For Lakers, Their Alamo Is in Houston
The Lakers have seen the future, and they’re not in it.
Barring a turnaround in five or six major areas of play, the Lakers figure to die an ugly death in the next act or two. They trail the Houston Rockets, 3-1, in the Western Division finals after Sunday’s 105-95 loss.
“The opera’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings,” said Rocket guard Mitchell Wiggins.
Listen, Mitchell, I saw the fat lady standing outside the Rockets locker room after Sunday’s game, spraying her throat.
Hey, lady, give the Lakers a hit of that stuff. A team can work up a powerful thirst out here in the Texas wilderness.
The Rockets put another stranglehold on the Lakers Sunday, turning the Summit into the Best Little Snorehouse in Texas.
Maybe this is the way the Lakers like it. Yeah, that’s it. Underdogs. Well, they’ve got it. Some people are even leaving off the under part.
The Lakers have it their way. The big challenge. Their world is crumbling, and as you read this, all the top-gun sportswriters in the country are flying into Los Angeles via Air Vulture for Game 5 Wednesday. They come not to praise the Lakers, but . . .
“If I were all you,” Laker Coach Pat Riley told a group of reporters after Sunday’s game, “I would be wary before you shovel the last bunch of dirt over our faces.”
But Riley, it’s not us holding the shovel. It’s the Rockets and Akeem the Nightmare Olajuwon.
Those Rockets, they squeeze you. On one side Akeem, and on the other side the other Rockets, young and hungry. They squeeze you. Houston Vice.
Akeem is the future. This young man is out of control. Sunday, 35 more points, 4 blocks, 6 offensive rebounds, 13 free throws. Spinning, whirling, never tiring, pounding the boards, wearing out the defense, having the time of his life.
“We play him well,” Kurt Rambis said. “He shot the ball well again. We made him turn out, fade away, we kept him off the glass. But he can go left or right, underneath you, over the top of you. Some players you can take away their strength, but he has no weakness.”
Akeem just screws everything up. He is a 6-10 monkey wrench, an emerging superstar run amok. He ruins all your strategy.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ authority on rebounding, was angry going into the game, because the Lakers were letting themselves get pushed around.
Sunday the rebound count was Rockets 49, Lakers 38. Typical of the series. Magic was still angry.
Pat Riley’s favorite saying is “No rebounds, no rings.” At this rate the only rings the Lakers will wind up with are rings around the collar. Loosen up, guys.
“We’re not attacking the baskets,” Magic Johnson said. “We’re not attacking. If you don’t box them out (off the offensive backboards), they’re so big and tall, even if you think you’ve got the rebound, they knock it away from you.”
Young and hungry. The Rockets, a team that seems to be getting the hang of this game, attack the basket, at both ends. As a result, they shot 37 free throws Sunday, to the Lakers’ 17.
Don’t blame the officials. You attack the boards, you shoot the free throws. The meek inherit nothing.
One problem is the Lakers aren’t tough. At just about any given time the last three games, they rebound like Clint Eastwood and four saloon girls.
“Akeem can be kept off the basket,” Mitch Kupchak said. “The problem is, we usually have our No. 4 man, on this team the rebounder (usually Rambis or Lucas), is assigned to block out Akeem, so they’re not in position to rebound.
“If we had two good rebounders, we’d have someone to rebound. But we depend on Cap (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and James (Worthy) to score. We rely so much on them offensively, we can’t expect them to get 15 rebounds.”
Not even now? Not even in desperation time?
Magic Johnson, you can’t count on him to rebound either, but he led the Lakers Sunday with 12. He’s the point guard, remember. Worthy did come out of his rebounding shell Sunday, grabbing 10, more than he had in the entire series going in.
But if rebounding is heart and desire, which a lot of it is, the Rockets’ 3-1 lead is no fluke. They came to play.
It wasn’t pretty here in Texas, if you’re a Laker fan. For Game 3, each fan entering the Summit was given a free pair of sunglasses, in honor of Laker superfan Jack Nicholson.
Wednesday at the Forum, unless the Lakers reach down inside and find something, each Forum fan should be given a blindfold and cigarette.
No smoking in the Forum? Right. Tell it to Akeem.
Right now the Lakers look like co-stars in a new Nicholson movie, “Terms of Surrender.”
In four games the Lakers have been out-rebounded, 186-145, and out-offensive-rebounded, 64-42.
Maybe this is a learning experience for the Lakers. A nice little challenge hurled in their faces.
“This is the ultimate test of this team,” Kupchak said. “Is Houston the team of destiny, or are we gonna repeat? Nothing is etched in stone that we will be in the finals. If it truly is to be, there’s only one way to do it--we’ve got to earn it.”
As Riley said, “I think you have to experience everything in life.”
They’ve got humiliation and domination covered. What’s next?
“I’m not trying to be flip,” Riley went on. “That’s the reality. By Monday and Tuesday, I’m going to be revved up, and so will our guys.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers just want to get home.
To paraphrase Mac Davis, “Happiness is Houston, Texas in our rear-view mirror.”
Or is a little Frank Sinatra philosophy more apropos right now?
Win a few championships, lose a few. That’s life. That’s what all the people say. You’re riding high in August, shot down in May.