Magic Is More Than Clippers Can Figure Out : Nixon Apparently Returning, but Too Late to Slow Lakers
The Clippers played lost-and-found Wednesday night.
First, the Norm Nixon update: At long last, they seem to have found a way to have the elusive Nixon play for them, possibly tonight against Portland.
But since these are the Clippers, there always seems to be something else going wrong. After Wednesday night’s game against the Lakers at the Forum, General Manager Carl Scheer lost his keys and was crawling around beneath the stands looking for them with a borrowed lighter.
“This is a perfect way to end the week,” Scheer said.
In keeping with the theme of the night, the Clippers also lost the game, and the Lakers found another way to beat them. This time, it was provided by Magic Johnson, who personally directed a 122-107 Laker victory.
Johnson passed out 20 assists, a one-game high in the NBA this season, to go along with his 22 points as the Lakers won their seventh consecutive game. Meanwhile, the Clippers dropped their seventh straight.
The Clippers’ Johnson, Marques, carried his team about as far as 34 points could, but it wasn’t nearly enough to trip up the Lakers, who played only well enough to win.
“It isn’t always as scintillating as people want,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “That’s just the way it is.”
It wasn’t that way last Friday when the Lakers beat the Clippers by 31 points. At least, Wednesday night’s 15-point margin of victory represented some Clipper progress. The Clippers were actually within striking distance, down only 10 points in the fourth quarter, before Magic took over.
Three times in a row, Johnson drove the lane and all three times came up with spectacular plays that ended in layups and an unbeatable Laker edge.
The first was easily the most impressive. Johnson seemed to lose the ball on the drive, but he scooped it up, dribbled behind his back and, with his motion beginning near his ankle, laid the ball into the basket.
Johnson said he had no catch phrase to identify that play. Layup seems way too tame.
“I’m not no saying-man,” Johnson said. “I’ll let somebody else do that. But you have to, you know, improvise sometimes. Those times you have to do something you never do or never thought of. Certain things just happen.”
When the Lakers play the Clippers, one thing certainly happens over and over again. The Lakers always seem to win. They’ve won all eight games since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles.
The latest one wasn’t any thing of beauty, the Lakers admitted. That really didn’t matter to anybody, especially Michael Cooper.
“We’ll take them the way they come, whether they’re pretty or ugly,” he said.
Each time the Lakers started pulling away, they allowed the Clippers to get back in the game. The pattern was established early.
In the first quarter, the Lakers jumped to a 14-4 lead, but the Clippers got to within five. Then the Lakers shot off to a 56-41 lead in the second quarter only to watch Marques Johnson haul the Clippers on his back and close to 59-51 at halftime.
Three Laker turnovers and a missed shot at point-blank range helped the Clippers, to be sure. But so did the play of Marques Johnson and Michael Cage.
Cage, the Clippers’ second-year power forward who was starting because Cedric Maxwell is hurt, scored 21 points and had 11 rebounds in 35 strong minutes. Maurice Lucas nearly offset Cage’s performance with a 16-point, 11-rebound game.
In any case, it seemed surprising that the Clippers would play the Lakers as tough as they did, especially with the Nixon deal still so unsettled, but Clipper Coach Don Chaney wasn’t so sure Nixon could have turned the game around, anyway.
“Norman can’t beat the Lakers all by himself,” Chaney said.
Marques certainly couldn’t do it, acting almost alone, although Johnson wishes Nixon would show up real soon.
“Getting Norm back will be a tremendous psychological lift after losing seven in a row,” Johnson said. “Just seeing his face will help.”
Until then, the Clippers must be content with the memory of seeing Magic’s backside as he drove past them and around them on his way to the basket.
After Johnson’s ankle-level layup, he came back with two more driving hoops, one when he was assisted by James Worthy and the other when he again changed hands while in midair. A slam dunk by Cooper and Magic’s three-point play put the game out of reach for good, 116-95, with a little more than four minutes left.
“He likes to do things with a little flair occasionally,” Riley said of Johnson.
The Lakers hit the road today and travel to Denver to play the Nuggets tonight, which might explain how they played the Clipper game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked 30 minutes in a mixed performance. He scored 19 points, but he also had only two rebounds.
“We just had our ups and downs,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Give the Clippers credit for trying to get back in all the time.”
That would be the first time in recent memory that the Clippers have gotten any credit for much of anything. If they get Nixon wrapped up, that would be the second.
Laker Notes The Lakers, the NBA’s only undefeated team on the road (6-0), have won 10 consecutive games in Denver, where they play tonight, including two in last season’s playoffs. . . . The Nuggets are not at full strength. Guard Lafayette Lever has a torn ligament in his left foot and isn’t expected to return until next week. Elston Turner, another guard, is recovering from a torn muscle in his right calf and is considered doubtful for tonight’s game. Still another guard, Bill Hanzlik, has a sore back, but he played Tuesday night after missing three games.