Laker Road Skid Reaches Eight at Sacramento
No matter what else happens, some will remember this Laker season as the last of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career. Others may also recall that it was the Lakers’ quest, successful or not, for a third straight National Basketball Assn. championship.
But Tuesday night, the Lakers made the 1988-89 season memorable in a far less flattering way.
Their 106-97 loss to the lowly Sacramento Kings before 16,517 fans at the Arco Arena was the Lakers’ eighth straight road loss, tying a franchise record set in the forgettable 1974-75 season.
The last time the Lakers had a road stretch this bad:
--Jerry West had entered retirement and hit the golf courses.
--Cazzie Russell, the last player to wear number 32 before Magic Johnson, missed most of the season with a serious knee injury.
--Abdul-Jabbar was still in Milwaukee and still had hair.
--And the Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.
Whether this record, which the ’88-89 Lakers will have solely if they lose to the Clippers at the Sports Arena on Sunday afternoon, will merely be a footnote to the season is yet to be known.
But Johnson, unaccustomed to such futility, said that maybe all the Lakers’ success is turning against them, that they cannot jump-start their motivation no matter how hard they try.
“We’re playing hard,” Johnson said. “We’re just playing stupid. We aren’t doing the things we did before. Maybe we’re too comfortable. When you’ve won some championships in L.A., it gets comfortable.
“But I’m getting tired of it. Something has to be done. I don’t know what. I’ll let Coach decide that.”
Coach Pat Riley, while upset and bewildered by the slump, says he still is trying not to overreact. After all, the Lakers (22-12) still are a game ahead of Phoenix in the Pacific Division.
“Let me tell you something,” Riley said when asked about the road losing streak. “We’ve got a lot of records we’re proud of. You can make out of this anything you want.
“I’m trying to keep it in perspective. It’s still early. We’ve still got time to get ourselves together.”
It did not happen Tuesday night, however. With center LaSalle Thompson dominating inside, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, and Kenny Smith (19 points) and Harold Pressley (17 points) hitting from 3-point range and closer, the Kings were able to hold off every Laker surge.
As Riley noted, the Lakers only played hard when the Kings’ lead neared double figures. The last Laker lead came with 2:30 to play in the second quarter, and the closest they came in the fourth quarter was 93-91 with 3:22 to play.
But the Lakers, who made only 44% from the field, 64% from the free-throw line and committed 17 turnovers, could not overtake the inspired Kings. Johnson led the Lakers with 22 points and 12 assists, but he also had 6 turnovers. James Worthy, overcoming a cold start, also had 22 points.
“Same old problems on the road,” Riley said. “We really didn’t play with any kind of intensity until we were down. You can’t count on the old way of turning it on when down. We aren’t the same team.”
The difference in the Lakers’ play is as stark as it is confounding. Unbeaten in 13 games at the Forum, the Lakers are 9-12 on the road, their last victory coming Dec. 13 at Cleveland.
Since then, they squandered a slim lead and lost at New Jersey in overtime; were blown off the parquet at Boston; blew an 18-point lead at Washington; and fell to Chicago by 13, Utah by 14, Phoenix by 16 and Seattle by 10.
Now this, a 9-point loss to the last-place team in the Pacific Division. Granted, the Kings have won 5 straight at the Arco Arena, but the way the Lakers let this one slip away was particularly irksome and baffling to Riley.
If the record number of consecutive road losses was not chilling enough for the Lakers, Riley presented a few statistics of his own. He said that all eight of the players he regularly uses have dipped below the efficiency ratings that the coaching staff keeps.
“On the road, we have some individuals who are playing at almost 100% below their efficiency rate (at home),” said Riley, who declined to name the players. “All of them are down, two of them only by about 15%, but several other key players by as much as 40% and one or two down 100%.
“The dropoff on some is amazing. I’m perplexed by that. I keep trying to come up with the answer. The only thing I can come up with is that we’re not mentally prepared.”
Riley wasn’t saying, but the two players whose performances decrease the most during the road streak seem to be Abdul-Jabbar, who had 4 points and 3 rebounds while making 2 of 7 shots, and Michael Cooper, who had 2 points in 24 minutes Tuesday.
Johnson and A.C. Green figure to be the players who are most consistent, be it on the road or at the Forum.
“We sit here and see it happen over and over and over again,” Johnson said. “I’m tired of watching it and being involved with it. Hopefully, we can turn it around. (The record) has happened, so I have to deal with it.”
One shakeup Coach Pat Riley has not tried--and said Tuesday night he has not considered--is starting Mychal Thompson at center over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “I don’t think that’s an issue,” Riley said. “We were 5-0 at home with (Abdul-Jabbar) starting. I think utilizing him the way we are is the way to go.” Abdul-Jabbar only played 5 minutes in the second half Tuesday night.