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GAME 5 : Scott Is Still Feeling Around in Search of Shooting Touch

Times Staff Writer

Shooting is all touch, and right now, Byron Scott isn’t feeling it.

In just four games, the Lakers’ best outside shooter has become their worst outside shooter, and no one seems to know why.

“He’s hesitating too much,” Magic Johnson said.

“He’s shooting too quickly,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said.

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There is no real consensus on the reason for Scott’s slump in the National Basketball Assn. championship series, except that he’s in one.

All the Lakers know is that the series with the Celtics is tied, 2-2, that Game 5 will be played at 6 tonight in the Forum, that Scott is struggling and that he must keep shooting if he is to unlock the key to his jumper.

There is nothing wrong with Scott’s jumper, at least in practices, which is partially reassuring to the Lakers. At one practice this week, Scott swished three shots in a row from behind the Laker bench to win $30 from Michael Cooper.

For whatever reason, Scott lost his jump shot between the last game of the Denver series and the first game of the Boston series. He shot 65.4% against the Nuggets, but in four games with Boston, Scott has shot only 36.7%.

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Every other Laker is doing better than that, but then only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been singled out for the same kind of attention that Scott is receiving from the Celtic defense.

“They’re not leaving me,” Scott said. “It’s a lot harder to get open. What I’m doing right now is rushing my shot because I’m not getting open as often as I was before. That’s the reason I’m not shooting real well right now.

“I just have to relax, don’t force it and don’t worry,” he said.

That may not be the easiest thing for Scott to do, especially now that the series has reached a critical point. If the Lakers lose tonight, they have to win both Game 6 and Game 7 in Boston Garden.

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Scott, a two-year veteran who replaced Norm Nixon in the Laker starting backcourt, has come a long way in a short time, and the slump has hit at a most awkward time.

“I can’t worry about that,” Scott said. “It’ll come. I can’t let it get to me.”

But time is running out. Scott began the championship series by missing five of his first six shots in Game 1 and he has never recovered.

The Nuggets didn’t pay any more defensive attention to Scott than they did to any other Laker, but the Celtics, observing the damage he did, quickly identified stopping Scott as one of their primary goals. Celtic Coach K. C. Jones tries to keep Dennis Johnson close to Scott at all times.

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“We know how dangerous he is,” Jones said. “We just want to give him all the attention in the world and hope he misses 9 or 10 in a row.”

Scott’s effectiveness has been limited to a degree by a slower tempo, dictated by the Celtics, as well as a Laker game plan that puts more emphasis on the inside work of Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy than it does on calling plays for Scott.

“On the break, everybody is scrambling to get back on defense,” Scott said. “Most of the time, I can just float to an area and get the ball a lot easier than on a set offense.

“But by no means am I crumbling,” he said. “It’s hard to say why you shoot so well in one series and not so well in another. It’s coming back to me, I guess. I don’t know.”

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Even though he hasn’t seen his jumper drop very often, Scott said he has no plans to stop trying it.

“You hold the ball and you lose confidence,” he said. “You have to continue to shoot. I’m not going to hesitate.”

Scott insisted that although his shots are not falling, neither is his confidence. Riley, however, said he thinks Scott “has got to be down a little bit. He’s in a rut.”

Dennis Johnson, whose jump shot comes and goes, said he knows just how Scott is feeling and wondered whether Scott is carrying a responsibility he should not.

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“I don’t know if he’s got too much pressure on him or whatever,” Johnson said. “He’s a shooter and shooters sometimes have bad games. Shooters also have good games.”

Before the series began, Larry Bird said that how well Scott played would determine the championship. For 24-year-old Byron Scott, that might seem to be a lot of weight to have to carry around.

“He’s already been through this once before,” said Magic Johnson. “When you’ve done that, you’re not young anymore. He’s got to take that responsibility.”

Scott hasn’t shown any reluctance to shoot himself out of his slump. In Wednesday night’s Laker loss, Scott missed a long jumper, then immediately put up a successful three-pointer.

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“That’s the way I’m going to play,” said Scott, who has also decided to drive more often.

He may not be shooting well and the series may well rest on whether he does, but Scott remains foremost in the minds of many Celtics, including Bird.

“Norm Nixon was a great basketball player, but up to this series, Byron Scott was playing better than anyone on their team,” Bird said. “He’s going to be a great basketball player. I guarantee you, they’re going to forget about Norm Nixon around here.

“From one year to the next, he’s the most improved player I’ve seen,” Bird added. “If you remember, we would have won Game 6 here last year if it hadn’t been for Scott. I like his game. He’s missing now, but as long as he keeps taking his shot, he’ll start hitting again.”

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The Lakers hope he starts right away, preferably tonight.


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