Against Jazz, Lakers Don’t Have Much Rhythm, but They Still Win, 116-106
If there is one thing the Lakers want to avoid, besides losing games, it’s peaking too early. Really.
With 6 games down and 76 to go, it’s still early, and the Lakers certainly aren’t peaking. But they’re not losing much, either.
Hey, the Lakers must be right on schedule. That’s the way Magic Johnson figures it.
“We always start slow,” he said. “We don’t want to be playing our best right now.”
The Lakers got their wish Thursday night. They improved their record to 5-1 with a 116-106 victory over the Utah Jazz, but in order to do it, they also had to climb out of a double-digit hole in the second half for the third time this season.
This routine is a little monotonous, Johnson admitted, but it’s not entirely unexpected either.
“We’re not in synch, and that’s just the way it is,” he said. “We’re playing 10 guys and we never play 10 guys. We don’t know where the guys are going to be on the court, and everybody’s just running around, but we’re happy because we’re still just getting it together and we’re 5-1. What more can you say?”
You can say that the Lakers don’t have to worry about flaming out too soon. Like San Antonio and Dallas before them, the Jazz held a 10-point lead in the second half before the Lakers figured out what they were doing wrong and then played well enough to win.
Mitch Kupchak, who found it hard to quibble with a 5-1 record, said the Lakers are still going through a learning stage. After all, he said, it’s going to take time for Maurice Lucas and A.C. Green to fit in.
“We’re not where we should be, but we’re good enough to be 5-1,” Kupchak said. “It’s comforting to know you can can be out of synch and still be 5-1.”
The Lakers did not find their comfort until the second half. That was after Adrian Dantley had worked them over for 19 first-half points and the Jazz defense was sticking a plug into the Lakers’ inside offense, which is the Laker strength, and halting the Laker fast break, which is a bigger Laker strength.
Like everyone else, Jazz Coach Frank Layden sends two and three defenders at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy when they receive the ball down low. That worked for a while, until the Lakers passed to open teammates who suddenly remembered they should be cutting toward the basket.
Trailing, 59-51, at halftime, the Lakers went ahead by three points after three periods and were up by 93-89 five minutes into the fourth quarter, when everything fell into place.
Worthy, who led the Lakers with 26 points, scored after Lucas rebounded the second of Michael Cooper’s free-throw attempts. Cooper came right back with a three-point play on an assist by a triple-teamed Abdul-Jabbar.
Abdul-Jabbar finished with 25 points, but equally important to the Laker offense were his season-high 8 assists. Three times in the last three minutes, Abdul-Jabbar was double-teamed but still found Johnson and Worthy open and going to the basket.
By then, Utah’s Mark Eaton had taken his four blocked shots to the bench along with six fouls, and the Lakers expanded a 6-point lead to 11, 113-102, with a minute left.
“We played a lot smarter in the second half,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “We found a lot of open guys. We were thinking passing first.”
Now, maybe they can think about their running game, which disappeared completely in the second quarter. They should find it tonight when they play the unbeaten Denver Nuggets, who like to run as much as the Lakers do.
“I don’t know why we stopped running,” Riley said. “Perhaps we got tired. I’m a little concerned about why we can’t sustain our running game.”
While he’s at it, maybe Riley can also breathe some life into Byron Scott, who followed up a 4-for-12 game with Cleveland with a 1-for-5 night against the Jazz in which he played just four minutes in the second half.
“The defense is going to Byron early,” Riley said. “He’s not always going to able to shoot open jumpers. The defense is staying with him and respecting him.”
Cooper, who started the second half for Scott and blocked three shots, said the Lakers aren’t so sharp, but so what?
“We’ve been a little stagnant, but we’re going to get our offense going with our defense,” he said.
Johnson said he was just glad to know that the Lakers showed they can adjust to a double-team defense on Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy.
“That’s all the defense does to us,” he said. “That’s all we see. We’ve seen it before, we saw it tonight, we’ll see it tomorrow and we’ll see it next week. This isn’t the first time it’s happened.
“We’ll need about a month or two to get everybody used to each other,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be really good later, but right now, we’re just getting it together and we’re still 5-1.”
Laker Notes Free agent guard Darrell Griffith, most recently of the Jazz, had surgery in Kentucky Wednesday to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, but the club didn’t learn about it until Thursday, when a reporter in Louisville called the team. A stainless steel screw was inserted in Griffith’s foot. Griffith, a five-year veteran and former NBA rookie of the year, is not under contract to any team. Counting healing time and four weeks for conditioning, he is expected to be out until mid-March.