Lakers Run Over the Nuggets’ Little Big Men, 138-116

Times Staff Writer

You knew this was not going to be a typical National Basketball Assn. game when the Denver Nuggets, missing three big men, lined up for the center jump Friday night against the Lakers without anyone who resembled a center.

And when Denver’s most effective lineup turns out to consist of three guys standing 6-7 and guards at 6-5 and 6-4, something the Lakers probably haven’t seen since the franchise was based in Minneapolis, it seemed the Nuggets’ only hope would be to run and run and hope the Lakers tired first.

But the Lakers, who never tire of the running game, ran right over Denver’s runts en route to a resounding 138-116 victory in their home opener before a crowd of 15,872 at the Forum.

While it may have been tempting for the Lakers to feed 7-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, towering over 6-7 Nugget “center” Bill Hanzlik, they chose to stick to what they do best and beat the Nuggets in their customarily swift fashion.


“We like it at up tempo,” Laker guard Magic Johnson said, “because we’re the best at it.”

That certainly showed Friday night, when the absence of injured Wayne Cooper, Calvin Natt and Danny Schayes left the Nuggets a little short and thin. And the Lakers, except for brief lapses late in the second and early in the fourth quarters, simply blew their depleted opponents off the floor with an array of fast breaks, dunks and short jump shots.

“It was bizarre because they played a lot of small guys and we didn’t want to force that height issue,” Riley said. “If we were a setup team, they would have been in trouble. But we run, too, so it presented a problem for us. We just had to make sure we outran them.”

Leading the Laker floor show, of course, was Johnson, who scored 16 points and had 18 assists. James Worthy, who made 15 of 17 shots for 30 points, was on the receiving end of many of Johnson’s passes.


Byron Scott, Johnson’s backcourt partner, had 25 points, including two of the spectacular breakaway dunks that are becoming standard in Scott’s game.

“This is the quickest (Laker) team I’ve ever been on,” Johnson said.

Even the Lakers need to slow it down occasionally. And when they did look inside, they had little trouble with Denver’s dense pack defense, in which three forwards would surround whichever Laker had the ball.

Abdul-Jabbar, who said the last time he went against a 6-foot 7-inch center was in high school, had 15 points and 9 rebounds in 30 minutes.


Before Friday night, Hanzlik had managed to beat the height disadvantage and handle both Utah’s Mark Eaton and New York’s Patrick Ewing. Abdul-Jabbar, however, was different.

“After having to guard him, you get a better understanding of why he is a top scorer,” Hanzlik said.

Abdul-Jabbar shook his head when asked how it felt to tower over an opposing front line.

“It didn’t do them any good,” he said, simply. “I was looking to keep the ball alive off the offensive glass because the team that runs best wins these kinds of games. (But) on defense, it’s tough to run around with all those little guys.”


It wasn’t just Abdul-Jabbar who dominated inside against Denver’s little guys. Frank Brickowski, Abdul-Jabbar’s backup, had 13 points and 9 rebounds. Even rookie small forward Billy Thompson, making his NBA debut, was strong inside with 13 points--including two spectacular dunks--and 7 rebounds in 18 minutes.

All told, the Lakers beat the Nuggets inside, outside and up and down the court. The Lakers held a 50-33 rebounding advantage and shot 55.8% to the Nuggets’ 49.4%.

Alex English brought a 29.5-point average into the game and improved on that with a game-high 34 for Denver. Hanzlik, getting used to his new role of center on defense and small forward on offense, had 20 points and 6 rebounds. Mark Alarie, the Nugget rookie who was continually beaten by Worthy, added 12 points.

“The fact that we were even in the game in the fourth quarter was a minor miracle,” Denver Coach Doug Moe said. “I was kind of shocked that we were so close because we were so awful and they were so good. . . .


“We kept hanging in there, even though we were not playing good. Then, the inevitable took over, and it was blowout city . . . and dunk city--and I enjoyed that. If you’re going to lose, it’s nice to see guys flying around, doing acrobatics.”

The Lakers weren’t always flying above the Nuggets. For three quarters, the Lakers built leads as large as 18 points, only to see Denver gradually cut them. The Nuggets came within six points late in the second quarter, within seven midway through the third and within six early in the fourth.

The last Denver surge came in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, when they put together an 11-0 run led by English. Just as quickly as the Nuggets got back in the game, the Lakers took them out again, this time for good, with a 13-0 run in the next three minutes that culminated in a flying dunk and a free throw by Scott. Besides Scott, rookie Thompson treated Moe and the crowd to some memorable dunks. After sitting out the first two games of the season, Thompson was impressive in his debut. He ran the floor well and played aggressive defense in 18 minutes of spelling Worthy.

“It’s great to play for the Lakers because I like to run out there,” Thompson said. “It’s nice to play like that.”


Laker Notes Mike Smrek, signed Friday as the replacement for injured reserve center Petur Gudmundsson, doesn’t have the typical background of a basketball player. The 7-foot 2-inch Smrek grew up in Canada and played hockey as a kid in Port Robinson, Ontario. When it became apparent that he would be perhaps the world’s tallest hockey player, Smrek switched to basketball. He has played the sport for only six years, averaging 15.8 points in his senior season at Canisius College. . . . Gudmundsson has mixed feeling about his surgery--scheduled for Monday--to repair a herniated disk in his back. “I’m just glad (Dr. Bob Watkins) found something,” Gudmundsson said. “All the doctors are confident it’s something that can be cured, but, still, I’ve never had any type of surgery before. . . . I was getting very frustrated, because (the back pain) went on so long and they couldn’t find out exactly what it was. At times, it would feel good, then really bad. Right now, actually, I feel pretty good because I was in bed (in the hospital) for a few days.” . . . Laker Coach Pat Riley, on why touted rookie forward Billy Thompson failed to play in the first two games: “The reason I haven’t had the confidence in him is that he’s new and we have a lot of new guys. It’s not fair to put a lot of the new guys in at once. Now, if A.C. (Green) and Petur weren’t hurt, we would have played him.” . . . The Lakers released rookie guard Dale Blaney, who had been on the suspended list after leaving the team midway through training camp and then changing his mind and returning. The Lakers looked at him for a week and decided against keeping him.