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Bullets Beat Listless Lakers; Riley Considering Shake-up

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Nothing, not even Pat Riley’s postgame threat of changes in the lineup and a redistribution of playing time could jolt the Lakers out of their stupor Sunday night.

Reeling from a 3-game losing streak, the players accepted their coach’s attempt at shock treatment with the same stunned silence as they did a 115-110 loss to the woeful Washington Bullets in front of a Capital Centre crowd of 18,641.

“Right now, we’re just stunned,” Michael Cooper said. “But something’s got to be done. The situation can’t stay the way it is, because we’re losing games. Not only losing, but losing games when we have 18-point leads.”

More like 20. The Lakers, looking like their old selves for a while, built a first-half lead of as many as 20 points over the Bullets (6-15) and still led by 14 points late in the third quarter.

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Then came nap time. The usual symptoms of lax defense and stagnant offense, offset by the inspired play of the opponent, resulted in another loss to an inferior team.

It was the Lakers’ fourth loss in the last 5 games on this Eastern trip, and their sleep pattern has been fairly consistent. The Lakers lost leads, sometimes big ones, in every loss except their consistently bad effort in Boston.

Unless a change in the Lakers’ play occurs, the road hazards could continue Tuesday night in Chicago, the final stop on the trip.

“We’re going to make some changes,” said Riley, without prompting. “When you lose 4 of 5 and are not getting the sustained effort, I can’t allow guys to sit on the bench and watch the starters out there losing it.

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“I don’t know (what the changes will be). I guess we’ll think about that (today). People just can’t assume that their minutes are secure.

“We’ll take a look at what we can do. I can’t accept it. We’re a great bad team right now. That’s what we are. We’ve got to change it.”

That might just be Riley’s attempt to awaken his slumbering club. After all, the Lakers use an eight-man rotation, in which minutes are divided according to the situation. It could be that Riley will use his bench more, or more of his bench, or that A.C. Green and Byron Scott might be temporarily out of the starting lineup.

All Riley would say Sunday night was that something new is needed.

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“It’s been like this the whole week,” said Riley, noting that the victory over Cleveland last Tuesday was the exception. “Like tonight, we give back 20 points against a team that played (Saturday) night, traveled today to get here, and we had the day off. And we’re supposed to be a better team. Something’s wrong.

“Unless we sustain our efficiency, we’ll continue to give back games. We came out soft (in the third quarter), and they took it to us. They worked harder. They dug in.”

Meanwhile, the lethargic Lakers existed on the other end of the mental spectrum. Although they played pressure defense and pushed the running game en route to a 65-50 first-half lead, they stood like mannequins on offense and continually let Washington take uncontested shots in the second half.

A 13-2 surge that began near the end of the third quarter and continued in the first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter enabled the Bullets to catch up. Washington took its first lead, 103-102, with 2:53 to play and outscored the Lakers, 12-8, from that point to win rather easily.

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Even though guard Jeff Malone led Washington with 34 points and forward Terry Catledge had 14 points and 10 rebounds, the Bullets’ revival was led by reserves Ledell Eackles and John Williams. The Lakers made both look unstoppable in the fourth quarter as Williams scored 12 of his 22 points and Eackles scoring all 12 of his points in that span.

The ineffectiveness of the Laker offense was evident during a 10-minute stretch in the third and fourth quarters when James Worthy accounted for all of their points. Worthy (31 points) scored the last 14 Laker points in the third quarter, and then the Bullets shut out the Lakers in the fourth quarter until Scott (21 points) sank a jump shot.

In other words, for an extended period, the Laker offense simply stood and watched Worthy go 1-on-5 against the Bullets.

“Our intensity, our mental outlook, not being ready to play, not executing on offense--that’s all got something to do with it,” said Magic Johnson, who was held to 13 points and 8 assists.

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Added Worthy: “Our problem is the mental attitude toward the game. Those lapses killed us. We play 2 great quarters, then . . . It’s not an individual thing, like, ‘He’s not doing it, or he’s not.’ It’s a team thing of not being focused.”

This Laker road slide is not unprecedented. On their Eastern swing last December, they lost 3 straight on the way to losing 4 of 5. But the situation was different then. Worthy was nursing tendinitis in his knees, altering the Lakers’ style of play.

This season, the Lakers are physically fit. Their mental well-being is another matter, and apparently Riley believes that shaking up the lineup will help.

Laker players showed little emotion--no surprised looks, anger or restlessness--when asked if the unspecified changes might help.

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“When you lose 3 in a row,” Johnson said, “I’m sure (Riley) has to start thinking about what he has to do to not make it 4 in a row.

“Are we in trouble? No. Trouble is something a team gets into when they are losing games and having dissension. There’s nothing like that here.”

No, recently the Lakers haven’t mustered enough effort to be fighting with anybody, especially themselves.


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