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Seattle Hands Lakers 7th Straight Road Loss

Times Staff Writer

Given a few days off for contemplation as well as relaxation, Magic Johnson said he struck upon the real reason for the Lakers’ worst road losing streak in a decade.

It is not, Johnson surmised, massive defensive breakdowns every night. Nor is it simply fatigue from a stack of road games. No, Johnson said, it is something as elementary in the National Basketball Assn. as on the playgrounds--putting the ball in the basket.

“For the first time tonight, it really showed that we don’t have that offensive firepower we had had,” Johnson said. “We’ve been playing so many games that, when you get a little time to assess, you can see it.”

Those watching the Lakers’ 116-106 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics Tuesday night could see that, without lengthy evaluation. But neither Johnson nor any other Laker could do much about it.

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In absorbing their seventh straight road loss, the Lakers also could not do much to stop Seattle’s Dale Ellis, who scored 42 points. Nor could the Lakers handle the SuperSonics under the basket, where Seattle had a 45-33 rebounding edge that included 17 offensive rebounds.

Laker Coach Pat Riley, who also has done his share of evaluation, said it was a combination of offense, defense, a loss of confidence away from the security of the Forum and simply being outplayed.

But even though this Laker team is one road loss away from tying the Los Angeles Lakers’ record for most consecutive road losses (8, set in 1973-74), Riley has not lost faith.

“I still think we’re capable of winning the whole thing,” Riley said. “Everybody goes through (losing stages). This has been longer than usual. We will know in the next month about this team. Whether it was just the road, like everybody else. Or just us.”

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On this night, the Laker offense dissolved in the face of the SuperSonics’ constant pressure.

Obviously bothered by Seattle’s trapping defense, the Lakers shot just 45.8%, committed 20 turnovers and seemed out of sync.

“Teams really haven’t scored a lot of points off us,” said Johnson, who was held to 13 points and 9 assists. “It was defense for a few games, but the firepower offensively is what it’s been for a while now. Something’s not clicking offensively.”

Riley seemingly has tried every combination imaginable, with little success.

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Tuesday night, he all but benched erstwhile sixth-man Michael Cooper, opting instead for the offensive potential of Jeff Lamp. He also drastically reduced Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s playing time, keeping him on the bench the entire fourth quarter. And even Mychal Thompson, Abdul-Jabbar’s replacement at center, saw his playing time slashed to 19 minutes.

A lot of good that did.

The Lakers’ production mainly came from forwards A.C. Green, who had 27 points, and James Worthy, who had 24. Byron Scott was held to 6 points on 2-of-8 shooting, and only Orlando Woolridge (12 points) was consistent off the bench.

Riley said the SuperSonics’ pressure simply took the Lakers out of their game.

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“They don’t let you have an offense,” Riley said of Seattle’s defense. “They won’t let you run your offensive patterns with all their traps and stunts. What they do instead is teach you how to play basketball. To beat them, you have to make quick passes and take advantage of the mismatches.”

Which the Lakers did not do.

The Laker offense began the game in good form. They shot 52.4% in the first quarter, taking a 28-24 lead.

But then came a cold spell and a quick Seattle turnaround. The Lakers made only 2 of their first 13 shots in the second quarter, shot just 32% overall in the quarter and trailed, 54-48, at halftime.

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The third quarter was hardly an improvement. The Lakers pulled as close as 7 points midway through the period, despite being outrebounded, 13-1, in that span. But Seattle pulled away in the fourth quarter, mainly because of Ellis, who ended up making 16 of 24 shots, and Xavier McDaniel, who scored 18 points off the bench.

In his constant search for solutions to his team’s problems, Riley made drastic alterations in his substitution.

As replacements for Cooper, whose defense might have been able to slow Ellis, Lamp made 2 of 6 shots, including one successful 3-point attempt, in a season-high 18 minutes, and David Rivers had 2 points and 2 turnovers in 6 minutes.

“We needed more perimeter shooting, and maybe Jeff can find his legs and (provide) that,” Riley said. “And we needed David’s penetration. He (Rivers) is going to get his chance whether he’s ready or not.

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“Mike (Cooper) is a player that we’ve never worried about his shooting, because he gives you so many intangibles. But because we’re not getting performance in other areas (offensively), (Cooper) becomes a liability.”

Riley said he does not know whether he will stay with this substitution pattern.

“I think we’re shaken on the road,” Riley said. “It’s difficult to have confidence when you aren’t winning.”

Laker Notes

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Reserve center Mark McNamara, suffering from the flu, did not make the trip. . . . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 6 points and 1 rebound in 14 minutes, on Coach Pat Riley’s decision to reduce his playing time: “I don’t have any choice. If I’m not helping the team, I shouldn’t be on the court. Pat has to make that decision. I’m not used to this, but I hope I can work my way out of it.”


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