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It's Jones to the Rescue for Lakers : NBA: He scores 34 points and adds 13 rebounds to lead L.A. to only its fourth victory in 11 games, 115-105 over New Jersey.

March 10, 1997|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The career night for Eddie Jones came in what would have to do as a good night for the Lakers. They won.

This being a time of struggles, so was the 115-105 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Sunday before 17,103 at the Forum. The Lakers avoided the first three-game home losing streak of the Del Harris era.

The contribution from Jones was 34 points and 13 rebounds, both the best of a career nearly three years old. That it came now is especially significant, not so much because it helped the Lakers win for only the fourth time in 11 games, but because Shaquille O'Neal was out, trying to rehabilitate his left knee while Jones was attempting to do the same with his game.

With O'Neal, Jones was an all-star. Without O'Neal, Jones was averaging only 1.55 steals in the previous 11 games, dropping him to second in the league after being first for most of the season, and shooting 40.2% in the previous seven games.

"When Shaq is in there," Jones said, "you get so many open looks it's ridiculous. The closest guy to you is probably at the snack bar."

Then Shaq wasn't in there. Suddenly, in the last three weeks or so, Jones couldn't get left alone by defenders.

"They play me totally different now," he said. "They play me to go to the baseline now and are always giving help. They play me totally different.

"I don't think the thing is my shot. I just don't have a whole lot of time to get my shot off."

The Nets weren't exactly ignoring Jones either. But he still managed 24 shots, tying the most of his career, with 13 makes, his best. Three of the baskets were on three-point shots, in eight tries.

"He elevated his game," said Jerome Kersey, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds after returning to a reserve role at small forward.

So began a stretch for the Lakers in which the next five opponents went into Sunday with a combined winning percentage of .346. Only it didn't start out like much of a recovery process, what with that 11-point deficit in the first quarter against a team playing for the fifth time in seven games and on the last stop of a West Coast swing. On the other hand, they were spared another chorus of boos from the fans.

Or maybe the faithful was just saving it for the second quarter, when the Lakers rallied to take a temporary lead, only to get left behind again, this time by seven points.

"I thought it was pretty embarrassing," Jones said of the first half.

And still no notes of distress. If the Lakers should have been thankful for that, consider their appreciation for the different opponent. Gone were the Rockets, replaced by the Nets, a nice antidote. A team that came in last in the league in shooting and then went 32.1% in the second quarter, making nine of 28 attempts.

But that was still good enough for New Jersey to take a 55-52 advantage into halftime. And when the Lakers went ahead in the third quarter, it again proved fleeting, from 63-59 up to being on the wrong side of a 15-0 run. That put the Nets ahead, 74-63.

So the Lakers climbed back again--and for good. Using an even more impressive run, they went from the 11 down to 14 up at 90-76 with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter, a 27-2 charge.

"They got on a roll and we couldn't stop them," Net Kendall Gill said. "And it seemed like we couldn't score either."

This came as the Lakers, already short-handed on the frontline because of the injuries to O'Neal and Robert Horry, lost two more. Corie Blount was out the entire night because of the sprained left ankle suffered in the first half Friday, and Travis Knight went out late in the third quarter after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from Eric Montross.

Knight soon got a headache and suffered a small retinal hemorrhage in his right eye. He was examined at Centinela Hospital Medical Center and released Sunday night, but will not practice today and is questionable for Wednesday's game against Golden State.

Meanwhile, Blount, having worked his way up to become the first big man off the bench, should be ready for Wednesday.

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