Q&A; WITH JERRY WEST : Another Showdown With Celtics Is in Store for the Lakers, He Says

Times Staff Writer

Jerry West has been on the road scouting the colleges lately, which means he hasn't devoted his full attention to the Lakers.

That's about to change. From now until near the middle of June, West and the Lakers will be dealing with whatever the playoffs bring.

Could it be the Boston Celtics? West thinks so.

"I don't think anyone can beat Boston over there," he said.

Can anyone beat the Lakers before then and mess up a perfectly good championship series rematch? It doesn't look that way.

West is in his fourth season as general manager, the Lakers have been to the championship series the last three years and are overwhelmingly favored to get there again.

West sat at his desk in the Forum this week and spoke candidly about where the Lakers are now, how they got there, where they expect to go and how he expects them to act along the way.

Question--Since the playoffs are only a month and 17 games away, where do you think the Lakers are right now?

Answer--From a record standpoint, we're where I thought we'd be. If you look at another team, whether it be a good team, a moderately successful team or a poor team, many times you'll see them playing well but maybe not winning. This team recently has not played up to its capabilities, but we have been winning, with frankly a not favorable schedule and some personnel problems.

Q--Does that mean injuries?

A--Yes, but that's part of the NBA. Yet with key people in and out of our lineup, there's no question our chemistry has been affected. The last three games, though, I have seen a different looking team than I saw when they were really struggling there.

Q--What's a good regular-season record for the Lakers? Is it 60 victories?

A--That's an unbelievable number of games to win. And if you'll go back and look at the history of the NBA, there have been very few teams who have ever won 60 games. (Since 1946, there have been six teams: The Celtics 10 times; the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks four times, and the New York Knicks and Washington Bullets once).

If we would win 60 games, it would be remarkable. It would be a team that won the championship last year, with some adversity this year when we had none last year, and still win that number of ballgames.

Q--Even with 60 wins a good possibility for the Lakers, is it still fair to say that the Lakers are the kind of team that sometimes doesn't need much to be thrown entirely off balance?

A--Oh, absolutely. What's real strange about that is that the chemistry of a team is one of the most overlooked things of all. Each player has a job to do and if they're not doing it, something looks wrong.

With this team, early in the year, the chemistry was wonderful, everyone was healthy, running around, we were scoring points at a record rate and all of a sudden, injury necessitated other people going into a game. It changed the role they were chosen to do.

It's even hard to go back and adjust to the old role. When Magic got hurt, Michael Cooper played tremendously well, but it wasn't the same chemistry. It was the little things that upset us. James Worthy went out of the lineup when he was playing his very best. So you end up taking a player who is really conditioned and skilled to do another job better than being a starter.

Those are the little things that upset the chemistry of any ballclub. But I think there are a lot of teams in the league who would like to have our problems.

Q--What other kind of problems?

A--Things you might not realize all the time. Every team has a leader or leaders. We have two distinct kinds of leaders. We have a very quiet leader, Kareem, and we have a very vocal leader, Magic. When one of those people is not at the top of his game, mentally it affects the others on the team.

The confidence level of all players in this league is a very fragile thing. That's why you see some great swings of emotion. That's why even the very good teams lose some games sometimes you just can't understand.

Q--Early in the season, the play of your two newcomers, rookie A.C. Green and veteran Maurice Lucas, was highly praised. Then their impact faded about the same time the team started losing. How are they doing now?

A--With the rookie, I said consistently that you would judge a rookie by how he plays when the season goes on. Look at all the rookies in the league. There have been a lot of disappointments. But he's done a good job.

Lately, I think A. C. is playing a lot better and more confidently. But it is really tough for rookies to adjust, with this exception: It's a lot easier for rookies to play when a team is not successful. Their numbers are simply going to be greater.

As for Lucas, he's been hurt, but he's playing well for us and I'm sure he'll make a big impact in the playoffs.

Q--Since you've brought up the subject, do you think the Lakers have a bye into the championship round?

A--It's wonderful that people have that perception of this team. Unfortunately you have a number of other teams who want to get where you are and they're not going to give up easily. Every round of the playoffs is more important than the one before it and every team is better, too.

The history of this team in the past few years is one that gets better in the playoffs. I think you'll see the Lakers play very well because they'll be concentrating on what they're doing.

Q--Will they just be concentrating more, or are they really going to be a different team?

A--I don't think they change gears, really, it's just that their focus is a lot different than during the regular season. We have some very competitive people. We have some people who play very big games very well.

To me, the team does change its face. I think you'll see a much more aggressive team, particularly defensively. I guess you will see a different kind of team.

Q--The Lakers sprinted out of the regular season 33-6 last season, but they can't match that this season, so where is the momentum going to come from?

A--We have a schedule that is very favorable to us. We have the best road record in the NBA (22-11) right now and that to me is a very important plus going into the playoffs because we can win anywhere against any caliber of competition.

Q--Would the Lakers be better prepared for the playoffs if they were even challenged a little bit in their own conference during the regular season?

A--I don't think that really matters. The thing in our players' minds during the regular season is that they want to prepare themselves for the playoffs.

We've had a very, very successful season and we've beaten the teams we've been asked to beat. We lost two games to Boston, but two years ago we beat them two games, no one talked about that, and they won the championship that year.

I think how you are playing late in the year, if you are healthy, those are the factors that will determine if any team will advance.

Q--Has Mitch Kupchak's status been determined for the playoffs?

A--At this time, no. That won't be determined for a while. We're not really sure and neither are our doctors until he starts to rehabilitate. Mitch seems to be very confident, though.

Q--So if you get through the Western Conference playoffs and make it to the championship series, you really do expect to see green uniforms again?

A--Oh, boy, yeah. No one can beat those guys in that conference. No one has enough different answers for that team. Besides Bird and McHale and so on, I think Dennis Johnson is one of the finest players in the NBA today and he gets very little credit for it. That's because he's playing with Larry Bird.

Q--How do you gauge Bird's performance this season?

A--Larry Bird is having an enormous year. He is probably going to be the most valuable player very easily.

Q--If you do have to play the Celtics again, at least you've beaten them now, so there's one question you won't have to answer, right?

A--That's right. 'What are you going to do to replace Kareem?'

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