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Lakers Hoping to Pluck a Title From the Garden

Times Staff Writer

When Laker Coach Pat Riley walked in on Magic Johnson’s post-Game 5 press conference Friday night at the Forum, someone told Riley that Johnson had said the Lakers can have “some fun” Sunday and Tuesday.

When Riley heard that, he spoke one word very softly: “Sunday.”

Well, this is Sunday. And that means today could be the day the Lakers reclaim the National Basketball Assn. championship they last owned three years ago.

All the Lakers have to do is beat the Boston Celtics for a fourth time, so they can avoid having to play the Celtics in a seventh game Tuesday night at Boston Garden.

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If the Lakers win Game 6 today (Channel 2, 10 a.m. PDT), history will be made:

--The Lakers would halt Boston’s bid to become the first team to repeat as NBA champions since the Celtics did it 16 years ago in Bill Russell’s last season.

--The Celtics would lose a championship on their home floor for the first time.

--The Lakers would beat the Celtics for the first time in the nine meetings they have had to decide the best team in pro basketball.

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Additionally, the Lakers would never have to hear one question again: “When are you guys ever going to beat the Celtics?”

Now, at least, the Lakers have two chances to lay that question to rest, which is what Johnson was talking about. But their best chance could very well be today.

The Lakers have a 3-2 lead over Boston in the best-of-seven championship series.

“We won’t assume anything,” Riley said. “They’re the ones in the tough position. We don’t have to win Game 6. They do.”

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Yes, and the Celtics aren’t too excited about the prospects of it, either. They believe they could be victims of the new scheduling format for the championship series that put the middle three games in Los Angeles.

After the Lakers beat the Celtics, 120-111, Friday night in Game 5 at the Forum, Boston Coach K.C. Jones was asked how he felt about the 2-3-2 format.

“Not too good,” he said. “I’m not worried about the seventh game. I just want to get past six. It’s a struggle from now on because of the format.”

The next two games, if there are that many, will be a struggle for both teams.

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For the Lakers, they must try to coax another great performance out of 38-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the 16-year veteran center who is easily the series’ most valuable player so far.

Abdul-Jabbar scored 36 points in Game 5, including 10 in the fourth quarter, during which the Celtics cut the Laker lead to four points on five occasions.

Abdul-Jabbar’s 36, combined with James Worthy’s 33 points and 26 by Johnson, meant that the three Lakers scored 95 of the team’s 120 points.

How well the Lakers fare also depends on their defense, principally what they do with the Celtic front line of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

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Bird had only five points (including just one field goal) at halftime of Game 5 and finished with 20. McHale, who was not nearly as effective when Riley assigned Abdul-Jabbar to defend him, had 24 points, but only 11 after the first quarter.

Parish could be the key player for the Celtics, especially if Abdul-Jabbar guards McHale. The Celtic center must make the most of his matchup with Kurt Rambis, Mitch Kupchak or Bob McAdoo.

The Lakers must also realize that they needed every one of Abdul-Jabbar’s pressure points to hold off a Celtic charge in the fourth quarter after Boston fell into a 17-point hole.

Can the Lakers come up with the same type of performance in Boston Garden?

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They may have to if they are to end the Celtics’ championship series domination of the Laker franchise that has lasted since 1959.

Riley was asked whether he believed in fate.

“Damn right,” he snapped.

So, is he worried about it?

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“No,” Riley said emphatically. “This is our year, baby.”


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