving with an easy 99-84 victory before 17,505 at the Forum and their 18th consecutive victory.

The showdown was a no-show. The Bulls never led by fewer than 13 points in the second half and were up by as many as 26 in the fourth quarter, all while the much-hyped individual battle fizzled in kind.

Johnson and Michael Jordan never squared off, the Lakers keeping Johnson in the front court to contend with Dennis Rodman, or at least attempt to. Johnson had 15 points, three rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes off the bench, Rodman 23 rebounds, only six fewer than the entire Laker team.

Jordan had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, an unspectacular night, but he also had Pippen as a teammate. That was worth 30 points this time.

"We had a great opportunity and we let it slip away," said Laker guard Nick Van Exel of the chance to beat the Bulls, now 41-3, on national television. "They came in here and did whatever they wanted.

"That's the best team in the league, obviously, and we got embarrassed. We're going to get better, though."

Said Coach Del Harris: "We certainly would like to have played better in a game where there was so much national and worldwide interest. But the bottom line is they outplayed us on both ends of the court and showed the world why they have compiled the best record in the history of the NBA after a 44-game period."

If Tuesday was an event--the return of Johnson--Friday was a spectacle. If not that, a dream come true for ticket scalpers and TV executives.

Not just two mega-heroes on the same night, but two who had been away for so long. The last time they had met when the outcome meant something, even if those Dream Team scrimmages back in '92 were more heated than many NBA games, was June 12, 1991, in this same building in Game 5 of the NBA finals. The Bulls won their first championship that night and Jordan broke down in happiness, Johnson in anguish. Tears of the crown.

Nobody could have imagined it at the time, but that was Johnson's last game before retiring. But now, almost five years later, there would be another meeting on Mt. Olympus after all.

"I didn't ever look at it like that," Johnson said. "I was so excited about having the chance to play against the Bulls and Michael that I didn't look at it like, 'Oh man, this could be my last chance.' I hadn't thought about that."

What about when he did, Thursday after practice, especially since their first game together again could also be their last?

"If I decide not to come back again," Johnson said, "then you decide, 'Hey I've got cherish this game.' "

He wasn't the only one.

Tickets had gone on sale Oct. 8 and sold out within 10 days, Jordan being an attraction any time but especially since this was his first Forum appearance since Nov. 20, 1992, and the usual swing through the Sports Arena had been detoured to Anaheim. Then Johnson announced his return, interest skyrocketed and ticket brokers could start scheduling that retirement trip.

By Wednesday, nobody could recall having lived a regular-season game like it.

"I haven't," said Harris, in the NBA since 1976. "And I don't think there's been one."

All that and then stars didn't even collide. When Johnson came in, he matched up, on both ends, with Rodman (hair update: blond). Eddie Jones, Anthony Peeler and Cedric Ceballos were assigned Jordan at various stages.

"It's no secret," Rodman said after topping the 20-rebound barrier for the second game in a row. "We're going to try to beat him down. That's the way it is down there when you're playing for position."

All that and then there was barely a game. The Lakers, who had two days to prepare, could only stay close until the final minutes of the first half, before the Bulls, coming off a game the night before, turned it into a rout.

* A GRAND GAME

Magic vs. Michael plays to an international audience and press corps. C6

* THE DUELISTS

A Jordan-Johnson matchup never materialized, but both enjoyed the experience. C6

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Magic Marker

Tracking Johnson's comeback:

FRIDAY'S GAME

*--*

Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ass. 32 6-13 (.462) 1-2 (.500) 15 3 15 SEASON TOTALS (AVERAGE) 29.5 (.481) (.750) 17 5.5 12.5 CAREER TOTALS (AVERAGE) 36.9 (.521) (.848) 19.7 11.4 7.3

*--*

RECORD

LAKERS BEFORE MAGIC: 24-18 (.571)

LAKERS WITH MAGIC: 1-1 (.500)

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