It’s no secret that Orlando Woolridge came to the Lakers with a reputation to overcome--one that had no connection to his much-publicized drug problems, either.
It’s the same rap that hounds so many talented players in this league. You never knew when Woolridge would show up to play. On some nights, O was the word. Other nights, it was oh, no.
But according to Magic Johnson, there’s a very good reason to believe that pattern will end for Woolridge, who was his awesome (Pat Riley’s word) self in the Lakers’ 114-102 win over the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night before 15,025 in the Oakland Coliseum Arena.
“He knows I’m not going to stand for it,” Johnson said. “I’ll ride him hard, and he knows it.
“He can’t play like he used to. We’re not going to let him slide back into that inconsistency.
“I’ve got to give him credit. He’s been working very hard so far. It’s tough--he’s been out of basketball a year, he’s with a new team, he’s coming from a team that didn’t run to one that does. But it will come.”
Woolridge came in waves against the Warriors, scoring 18 points in 27 minutes off the bench. The Lakers haven’t had a guy able to do that, Johnson said, since Bob McAdoo.
Woolridge was on the bench when the Lakers broke it open in an 8-minute stretch of the third quarter, when Johnson accounted for 25 points with either a basket or pass during a 30-8 Laker run that stretched their lead to 89-70. Johnson finished with 22 points, 18 assists and 7 steals, leading the Lakers to their second victory in three games on the road, before their home opener tonight against Denver.
But Woolridge was a presence, especially in the second quarter, when he scored 9 points to help the Lakers open a 14-point lead. And he became a lock for the season highlight film when he took a pass just inside the time line, took three dribbles, and threw down a savage one-handed dunk over Golden State’s 7-foot 7-inch Manute Bol. The ball hit the floor with such force that it almost came back through the basket.
“O did a George Bush on him,” said a suitably impressed Mychal Thompson. “He just ran right over him.”
Having played for New Jersey, Woolridge had seen plenty of Bol, newly arrived here from the Washington Bullets.
“He’s blocked a lot of my shots in the past,” Woolridge said. “But I got up a head of steam, and I wanted to get in the air before he did. When I saw I was higher than he was, I put it away as fast as I could.”
As he did so, he let out a scream that could have been heard by Bol’s fellow Dinka tribesmen in the Sudan.
“It brought back flashes of old,” Woolridge said.
There was a sudden and violent flash of anger between 7-footers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ralph Sampson in the same quarter. Abdul-Jabbar went to the floor clutching the side of his face after catching a Sampson elbow while Byron Scott was hitting a three-pointer from the left corner. No foul was called.
Trainer Gary Vitti ran over to check on the Lakers’ 41-year-old captain, but he remained in the game. A half-minute later, while Otis Smith was launching a three-pointer for the Warriors, Abdul-Jabbar retaliated, nailing Sampson in the face with his left elbow, and was whistled for the infraction.
Sampson pointed a long finger in Abdul-Jabbar’s face before being pulled away by Golden State Coach Don Nelson. Laker Coach Pat Riley, meanwhile, who had gone past the midcourt line, was nailed with a technical foul.
“The foul was fine--it was justified,” Riley said. “But Kareem was slammed in the face at the other end. Very rarely does he ever go down.
“That’s part of the game. Sparks were flying all over. Kareem has been abused for a long time.”
Nelson said he was just trying to calm down Sampson, who acknowledged he needed the help.
“I’ve put myself in the position of being taken out of games because I got worked up, so I tried to settle down.”
Sampson, who is encumbered by an enormous brace on his left knee, briefly rallied the Warriors to within 51-49, at the half, and actually helped them take a 3-point lead with a 6-2 run at the start of the second half. But the Warriors--who shot only 35.2% in the second half and whose leading scorer, Chris Mullin, mixed in 8 turnovers with his 26 points, were no match for Magic.
“When Earvin puts his head down and penetrates like that, the other guys can’t stand around and watch,” said Riley, whose team gained its 10th straight regular-season victory over the Warriors.
“They have to work much harder to get in front of him.”
Johnson said he was satisfied with the results of that work, which included 23 points by Scott and 21 by James Worthy.
“It’s going to come,” Magic said. “It’s not easy for everybody like it used to be. We have a whole new bench, and we’re relying on Kareem less and less, but we’ll get the hang of it.
“We’ll be all right.”