From out of the considerable shadows stepped the rest of the Lakers on Tuesday night, if only as a reminder that there still is such a thing.
Magic Johnson lasted only 1:03 at the Forum before leaving because of a strained right calf muscle so someone else's shoulders would have to get a workout for a change. It turned out to be a group effort, with Vlade Divac scoring a season-high 29 points, Cedric Ceballos getting 21 points and 10 rebounds and Nick Van Exel adding 20 points and 11 assists in a 121-104 victory over the Clippers before 17,037.
The Lakers have won six in a row, their longest run since Nov. 10-27, 1991, and 14 of the last 16. They also rolled through the second half to improve to 7-1 with Johnson--that is, if this one could be considered with Johnson since he contributed nothing more than a dose of concern to the night.
Trainer Gary Vitti called the injury "mild to moderate" and the Lakers termed Johnson day-to-day. Johnson left the building with about a minute to play and did not speak with reporters.
Instead, that too was left to the rest of the Lakers.
"When he left, I was kind of afraid: 'How are we going to play now?' " Divac said. "But at halftime, we adjusted.
"But I wish he was there. Now we have to deal with that. But like everyone says, it's better something like that happens now than when we play in the Finals."
"I'm kidding," Divac said. "Actually, I'm not kidding."
The calf problem has been a nagging injury since Johnson's days with the barnstorming team and then began to bother him again the last couple days at practice, but he was declared fit enough to play and entered with only 2:34 gone, after Elden Campbell had picked up two quick fouls. He lasted into the third offensive possession when, standing alone near the three-point line, called a 20-second timeout with 8:23 left in the first quarter and hobbled to the bench.
As play was about to resume, Johnson put on his warmup jacket and headed to the locker room, Vitti not far behind. Soon after, he was ruled out for the rest of the night and uncertain for the immediate future, starting tonight at the Sports Arena in the finale to the home-and-home.
There could not, of course, be a good time for the Lakers to lose Johnson, but this was an especially bad moment. With Campbell in foul trouble and Coach Del Harris suddenly forced to rely upon what had become a seldom-used portion of the bench. That was magnified when Campbell got his third personal with 4:32 remaining in the second period and had to come out again, having managed just 11 minutes the first half, en route to 30 for the night.
Third-stringer Derek Strong hadn't played in five of the previous six games, getting only two minutes in the lone appearance. Corie Blount, having fallen from second on the depth chart at power forward in the early part of the season all the way to fourth, had spent five consecutive outings on the bench before Tuesday. And now, both were playing in the first half of a close game.
The Clippers, on the other hand, were happy to have Brian Williams to call on. He had missed Saturday's victory over Portland, the game that snapped the nine-game losing streak, but went back into the starting lineup against the Lakers, made his first six shots and scored 18 of his team-high 24 points in the opening half.
Williams' contribution sparked the Clippers to a 65-57 lead at halftime. The Lakers took over from there, shooting 81.8% (18 of 22) to dominate the third quarter, 41-19. The 41 points are the most they've scored in a period this season and tied for the most the Clippers have allowed.
The Lakers announced they will retire jersey No. 25 next season in honor of Gail Goodrich, who was recently elected to the Hall of Fame. That also means Eddie Jones has to pick a new number for 1996-97. . . . Laker Coach Del Harris was ejected with two rapid-fire technicals from official Blaine Reichelt with 4:08 left in the game.
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Game 8--Tracking Magic Johnson's comeback:
Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ast. 1 0-0 (.000) 0-0 (.000) 0 0 0
Min. FG% FT% Pts. Reb. Ast. 28.1 .488 .797 16.8 6.8 7.9
Min. FG% FT% Pts. Reb. Ast. 36.9 .521 .848 19.7 7.3 11.4
Career averages before comeback
LAKERS BEFORE MAGIC: 24-18 (.571)
LAKERS WITH MAGIC: 7-1 (.875)