It worked Friday night, if less sensationally than usual. With half their inside game sitting out in the person of James Worthy, the Lakers turned to Mr. Outside, Michael Cooper. Cooper hit a club-record five three-pointers and scored 20 points overall as the Lakers eased past Phoenix, 115-103, before a crowd of 17,505 at the Forum.
It was the Lakers' seventh straight victory over the Suns in regular-season games and their 10th straight including playoffs.
Every cloud has its silver lining. For the first time this season, the Suns held the Lakers to fewer than 126 points, or lost to the Lakers by fewer than 21. The Suns get another chance tonight in Phoenix. Imagine their excitement.
Cooper's 15-points worth of bombs tied the NBA high this season, also held by Houston's John Lucas and Washington's Kevin McKenna. Cooper shot 5 for 7 from the outback, which is the way it has to be for him.
If it's not, he stops shooting those long ones in a hurry.
"The first thing I do is take a shot," Cooper said. "If it goes, or if it looks like it could have gone, I take another one. . . .
"If I shoot an air ball, like at Atlanta the other night, then I just look to do something else."
Laker Coach Pat Riley said: "I think it's a threat. The other teams are focusing on Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and James. It spreads the defense. That's a 38-39% shot for Mike McGee, Michael, Byron (Scott). If you hit a couple, it really gets the defense demoralized."
Sun Coach John MacLeod said: "That's the dilemma you face. If you back up and try to support inside, they crack it outside. If you go out, push real hard and open up the passing lanes, they take it inside."
All the Suns had were dilemmas. They were without starting center James Edwards. And the backup, Alvan Adams, was doubtful with a sore hamstring.
Charles Jones was the listed starter at center. He's 6-8, a head smaller than Abdul-Jabbar. Larry Nance, the 6-11 small forward, jumped center and tried to guard Abdul-Jabbar. Any time that MacLeod took starting guard Jay Humphries off the floor, he had to use someone like Walter Davis or Michael Sanders to bring the ball up. With that, the Suns were going to get on the board against the world champions?
The Lakers tore off the expected 32-point first quarter and took a 10-point lead.
They then spent the next two periods losing leads, rebuilding them and losing them again. They had a 14-point lead early in the third period, but they went the last 6:41 with two field goals, both by Magic Johnson, who finished with 17 points and 12 assists.
Meanwhile, the Suns' Davis exploded. Held out the entire second period, he torched Scott for a fast 14 points.
Riley rushed Cooper back into the game and put him on Davis. Davis hit Cooper for another five in the last 2:58 of the third period. Davis would have had a 20-point period, except he missed the second of two free throws with five seconds left. On that play, Cooper had been called for wrestling with Davis in the low post and was given a technical foul.
With all that to do, how was Cooper going to get anything done on offense?
At the end of three periods, the Laker lead was down to 77-73. With 8:44 left in the game, they led, 89-83.
A that point, MacLeod was trying to get Davis a breather, and the Lakers hit the Suns with a quick 10-2 run that ended the evening's drama. Maurice Lucas sank a 15-footer to start it. Cooper dropped in his fourth three-pointer.
The Suns' Humphries, a 6-3 guard, drove the baseline and threw down a thunderous left-handed dunk, but Abdul-Jabbar, who finished with 25 points, answered that with two hooks, one of which he was fouled on and converted for a three-point play. That made it 101-85.
A few moments later, Cooper tossed in a last 25-footer, and he was in the Laker team record book by himself.
Laker Notes The NBA record for three-pointers in one game is eight, held by Rick Barry and John Roche. . . . James Worthy and Mitch Kupchak are still considered day-to-day, but neither is expected back on this day. Neither was to make the trip to Phoenix. . . . The Laker sellout was their seventh in eight games and 16th of the season. They sold out 11 regular-season games last season. Laker management has hopes of selling out the rest of this season. . . . Byron Scott, who hit all 10 of his shots at Dallas, made his first two Friday night before a hook shot in the lane hung on the rim and spun out. He then made 4 of his next 5, giving him 16 of 18.