The Ralph Sampson watch continued Saturday night at the Summit, and Rocket fans were getting restless. The sellout crowd delivered that message when it booed the Rockets off the court at halftime, after watching Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out-rebound Houston's front line.
Sampson, who had missed 25 straight games since undergoing arthroscopic surgery, practiced with the Rockets on Wednesday and dressed for Thursday night's game against the San Antonio Spurs. He didn't play then and didn't play against the Lakers, although he said he was ready to go.
Abdul-Jabbar didn't miss him, that's for sure. Then again, to hear some of the Lakers talk after their 123-109 win before a crowd of 16,279, Sampson's presence wouldn't have made a difference.
"That's definitely the best I've seen (Kareem)," said Laker guard Magic Johnson, who had 31 points and 13 assists, both game highs. "It's that time of the year. . . . We know when he plays like that, our chances of going all the way increase.
"Kareem's been king of the hill for so long, and here's Akeem (Olajuwon) ready to join him and then take over. Kareem doesn't want to give the whole thing up."
Abdul-Jabbar had 11 rebounds in the first quarter as the Lakers made 17 of 28 shots to take a 41-21 lead. By halftime, he had 12 rebounds in 19 minutes, just 2 less than the Rockets' starting lineup.
At the same time, Johnson had 25 points, and the Lakers were well on their way to the easy win. They led by as many as 32 in the third period and finished shooting 58.1%, although Abdul-Jabbar played only 10 minutes in the second half and finished with 13 points.
"We played them in the past, and the Achilles' heel was Olajuwon and (Jim) Petersen killing us on the boards," said forward James Worthy, who, like guard Byron Scott, scored 22 points. "We came prepared."
A fact that was very evident to the Rockets.
"From 8-6, it was all downhill," Coach Bill Fitch said. "That's the best team we've seen in a long time. Magic impressed me. He shot well in the first half (11 of 13). He's like a coach on the floor.
"I don't have any long explanations. We played against a very effective basketball team. We didn't have any meat-and-potatoes guys in there. You play the Lakers and you've got to be ready to play defense."
Olajuwon was the only Rocket in double figures in rebounding with 10. A.C. Green deserves much of the credit for keeping him off the offensive boards. Petersen, the Lakers' other nemesis, had just 3 rebounds and 3 points in 24 minutes.
The Lakers, winners of 12 of 13 games and 18 of 20, and owners of the best record in the National Basketball Assn. at 56-15, had clinched their sixth straight Pacific Division title Thursday night with a 17-point win over the Detroit Pistons.
"We just had a great performance," Coach Pat Riley said. "This is two big games in a row over Detroit and Houston to find out where we are and what we need to do to improve. I think it's great to find out where we are right now against the opposition that I think is some of the best in the conference."
Abdul-Jabbar said: "The last two games with Detroit and Houston are a good indicator of where we are going."
Where they're going remains to be seen, but Abdul-Jabbar is leading the way.
The Rockets, trying to overtake the Utah Jazz for second place in the Midwest Division, have lost four of their last five games. There was good news, though. This was the 37th sellout of the season in 38 games. . . . The teams will meet again Tuesday night at the Forum, the Lakers' next game.