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Laker Win Has Familiar Ring : With Magic on Target, Nuggets No Match for Two-Time Champions

Times Staff Writer

Doug Moe’s idea of a punch line Wednesday night was the Denver Nuggets.

Here’s the joke: That the Nuggets--or any other team, for that matter--should even think about championship rings as long as Magic Johnson is around.

“Everybody’s tired of talking about the Lakers because they’ve been good for so long, but the Lakers are better than everyone till Magic goes down--they’re not going to lose,” said the Denver coach after the Lakers were presented with their 1988-model rings, then wrapped them around the necks of the Nuggets, 128-110, in their home opener before a Forum sellout crowd of 17,505.

“It’s a joke to compare other teams to them,” Moe said. “How many games did they win last season? Sixty-two. And they only won 62 because Magic went down, and people say they’re slipping.

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“They couldn’t beat the Little Sisters of the Poor when he went down. They were 5-5 and playing (bad) teams. If he plays, they win 65, 66, 67 games.

“And they’re slipping? Give me a break.”

Magic’s 19 assists, 18 points and 6 rebounds might have had something to do with Moe’s passion for the subject, but this wasn’t the first time that he has said his team woefully (Moefully?) suffers by comparison to the Lakers. Two years ago, when the Lakers met the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, Moe said Denver had zero chance.

Even with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar making little more than a cameo appearance Wednesday, Moe hasn’t raised the odds much further. Abdul-Jabbar thanked the crowd for their support during the pregame ring ceremony, said “Let’s get it on,” then proceeded to sit for a 14-minute stretch of the second half.

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No matter, Moe said, and of course, the scoreboard--and Byron Scott, James Worthy and Orlando Woolridge--bore him out. Scott scored 33 points on 15-of-23 shooting, Worthy shot 11 of 14 for 26 points and blocked 3 shots, and Woolridge had 18 points for the second straight night off the bench.

The Lakers shot 60.5% and outrebounded the Nuggets, 48-37.

With guards Fat Lever (23 points) and Michael Adams (18), and center Danny Schayes (24) doing most of the damage, Denver had shot back from a 19-point second-quarter deficit, 47-28, to take a 3-point lead, 64-61, just before halftime. They fell behind again, 88-74, midway through the third quarter but narrowed the gap to 96-92 at the end of the period.

That’s when Moe went to his bench and the Lakers turned it on its end, scoring three straight layup baskets--two by Worthy cutting on Walter Davis, one by Magic--to open a 10-point lead. A 3-point play by Woolridge soon made it an 11-point game, and the issue was all but decided by the time Abdul-Jabbar entered with 5:38 to go.

“We had to substitute,” Moe said with a shrug. “If we could have played five guys for 48 minutes, we’d at least have been in the game. But every time we made a substitution, it was kiss it goodby. We got zero help off the bench.”

If Moe had the luxury of using the Laker bench--Woolridge, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thompson--would that have served to balance the issue?

“What are you, a total idiot?” Moe asked incredulously. “We need a performance off the bench just to have a chance . . . You make a good comedian without even knowing it.”

By now, of course, Laker Coach Pat Riley is becoming better schooled at reacting to Moe’s musings about the relative merits of the teams. Two years ago, he had acted insulted by Moe’s words, a reaction that gave Moe much mirth. This time, Riley took the Denver coach at face value.

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“You’re not going to buy that from Doug, are you?” Riley said with a wry smile. “One thing I’ve learned about Doug Moe: Regardless of what he says, he believes what he says. I believe that now.”

Riley also believed that the rings had their effect.

“We weren’t going to spoil the ceremony,” he said. “It brought back some great memories.”

Laker Notes

For the second straight game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did not have a rebound in the first half. He finished with just 6 points, just as he had the night before, and played just 18 minutes. . . . “We’ve played the last three games against quick, pressuring teams,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “From that standpoint, we’ve got to watch it. It isn’t planned. It depends on the caliber of the game. I wanted a lot of quickness. I saw that he was tired at the 7-minute mark (of the third quarter). I wanted to give him a quick (rest). He worked hard the first 5 minutes.”


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