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This Time, Derek Harper Didn’t Have to Know Time

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Derek Harper, who scored a career-high 35 points as the Dallas Mavericks whipped the Lakers, 118-104, in Game 4 of the Western Conference final Sunday at Reunion Arena, will never be able to live down the blunder he made here four years ago in the playoffs against the Lakers.

The Mavericks, who trailed the Lakers 2 games to 1 in the 1984 National Basketball Assn. Western Conference semifinals, had a chance to tie that series but Harper dribbled out the clock in the Game 4 on national television at Reunion Arena to send the game into overtime.

Harper, coincidentally, dribbled out the clock to end Sunday’s game, but the Mavericks had already locked up their second straight win over the defending world champions.

The situation, however, was a lot different four years ago.

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The score was tied at 108-108 with 12 seconds left and the Mavericks were set to get the last shot after Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar missed a sky hook with 12 seconds left. Dallas guard Rolando Blackman grabbed the rebound of Abdul-Jabbar’s missed shot and passed the ball to Dale Ellis, who fed Harper.

Harper, however, had lost track of the score after he left the game briefly, and he thought the Mavericks had a 109-108 lead. He ran out the clock and the Mavericks never got a crack at attempting a game-winning shot. The Lakers went on to win, 122-115, in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the series and they eliminated the Mavericks in the next game at the Forum.

Harper, however, doesn’t wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night dreaming about the costly mistake he made four years ago against the Lakers.

“It was a mistake and I think I learned from it,” Harper said. “It’s annoying to keep hearing about it. It’s something that doesn’t happen too often.

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“I didn’t expect to go jump off a roof after it. But I don’t think a lot of people expected to hear from me again. I think they thought it would ruin my career.”

Harper’s pro basketball career, however, is flourishing.

Harper had 18 points in the first half and added 17 in the second half, including 14 in the third quarter, as the Mavericks tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

Did Harper feel that he had redeemed himself?

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“If you guys (the media) didn’t keep bringing it up, it would be over,” Harper said. “It never crossed my mind until you brought it up.”

While Harper has put the incident behind him, the Lakers may have a hard time forgetting how badly Harper burned them Sunday.

“He kept sticking daggers in our heart every time it got close,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “He had a career playoff game. That was a big-time performance.”

Harper broke out of a playoff shooting slump by hitting 12 of a career-high 21 shots, including 3 of 6 three-point shots. He also made all 8 of his free throws, grabbed 6 rebounds and had 7 assists in 39 minutes. And he did not have a turnover.

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“I’ve seen him shoot that well before,” said Blackman, who had 15 points and 11 assists. “He’s definitely a shooting point guard. But he didn’t force anything today.”

Harper won a duel with Magic Johnson, who led the Lakers with 28 points and had 12 assists.

“Derek Harper played extra well today,” Johnson said. “He ran their offense solidly and hit a bunch of important shots against some pretty good defense.”

Actually, the Laker defense against Harper left something to be desired.

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Figuring that Harper couldn’t hurt them outside, the Lakers left him open and concentrated on defending forward Mark Aguirre (26 points) and the Mavericks’ inside game.

The strategy, however, backfired.

“Harper was sensational, but you can’t leave him free. You’ve got to stay home on him,” said Detroit Pistons assistant coach Dick Versace, who scouted the game. “We respect him from three-point range. The Lakers were trapping down low on Mark (Aguirre), and Derek would spot up outside and knock them down.”

Harper, who averaged 17 points during the regular season, wasn’t a factor in the first three games of the series as his average fell to just 11.1 points. The low point came when he made just 3 of 9 shots and scored only 6 points in the second game.

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Harper may have lost his jump shot, but he didn’t lose his confidence.

“It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone,” Harper said. “I’d been struggling a little in the playoffs, and I really wanted to get off to a good start. I hit a couple of drives and made a couple of shots early and it felt good.”

Maverick Coach John MacLeod said Harper had the green light to shoot from the outside despite his slump.

“He had the hot hand for us. He had 18 in the first half and 17 in the second,” MacLeod said. “Today he had his rhythm. I’m happy for him because he hasn’t been playing well. He showed resiliency.”

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