Lakers Back Home and Back in the Groove
As expected, the Lakers’ worries were soothed, if not put to rest, Friday night.
All it took was a return to familiar surroundings and a visit from the Sacramento Kings, always accommodating house guests.
Playing at home for the first time since Dec. 7, against a long-time punching bag that has lost 34 straight games at the Forum, the Lakers ended a 4-game losing streak with a 120-102 victory over the Kings in front of 17,505.
One resounding victory over the woeful Kings, of course, did not solve the problems that developed during the Lakers’ recent trip in which they lost 5 of 6. But this one-night home stand certainly had a rejuvenating quality.
Forgotten, if not gone, for a night were the stilted offense and lack of defensive effort that were recurring during the longest Laker regular-season losing streak in a decade.
To beat the Kings and reassure their fans that the hard times are only temporary, the Lakers pushed their running game and used pressure defense to force the Kings into mistakes that were not self-inflicted. The result was the first Laker blowout victory since their last home game, a laugher over the Phoenix Suns.
“It was important tonight,” said Magic Johnson, who had 27 points and 15 assists. “Anytime you have a losing streak, it’s always important to end it. Especially at home. But it’s going to take time for us to come around. You never just need one game to get it done.”
But, Johnson added, it was a start. After a reasonably close first half, in which the Kings (5-18) played about as well as they are capable, the Lakers made their first 8 shots in the third quarter en route to a 23-8 run and a blowout.
None of the Laker starters, so drained during the 7-game Eastern trip, played much past the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. What they accomplished in the first three quarters proved more than enough against the team with the National Basketball Assn.'s third-worst record.
In addition to another outstanding performance from Johnson, who pushed a Laker fast break that took full advantage of 23 King turnovers, Byron Scott made 10 of 15 shots for 22 points and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tied his season high with 16 points.
A.C. Green had 11 rebounds and 12 points.
The Laker defense, which seemingly had been giving in to fatigue during the latter stages of the long trip, forced the Kings to shoot just 47.1% and commit 23 turnovers.
So, you would think that all would be right in the Lakers’ world after a much-needed and long-sought easy victory, the Lakers’ eighth without a loss at the Forum.
But Laker Coach Pat Riley, while satisfied with Friday night’s effort, was far from ready to pronounce the Laker problems over. That might be because they leave town again this afternoon for a 2-game trip to Utah on Christmas and Phoenix on Monday night.
“I don’t think we can get turned around until the first of the year, if we can get turned around soon at all,” Riley said. “A lot of the guys out there have seemed disoriented, not doing what we want them to do. Once we can get back and work on things consistently in practice, then we can turn it around.”
During the final few games on the trip, Riley had tried different combinations and other solutions to precipitate a change for the better in the Lakers’ play. He admitted that he wasn’t totally sure they would respond as well as they did Friday night.
“I knew they’d be ready to play, but there were no guarantees,” Riley said. “What I didn’t want them to do was show frustration tonight, even if (the Kings) had stayed close. But we stayed focused on what we had to do, and we didn’t let our frustrations debilitate us.”
The Kings, led by guards Kenny Smith (20 points) and Harold Pressley (18), were the debilitated team.
Coach Jerry Reynolds, a realist, knew that his team played about as well as it could in the first half, when the Lakers carried a 57-51 lead.
That did not make him look forward too much to the second half, when the Lakers put the Kings away by shooting 76% from the field to take a 95-77 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I know this won’t be a revelation, but they are a better team than us,” Reynolds said. “When Magic’s on his game, there’s not much you can do about it. They got Magic, and we got tragic.”
This was not Johnson at his best, but it was dominating enough to toss aside any Sacramento upset hopes.
In the first half, when Worthy made just 2 of 7 shots and the Lakers actually trailed by a basket late in the second quarter, Johnson kept the Laker fast break alive. He scored 20 of his 27 points and had 8 of his 15 assists in the first half.
Then, in the third quarter, the Lakers didn’t really need Johnson’s scoring. Scott and Abdul-Jabbar each had 8 points, and Green added 6. But Johnson made a 3-point shot with 3:17 to play in the quarter that gave the Lakers a 20-point lead and sent the first wave of fans to the exits.
“We got the job done both offensively and defensively,” Johnson said. “We didn’t do a lot well on the road trip, but we were right there in all the game. I hope we can carry over tonight’s game to Utah on Christmas.”
The ink was hardly dry on the postgame statistics sheets when Laker players already turned their attention to the Sunday’s nationally televised game against the Jazz.
“Tonight was kind of a breakthrough game for us,” Michael Cooper said. “It was good to help us get our game back in shape. It’s like we dropped a puzzle and all of the pieces spread out on the ground. Tonight, we picked up the pieces and now we are getting the foundation back.”
Sacramento guard Derek Smith, the former Clipper who suffered a knee injury during the 1985-86 season, has lost his starting spot on the Kings. He did not play at all in Sacramento’s loss to San Antonio on Wednesday night. “It’s been frustrating these last 2 1/2 years,” Smith said. “I’ve been on the bench before, earlier in my career. But once you’ve gotten near the top, it’s hard to go back down.” . . . The last time the Kings (then in Kansas City) beat the Lakers was Oct. 20, 1974. Pat Riley scored 30 points for the Lakers that night. . . . Since the start of training camp, the Lakers have been on the road 60 of 90 days. They had training camp in Hawaii, then played several Eastern exhibition games and opened the season playing 17 of their first 24 regular-season games on the road. The early-season glut of road games, it turns out, was by choice. Because of various Forum events, the Lakers requested only 8 home dates during the first 2 months of the season. The schedule turns to the Lakers’ favor after the first of the year. They play 14 of their 25 games in January and February at home. . . . Friday was Sacramento Coach Jerry Reynolds’ wedding anniversary and his birthday. Reynolds said his wife told him the only anniversary present she wanted was a victory over the Lakers . . . King center LaSalle Thompson sprained his right ankle in the second quarter after stepping on Byron Scott’s foot. He did not return.