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THE NBA PLAYOFFS : Riley May Call a Board Meeting

Lakers 2, Mavericks 2. Or is it the other way around?

What’s going on here? Let’s take a look at the series through the quotes of those wiser than I.

“I have no answer for Roy Tarpley.”

--PAT RILEY

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This is a fine how-do-you-do. We can put a man on the moon, we can implant cork in baseball bats, we can talk to the whales and chart the cosmos, and yet we have no answer to Roy Tarpley?

A month ago the world didn’t know Roy Tarpley from Roy Riegels, Roy Rogers or Judge Roy Bean, and now this Roy Tarpley person is threatening to topple the greatest sports franchise of the 1980s.

This young man continues to confound the greatest minds in basketball (that’s open to debate, but let’s not quibble and derail my train of thought), snatching rebounds and destroying the Lakers’ game plan.

Lord knows, I don’t want to bore you or myself with statistics, but this begoggled colt of a lad, who isn’t even in the Dallas starting lineup, has 66 rebounds in this series. The top three rebounding Lakers--A.C. Green, Magic Johnson and Mychal Thompson--have 70 rebounds combined.

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Tarpley has 33 offensive rebounds, each of them snuffing a potential Laker fast break. Remember those things? All the Lakers together have 46 offensive rebounds. Maybe A.C. Green should sit on Mychal Thompson’s shoulders.

This Tarpley kid owns the backboards. He might as well get an etching tool and carve his signature up there high above the rim.

The Lakers try to box him out, block him off the boards, but he tiptoes around them or vaults over them or reaches between them. It’s not just a matter of effort, because if rebounding was a simple matter of effort, A.C. Green would be getting 20 a game. So would Kurt Rambis, in his precious few minutes of non-pine time.

Rebounding is also an undefinable knack, and Roy the Rebounder has the knack.

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So far, he also has the Lakers’ number--66 and counting.

“Legs, legs, legs.”

--CLIFFORD RAY,describing the Lakers after the first two games of last season’s NBA finals.

“The legs are always the first to go.”

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--Old baseball axiom.

But could the Lakers’ legs have gone this quickly? Gone with the wind?

What has happened to the Lakers’ fabled and feared fun-time fast break?

“Our running game ain’t the problem right now,” Magic Johnson said after Game 4. “In the playoffs, you can’t always run. We’re still gonna play our free and easy game, but you have to play half-court offense, too.

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“Rebounding still was the key to the game. Still.”

And why are the Lakers getting outrebounded? This brings us to the delicate subject of age.

“You are young in terms of age, but old in terms of battles.”

--MAGIC JOHNSON, referring to his 28-year-old self.

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Say the phrase “too old” around Laker General Manager Jerry West, even if you’re referring to your car or a bologna sandwich, and West reflexively bristles.

“Look,” he says, “our point guard (Johnson) is 28, our power forward (Green) is 24, our off-guard (Byron Scott) is 27, our small forward (James Worthy) is 27. Is that an old team?”

The answer: No, in terms of age; maybe yes, in terms of battles. Worthy has chronic tendinitis of the knee, and Johnson has creeping creaky-itis of the body. Before games, Magic needs more warmup time than a 1928 Hupmobile.

And Magic carries a load. What other point guard in the history of the world is asked to guard the opponent’s power forward, grab 10 rebounds a game, pilot the fast break, and also take over the scoring burden in crunch time?

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Also, with due respect to West, in any age discussion you have to include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He’s a marvel, but too often the last two games, his shoulders have become a launching pad for Tarpley and the other Flying Wallenda Mavericks.

And when you go to the bench, the Mavericks bring in 23-year-old Tarpley, while the Lakers counter with Mychal Thompson, 10 years older and 2 inches shorter.

Ah, but age is just a state of mind, as I was saying this morning to my manicurist, Martina Navratilova.

“If there’s any crazy basketball fans in Los Angeles, tell ‘em to come on out . . .”

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--MAGIC JOHNSON, in 1979, upon signing his first Laker contract.

The Lakers need some craziness right now. They need the kind of inspiration the Mavericks got from their leather-lunged fans the last two games in Dallas.

They need Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon, the stereo superstars. They need Ali and Tyson. They need the Laker Girls.

In Games 1 and 2 at the Forum, during timeouts, half the Mavericks would be watching the Laker Girl routines with profound concentration. You’d think these guys never see any purty girls down in Dallas.

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For all these wide-eyed Mavericks knew, Coach John MacLeod was kneeling down there in the huddle playing tick-tack-toe with Clifford Ray.

Maybe it’s no big deal if Uwe Blab misses a fine point of game adjustment, but there must be some reason the Mavericks are 0-8 in playoff games at the Forum.

Winning this series by winning only their home games isn’t the way the Lakers wanted to do it, but if that’s the way it works out, they’ll take it.

For whatever craziness the fans can muster tonight, the Lakers will be deeply appreciative.

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“It’s a question of wills.”

--MAGIC JOHNSON, after Game 4, on what the series boils down to now.

No, Magic’s not talking about the legal kind of wills. The Lakers aren’t ready to bequeath anything. They aren’t that old yet.

Magic is talking about the G. Gordon Liddy type of wills.

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It’s a question of heart, or as they say in Dallas, hort.

Or, as Magic once said, “I strive on pressure.” So does Roy Tarpley, who is matching Magic heartbeat for hortbeat, and it’s 2-2.

Let the games begin.


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