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ON THE NBA

The Lakers want the green back

November 02, 2008|MARK HEISLER | Heisler is a Times staff writer.

Seems like old times . . . .

Old times are good in Lakerdom -- well, a lot of them, anyway -- and the best of all were in the 1984-85 season, the one this season resembles in so many ways.

The 1984-85 season was the one in which the Lakers ended the Celtic Curse after nine losses in the Finals, capturing the first of three titles in four seasons to make it Showtime's decade.

Then, as now, the Lakers were coming off a humiliating loss to the Celtics.

In the 1984 Finals, as opposed to last spring, the Lakers had already served notice they were better, leading in the last minute of Games 1-4 but blowing 2 and 4.

That was the series in which Lakers Coach Pat Riley didn't call timeout and Gerald Henderson stole James Worthy's pass, when Magic Johnson dribbled the clock out, Kevin McHale garroted Kurt Rambis, the Lakers wilted in steamy Boston Garden in Game 5, forced a Game 7 there but then went quietly.

That was when Johnson came home, locked himself in and wouldn't even talk to his mother on the phone.

Then, as now, the Lakers didn't come back merely hoping to win a title; they wanted to win it over the Celtics.

"That was the longest summer of our lives," says Lakers scouting director Bill Bertka, then Riley's assistant. "From the first day of training camp to the last game in Boston, our whole team was focused on the Celtics."

Of course, the 1985 Finals started with Boston's 148-114 Memorial Day Massacre . . . raising the possibility the Lakers might be haunted forever . . . before Riley's cold rage drove them to a Game 2 victory in Boston Garden, the point at which Lakers history pivoted, going from tragic to, uh, dynastic and/or comic.

"We learned a valuable lesson," Johnson said later. "Only the strong survive, and that's something we didn't know until then.

"Talent just don't get it. We realized it's not all about talent and that's the first time the Lakers ever encountered that, someone who was stronger-minded. So we said, 'OK, we got to get stronger.' "

There's another similarity. That was the Lakers' best team, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaging 22 points at age 38 and Johnson, Worthy, Rambis, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Bob McAdoo, Jamaal Wilkes and Mitch Kupchak.

This is the Lakers' biggest, deepest, most talented team since, with a chance to be their best ever.

Last season's team, which was more Pau Gasol's than Andrew Bynum's, finished No. 1 in offense and No. 19 in defense.

This season's team with Bynum and Gasol should be in the top five in both.

Three games into the season is a tad early to say anyone is anything, but here's what we know:

1) The Lakers are really good, and 2) it doesn't matter how good they are, only how well they do. If it was no surprise a 7-foot prodigy would help, more things are going right than anyone imagined.

* With no established small forward, Phil Jackson surprised everyone by plugging Vladimir Radmanovic, the best shooter, back in.

In their first two games, Radmanovic played 42 minutes, took a total of eight shots -- and made four three-pointers.

Jackson used to call Radmanovic "my favorite Martian," but when you roll over everyone, you don't care what planet he's from, you just call it "diversity."

* Lamar Odom, in a funk with his contract extension request turned down and his future here only too clear, is now looking like the Kobe Bryant of the Second Unit -- "the queen on the chessboard," Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy called him -- kicking one of the league's best benches to another level.

* Trevor Ariza is making three-pointers. If that continues, this league is in real trouble.

There's one more similarity: As in the '80s, the Celtics are no less focused on the Lakers than the Lakers are on them.

You think the Celtics didn't notice that last spring's favorites, whom they hammered, are favored again?

Of course, the great Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe explains it's because of the return of Bynum, who, he wrote, "was quietly inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in a private ceremony last September."

It's exactly like old times, press corps vs. press corps!

Bob and I are old friends, having started covering the NBA in the same season (which I prefer not to specify), so this is like a golden oldie.

I remember the 1973 Eastern finals, when John Havlicek, playing left-handed after separating his right shoulder, led a dramatic rally from a 3-1 deficit against the Knicks to force Game 7 in Boston Garden. Bob wrote that although nothing was certain, it might be OK to whistle "California, Here We Come."

The Knicks then upended the Celtics to advance to the Finals against the Lakers, and Knicks writers went by Bob as he wrote, whistling "California, Here We Come."

Now to see if it's deja vu all over and everyone here and in Boston gets their wish one more time.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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