Not many teams can beat the Lakers these days. Not even the best in the National Basketball Assn. But the Seattle SuperSonics seem to have some knack for it.
They defeated the Lakers, 105-99, Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 14,230 at the Coliseum. The Lakers, who lead the Pacific Division, went to 29-6. The Sonics, who float around in the middle of the division, went to 15-22.
It doesn't figure when you look at the records. But for the last few years, the Sonics have done better than any other team against the Lakers. Last season, they were the only team to beat the Lakers in three regular-season games.
Saturday night, Sonic forward Xavier McDaniel had his rookie-season high of 36 points. And guard Al Wood, who was taken out of the starting lineup just before this game, came off the bench to score 25, including some key three-point plays when the Sonics were breaking away.
But it's not the Sonic firepower that is the Lakers' undoing. It's the Sonic defense and the way they match up with the Lakers, especially at center.
Laker Coach Pat Riley said: "Some teams play that kind of defense for five or six minutes and then they get soft, lose their concentration. This team stays with it. . . .
"This will be a good learning tape for us. We don't see this very often. You need that kind of game to be able to learn and improve. . . .
"We had our chances."
Actually, the Lakers had a 10-point lead when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored with his sky hook with 3:19 to play in the first half. But the lead started to slip away in the remaining minutes of the half and did get away, however briefly, early in the second half.
The Sonics were keeping it within a point when Danny Vranes stole the ball and was fouled on a fast break by James Worthy. Vranes tied it with a free throw at 57-57, and McDaniel gave the Sonics the lead on a fast-break dunk with 9:04 to play in the third quarter.
But the next call was a technical foul on Seattle for playing an illegal defense. Magic Johnson made the free throw, and on the automatic possession, James Worthy made a layin, and the Lakers were up again.
The Sonics didn't really take control until the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth.
Johnson tied the game at 73-73 when he scored in the lane with 2:05 to play in the third period, and that was the last point the Lakers scored until Worthy's layup almost five minutes into the fourth period.
By then, the Sonics were working with a six-point lead.
It was the Lakers who were fighting back throughout the fourth quarter.
When Riley called a timeout with six minutes left in the game, the Sonics had their biggest lead to that point, 89-82.
The Seattle lead went to eight points before the Lakers called their next timeout, with 1:41 to play. McDaniel scored on two free throws, a 20-foot jump shot and a 12-foot turnaround jumper in that stretch.
The Lakers were within four points when guard Byron Scott missed a three-pointer from the corner with 27 seconds to play, and Seattle center Jack Sikma came away with the rebound. Sikma ended up at the line, shooting two, with 19 seconds left. He sank both.
Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff liked what he saw from his young players--especially McDaniel, who is known in these parts simply as "X."
Bickerstaff said: "X was really something. He wanted the ball at the end. . . . I tell the young guys just to let it fly, and we don't put any pressure on them. I've seen too many good shooters in the league go down because of too much pressure."
Riley said he spoke with his team before the game about McDaniel and Wood and some of the other Sonics who had been struggling. "They start to lose confidence, and you don't want them to start to get off against you--but we took care of that tonight," he said. "They all get well against us. We had our best defensive players on McDaniel. Some nights, they just get it going."
In complimenting the Sonic defense, Riley pointed out that Seattle doesn't rank second in the league because it hangs back and controls the tempo. "They scored 105 points," he said. "They're second in the league (giving up an average of 102.4 points a game) because they work at it."
Wood said they especially worked, as a team, at helping Sikma with Abdul-Jabbar, who had 22 points and 5 rebounds in 36 minutes of playing time.
Wood said: "I think one of the reasons we have success against the Lakers is that Jack Sikma does such an outstanding job on Kareem. Kareem is one of the outstanding players in this league every night, but Jack plays him very well. . . .
"Every time Kareem gets the ball in the low post, we want to get some defense over there. We want someone else to beat us besides Kareem."
None of the Lakers was able to do that Saturday night.
In the only other game between these two teams so far this season, the Lakers won, 108-107, at the Forum on Nov. 29. . . . Tom Chambers, the Sonics' leading scorer and the highest-scoring sixth man in the league, has been out since Dec. 28, when he suffered a broken right leg and a partial tear of a ligament in his ankle. He is on the injured list and is expected to miss at least three more weeks. . . . Sonic center Jack Sikma was coming off his season-best scoring night after getting 38 in a loss to Denver Thursday night. . . . The Lakers have a road record of 13-4, best in the NBA.