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Riley Gives Lakers Perfect Goal After They Beat Rockets

Times Staff Writer

Maybe it is time for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in his capacity as the Lakers’ captain, to once again stuff a towel into Pat Riley’s mouth. Muzzle this man, some Laker players might demand, before he makes them work toward another promise many people are convinced they cannot keep.

Then again, maybe this is just the motivational gem the Laker coach has been rummaging around for since this team made good on Riley’s guarantee of consecutive championships last season.

Riley made his latest bold statement Monday, after the Lakers had impressively dismantled another challenger with championship aspirations. This time, it was the Midwest Division-leading Houston Rockets, who yielded, 124-113, as the Lakers ran their Forum record to 15-0.

Asked if there was any possible way the Lakers could go 41-0 at home, something no National Basketball Assn. team had ever done, Riley quickly answered, “Why not?”

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And he added: “That’s not a bad goal to have. Sure. The Celtics almost did it one year (40-1 in 1985-86), didn’t they? Maybe we could do it.”

Given a chance to back out of it, Riley was asked if he was being facetious.

“You asked the question, and I don’t see why not,” he said. “We always do make the commitment that we don’t lose at home. If it takes that mentality that we think we can win every game, maybe we’d finish the season only losing 2 or 3 (at home) instead of 8 or 9.”

If they play as they did in Monday’s easy victory over the Rockets, their closest competitor in the Western Conference at 22-13, the Lakers conceivably could go undefeated at the Forum.

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All the Lakers did to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day was make 65.3% from the field, best in the league this season. In the third quarter alone, they hit 15 of 17 shots.

Magic Johnson recorded his eighth triple-double--but first since Dec. 28--with 17 points, 18 assists and 13 rebounds. All five starters--yes, including Abdul-Jabbar--scored in double figures, James Worthy with 26 points and Byron Scott with 24 leading the way. And Mychal Thompson, who leads the league in field goal percentage, sank 8 of 10 shots and had 21 points. Abdul-Jabbar had 12.

The resumption of the Lakers’ fast break was a major reason for the hot shooting. Their defense forced Houston to take perimeter shots, and they surprisingly outrebounded the Rockets, 43-38.

Abdul-Jabbar and Thompson, who alternated on Akeem Olajuwon, held the Rocket center to 19 points and 10 rebounds, an average game. Meanwhile, Johnson had 13 rebounds and A.C. Green 11 to go with 15 points.

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Home-court dominance is nothing unusual to the Lakers. But in past seasons, even at their most dominating, they would occasionally throw in a close loss, or even a clunker, that would make Forum fans stay the entire game.

However, in their 5 home games in January, the Lakers have beaten opponents by an average of 21.4 points.

So, Magic, could the Lakers live up to Riley’s goal of a perfect home record?

“It’s a long way to go,” Johnson said, shaking his head. “I’m not going to say anything like that. We just got to take it one game at a time.”

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Other players, as Riley had no doubt hoped, sort of took to that notion.

“We feel we should win every home game,” said Scott, who scored 12 of his 24 points in the third-quarter blitz. “So, yeah, we can do it.”

Worthy, who made 8 of 11 shots and all 10 free throws, was a little more temperate in his remarks.

“Home is a place where you don’t want to lose,” he said. “It’s kind of like your back yard, and you have to protect it. You owe it to the fans and yourself to win at home.

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“It (going undefeated) can happen. You’d hate to try to say we’d have a certain record at home. But it’s just like that ‘repeat’ thing last season. It’d be motivation, that’s for sure. . . . It’s been realistic so far.”

The Lakers, of course, still have to play such teams as Detroit, New York, Atlanta, Boston--perhaps with Larry Bird--at the Forum. But as of Monday’s game, all indications are that they are as dominant as ever at home.

With the improved play of Abdul-Jabbar, who sank 6 of 8 shots in 29 minutes, the continued success off the bench by Thompson, who also had 7 rebounds, and Johnson’s standard-issue game, the Lakers took the Rockets out of their offense and ran them into submission.

In the last 3 games, all Laker victories, Thompson has played alongside Abdul-Jabbar. That has produced good results for both players.

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“He’s been a real key in these wins,” Johnson said of Thompson. “He’s been a force offensively, and gotten some rebounds when we needed it. Mychal is making (opponents) pay when they sag, because he’s hitting (jump shots).

“But we’ve all been playing well now these last 3 games. In all 3, we’ve controlled the tempo. We’ve won, what is it, 15 games in a row here? Well, all I’m thinking about is No. 16 against the Clippers (Wednesday night).”

The Rockets, who say they still believe they are capable of beating the Lakers, said they are looking forward to a rematch at the end of the month in Houston.

“This is just one game,” Coach Don Chaney said. “Our next meeting might be a different story. I respect their team very much. But I think when we hit our outside shots and play our game, we can run with anyone, including the Lakers.”

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Laker Notes

Laker forward Orlando Woolridge missed his second straight game with the flu. The Lakers said that Woolridge came to the Forum before the game to be examined and then was sent home. . . . Magic Johnson’s 13 rebounds Monday were a season high. . . . Mychal Thompson improved his league-leading field-goal percentage mark to 61.1%. That is creeping toward Thompson’s free-throw percentage, 69.8%. . . . Houston Coach Don Chaney on the change, for the better, he has seen in the Lakers: “A.C. Green has been an addition to their scoring. He can hit the outside shot. When you double on Magic, they throw it to A.C., and he can burn you.”


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