Lakers Rattled by Utah : Magic Is Benched, Worthy Is Stopped, Riley Is Puzzled

Times Staff Writer

Along with guaranteeing that the Lakers would repeat as National Basketball Assn. champions, Pat Riley also guaranteed there would be trouble along the way.

But it's hard to believe that the Laker coach envisioned such a turbulent night as this, when he benched Magic Johnson, watched James Worthy go nearly three quarters before taking a shot, and saw center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar crumble for the second straight game before his very eyes.

And now, after a 96-89 loss to the Utah Jazz Friday night, the Lakers are in a position of having to make a stand Sunday afternoon in the Western Conference semifinals, and take a chance on sinking out of sight in the Great Salt Lake.

With Karl Malone scoring 29 points, Mark Eaton blocking 6 shots and grabbing 14 rebounds, and Thurl Bailey coming off the bench for 21 points, the Jazz led wire to wire from the opening tipoff to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday afternoon in the Salt Palace.

"We don't have our backs against the wall yet," Riley said. "Not till we play the game that can send you away to the next round.

"But we've gotten to a critical situation, one I can't understand. We've become a different team totally."

And at the moment, it's not a pretty sight. Abdul-Jabbar, who made just 3 of 13 shots against the Jazz on Tuesday, followed up with an unsightly 3-of-14 showing Friday. His backup, Mychal Thompson, was even more off-target, making just 3 of 16 shots, 2 of 13 in the first half, when Utah opened a 64-53 lead.

The Lakers turned to Abdul-Jabbar in the last two minutes, after they'd cut a 13-point Utah lead to 4, 92-88, but their 41-year-old captain could not respond.

He missed a sky hook, committed an offensive foul, and then missed another sky hook with 45 seconds to go. John Stockton, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds, made one of two free throws with 28 seconds to go to make it 93-88.

Worthy, who finished with 9 points in only his second single-digit game in 78 playoff appearances, made a free throw with 25 seconds to go to make it 93-89, but three free throws--one by Malone and two by Eaton--put away the Lakers.

"I love the guy," Riley said when asked if he were alarmed by Abdul- Jabbar's play. "I'll never be alarmed about it.

"We've come too far with him, he's a guy with a great deal of pride, he's brought us here for 10 years . . . this thing is a long way from over."

Johnson, who had just 4 points in the first half, was pulled from the game with 5:13 in the second quarter after missing a wide-open layup. Johnson scored 10 points in the third quarter and finished with 16 points and 6 assists, but acknowledged that this was the first time this season Riley has benched him when he wasn't in need of a rest or was hurting.

"He looked slow out there," Riley said. "We needed more energy."

The great illegal defense controversy was all but nonexistent in the first half, but the Laker offense should have been banned in Utah.

Worthy drew three fouls in the first 9:50 and went to the bench without having attempted a shot. Worthy remained on the bench for the rest of the half.

Abdul-Jabbar made just 2 of 8 shots in the half. His backup, Thompson, made just 2 of 13 shots, missing almost all of his medium-range jumpers and having one dunk attempt blocked by Eaton. Thompson's performance would have been even more disastrous if he hadn't been so active on the offensive boards, where he was credited with seven rebounds.

Magic Johnson had just 4 points in the half on 2 of 5 shooting, and after missing an uncontested layup, came out of the game for Tony Campbell with 5:13 left in the second quarter and the Lakers trailing by 11, 44-33. Johnson, who had already sat out three minutes of the first quarter, did not return before the half, an almost unprecedented move by Riley when Johnson is healthy and the Lakers are behind.

Only Byron Scott had an early hot hand for the Lakers, scoring 14 points. The team shot 38% and had only one fast-break basket, a short jumper by Scott on the transition.

The Jazz led by eight at the end of the first quarter, 31-23, but made their move in the second quarter in a stretch that began when Magic Johnson missed two free throws.

Malone, who had 17 points in the half, made two free throws to give Utah a 37-29 lead. Eaton blocked a short jumper by Abdul-Jabbar, and on the next Laker possession, Bailey streaked across the lane to block a driving shot by Magic.

Stockton, who had 12 points in the half, hit a jumper to give the Jazz a 10-point lead, then when Campbell failed to see Riley signal for a timeout and missed a jumper, Stockton went coast-to-coast with a layup that made it 41-29.

When Eaton blocked Thompson's attempted jam, Bobby Hansen's driving shot gave the Jazz their biggest lead, 56-40. The half ended, 56-42.

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