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Lakers Turn Lowly Kings to Road Kill

Pro basketball: L.A. gets 50th victory, 114-91, heading into key matchup with Utah on Saturday.

March 26, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Lakers continue to accelerate, the benchmarks flying by as they prepare to navigate a dangerous curve.

They blew through the 50-win barrier Wednesday night, dominating the second half to earn a second consecutive blowout victory, following Monday's 21-point trashing of the Denver Nuggets with a 114-91 rout of the Sacramento Kings before 16,634 at the Great Western Forum.

Do we hear 60?

By winning five in a row, 11 of 12 and 14 of their last 17, the Lakers are in position to reach that milestone for the first time since 1989-90, the last season under Pat Riley. They need to go 10-3 to close the regular season, and they play 11 opponents in the 13 games who went into Wednesday with a combined winning percentage of .458. And the multiple-game trips shouldn't be a major concern, because one goes to Toronto, New Jersey, Cleveland and Detroit and the other to Golden State, San Antonio and Dallas.

The next game, that's the concern, but not because it's on the road. Because it's against Utah, a Saturday night contest in Salt Lake City that could hold major playoff implications.

"Yeah," Coach Del Harris said, noting the looming showdown. "But nobody mentioned it."

Either because no one needed to mention it or because the Lakers are proficient in zeroing in on the current opponent, or both. To be sure, the last two games, both of which allowed Harris to clear his bench, gave them plenty of time to consider the Jazz, and consider the possibility of hitting the big six-oh.

"It looks sweet," Eddie Jones said. "But on the same note, we've just got to go out and play ball. If we're going to set goals, there's only one goal that should matter, and that's winning the championship. Sixty wins is nice, but it's not what we're here for."

Mitch Richmond's absence because of a sore right knee cost the Kings their biggest scoring weapon for the third game in a row, after he had played the first 68 contests amid a stream of trade rumors and losing streaks.

Two of three misses in the current run came against the Lakers, including Sunday in Sacramento. There was also a virtual non-appearance on Dec. 30 in the only other Forum outing, when Richmond missed 14 of 18 shots, including six of seven three-pointers, though he did have a team-high eight assists. That meant he was able to do damage only once, in a 24-point performance Nov. 4 at Arco Arena, and even that was offset because it came the same night his counterpart, Eddie Jones, went 14 of 17 from the field and finished with the 35 points that still stands as a season high.

In all, Richmond averaged 19.5 points and shot 38.2% against the Lakers. Against the league as a whole, he's at 23.4 and 44.6%.

There is the obvious benefit, the chance to avoid an all-star who on a good night can shoot down any opponent. The flip side is that the Lakers haven't been quite so sure who to prepare for--Tariq Abdul-Wahad had 19 points in 28 minutes in December and Anthony Johnson had 22 points Sunday.

Wednesday didn't bring quite so much uncertainty. Richmond didn't even make the trip and the teams had just played three days earlier, both of which should have helped the Lakers prepare.

"A little bit," Harris said before the game. "Yeah, it does. Plus the fact that they played us well. If that doesn't get our attention, I don't know if any words of wisdom will."

Indeed, memories of the equally short-handed Kings building a 14-point lead in the third quarter before the Lakers rallied for a 96-93 victory should still have been fresh in the rematch. Or maybe Harris reminded his players of the reminder at about halftime, right before they went from 10 points ahead at the break to 19 up late in the third quarter, a period in which Sacramento, which has lost eight in a row, shot 29.4% after making 56.1% the first half.

Six Lakers scored in double figures, led by Shaquille O'Neal with 25 points and 14 rebounds.

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