All of a Sudan, It's a New Bol Game : Manute Impresses Lakers, but Bullets Come Up Short, 96-84

Times Staff Writer

No, Saturday wasn't New Year's Day, but the Lakers did win a Bol game.

For the first time, the Lakers got a face-to-belly button glimpse of the tallest man ever to play in the NBA, all 7 foot 7 inches of Manute Bol.

Yes, the Lakers took a long look.

Then, they defeated the Washington Bullets, 96-84, in one of the most intriguing matchups of the year.

Bol, a Dinka tribesman from the Sudan and a 23-year-old rookie, was matched up with 38-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who knows a thing or two about being tall, but is still almost five inches shorter than Bol.

"Now, I know how people feel when they play me," Abdul-Jabbar said.

Abdul-Jabbar had three of his shots blocked by Bol, but he still managed to score a game-high 29 points, and the Lakers held the Bullets without a point the last 3:25 to win going away.

Afterward, Abdul-Jabbar was asked how Bol compared to some of the beefy centers he has played against.

"I don't know which is worse," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Getting beat up or getting my shots blocked."

Bol, who blocked eight shots, carries only 208 pounds spread over his 91-inch frame and appears to closely resemble the spear he once used to kill a lion.

Bol did all he could to change the outcome of the game by changing the way Laker shooters operated and by his uncanny knack of stretching out and blocking shots, which was an ability that struck fear in the hearts of the Lakers.

Maurice Lucas said his teammates urged him to fix his famous stare on Bol to try and unnerve him.

"They were telling me, 'Give him the evil eye, Luke,' " Lucas said. "I said, 'Man, that guy has looked down the eyes of a lion. He isn't going to be scared of me.' "

Lucas said he had a name for Bol.

"I think you can call him Mr. Adjustment," he said.

Mr. Adjustment?

"Yeah, you have to make the adjustment and call him Mister at the same time," Lucas said.

But in the end, the Lakers made just the proper adjustment to win their fifth consecutive game, finish this pre-Christmas trip 4-0 and improve their record to 24-3.

One of the adjustments involved how to play the Bullets' Jeff Malone, who had raked the Laker defense all night. Malone bagged the lion's share of the Bullets' points, 27 of them, but only six in the fourth quarter, when they suddenly went very cold.

Malone's rebound basket with 3:25 remaining brought the Bullets within four at 88-84. They would not score again. The Lakers had no such trouble. James Worthy dunked, Abdul-Jabbar threw in a left-handed skyhook and then scored on an inbounds play for a 94-84 lead with just under a minute left.

The Lakers finished the game with characteristic flair. Magic Johnson threw a no-look pass to Michael Cooper, but he nearly lost the ball on the dribble and tossed it back to an airborne Johnson, who slapped the ball with one hand in the direction of Lucas, and he finished the play with a layup.

Earlier, however, the Lakers seemed to be well on their way to getting Boled over. The patient Bullets stuck to the slow-paced game they like and led, 49-46, at halftime. They had everything going their way, holding the Lakers to their lowest first-half total of the season.

Malone's shooting and Bol's shot-blocking were the reasons. Malone had 16 points in 19 minutes in the first half, and Bol had four of his blocks. But while Malone cooled considerably in the second half, making only 5 of 13 shots, Bol blocked another four shots.

Bol got just about every Laker. Byron Scott was one of them. Scott tried an 18-foot jumper, only to see Bol swat the ball away just as soon as it left his hands.

Scott said he was dumbfounded at the length of Bol's reach.

"I can't sit here and lie and tell you I wasn't," Scott said. "I was very shocked. All I saw was him jumping out and getting it. Then all I remember was the ball flying backward."

Cooper took over the assignment of guarding Malone when Worthy got into early trouble, and scored just eight points. But like the rest of the Lakers, Cooper talked more about Bol than any other Bullet.

"He moves so well around the basket," Cooper said. "Tall people have a tendency to be slow-footed, but he doesn't have that problem. Maybe it's because he doesn't have any weight to carry around."

Bol doesn't carry much offense around either. He attempted only three shots, one an awful-looking hook. Besides Malone, Cliff Robinson, with 18 points, was the only other Bullet to make much of an impact.

The impact that Bol makes is clearly on the defensive end. Since Jeff Ruland broke his ankle and Bol became the Bullets' starting center, Bol has averaged more than eight blocked shots a game.

Bol, who smiles a lot on the court and speaks four languages, talks with the press in a relaxed manner. He doesn't like opponents to feel relaxed, though.

"I just don't want people to take easy shots," he said. "I try to get to the ball. Maybe I can make them think about what they are shooting."

Bol certainly accomplished that against the Lakers.

Before the game, Coach Pat Riley showed his team a tape of Bol from a previous Bol game and later admitted it might not have been such a good idea.

Johnson said there is no good way to play Bol.

"If you take the ball right to him, he's still going to get it," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter what you do. Hopefully, you won't have to take it in there very often."

Laker Notes The 96 points by the Lakers represented the first time they had scored fewer than 100 points in 63 games. The last time the Lakers won a game scoring less than 100 points was Jan. 6, 1985.

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