Nuggets Looking Like Fool's Gold : English, Lever Must Bounce Back for Them to Test Lakers

Times Staff Writer

Looking for a longer shot than Magic Johnson's halftime buzzer-beater Thursday? Try the Denver Nuggets.

Armed with a tape measure Friday morning, Laker publicist Josh Rosenfeld and Forum employee Louie Galicia calculated the distance of Johnson's fling as 77 feet 8 inches.

Armed only with a sense of gallows humor, Denver Coach Doug Moe calculated the odds facing the Nuggets as impossible when they play the Lakers this afternoon in Game 2 of the best-of-five Western Conference first-round playoff series (12:30 p.m., Channel 2).

Moe had the Nuggets watch a videotape of only the first half of Thursday night's 128-95 loss to the Lakers.

"We thought watching the second half would be a big waste of time," said Moe, who doubtless would have found ticket-buyers aplenty agreeing with him.

Moe also could have clicked off the machine well before the longest three-point shot of Johnson's career.

"Normally, something like that would just crush you," Moe said. "But that shot had absolutely zero significance. It capped off what was an unbelievable shooting half for them."

Moe, of course, doesn't expect Magic to duplicate his shot, magic- meister or not. What worries him more is whether the Nuggets will duplicate their own sorry performance, which caused them to fall behind by 48 points, 112-64, with 2 minutes 51 seconds left in the third quarter.

At the circus, hardly anyone notices what the guys with the shovels are doing behind the elephants. And Thursday, it was easy to overlook the fact that Nugget forward Alex English, the league's third-leading scorer, managed just 14 points, not even half his average of 28.6.

Or that Nugget guard Lafayette (Fat) Lever, who had more triple-doubles than Magic Johnson--a league-leading 18--made just 3 of 14 shots and scored only 7 points.

"Fat and Alex were struggling, and when they struggle, we're not going to be very good," Moe said.

The Lakers most responsible for their off-nights were Byron Scott, who was on Lever, and James Worthy, who drew English.

"James and myself both emphasized that we were going to play them very tough and not give them anything," Scott said Friday. "Obviously when a guy shoots 3 for 14, he didn't get anything easy. In the past, I think we've given them too many open shots."

Worthy, who led the Lakers with 28 points, said there have been times he's played good defense against English and still gotten burned for 40 points.

"He's the focus of that team," Worthy said. "I have a lot of experience playing him. You have to study a guy, especially such a great player, a smart player. I know what he likes to do, and I know there are certain areas on the floor where I can't let him have the ball.

"I thought I did a pretty good job of denying him the ball, and I got plenty of help from teammates who'd slow him down long enough until I could catch up.

"But you've got to know he's going to have to come back stronger."

The Nuggets' chances would also be greatly enhanced if their defense shows up. How badly did the Laker fast-break beat the Nuggets down the floor? Several times, 40-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the lead man on the break. And that couldn't have been just because he was wearing a new pair of sneakers.

"Our big men are quicker than their big men," Scott said. "Blair Rasmussen is a good player, but he's not quick enough to keep up with Kareem or Mychal Thompson or Michael Smrek. Kareem was well aware of that."

That may have come as news to Smrek, who sits next to Scott in the Laker dressing room. But Smrek, who played eight minutes Thursday, didn't argue the point.

Moe, however, said that the Nuggets' state of mind more than the condition of their legs made Abdul-Jabbar look like a sprinter.

"It was an El Blowout," Moe said. "I think the team was discouraged. After a while, I don't think we could have gotten back (on defense) against us."

Most of the Lakers, so accustomed to winning, can't conceive of the Nuggets' predicament.

"You mean a no-hoper?" Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "I've been there.

"In 1967, when I was with the San Diego Rockets, we went 15-67. That was my rookie season.

"I remember we had lost 13 or 14 in a row and were headed toward a league record for consecutive defeats. That night, Philadelphia, with Wilt and Luke (Jackson), (Billy) Cunningham, Wally (Jones) came in, and they'd won something like 15 in a row. We won the game that night.

"Then we lost something like 16 in a row after that."

Scott has never played for a loser, but he has an idea of what to expect this afternoon.

"I know Fat and I know Alex English's personality," he said. "And when you hurt a player's pride, that's the worst thing you can do.

"They'll come out tomorrow firing."

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