Lakers Hit a Sour Note With 105-79 Loss to Jazz

Times Staff Writer

It undoubtedly had to rate as the Lakers' best move of the night, executed with a precision and sense of purpose that had not been present earlier Wednesday.

Exiting the locker room after one of the worst losses in Laker history, a 105-79 drubbing by the Utah Jazz before 12,444 fans at the Salt Palace, Laker Coach Pat Riley briskly walked past the assembled media, found an open door and temporarily locked himself in.

"I need two years to think about this one," said Riley as he strode by. "But I'll be back."

Actually, it took Riley only a few minutes of quiet contemplation before he could bring himself to talk about an awful Laker effort against a team they might well see in the playoffs.

"We lost our patience and poise tonight," Riley said. "We lost everything."

It certainly seemed to be an altogether-lost cause for the Lakers.

It was their lowest point total of the season and perhaps their lowest since they scored 76 points against the Chicago Bulls in 1974. The Lakers weren't exactly sure what their record is for such futility, and team spokesman Josh Rosenfeld had neither the resources nor the stomach to look it up.

"Just say it's bad," said Rosenfeld, responding to queries from reporters. This much is certain, though: The 26-point loss was the Lakers' most lopsided this season. Also, it produced their lowest field-goal percentage, 34.8%, and lowest first-half point total, 32.

As far as the Lakers were concerned, this one was over at halftime, when their dizzying turnaround from dominator to victim was complete.

With 5:44 to play in the first quarter, the Lakers held a 16-4 lead, having made 7 of 11 shots. They had Utah, which had won its four games since the All-Star break, looking disoriented. John Stockton, for example, yielded four turnovers in four minutes.

Then came the Laker slide. From that point until the end of the first half, the Lakers were outscored, 46-16. The Lakers made only 21% of their shots during the Jazz rally and had five turnovers.

Meanwhile, Utah scored inside and outside with ease, initially with a lineup including the likes of Jim Les and Mike Brown, rather than Karl Malone and Stockton.

Eventually, Malone (18 points) and Stockton (16 points, 13 assists) joined in the Laker-bashing. The Jazz outrebounded the Lakers, 62-40, and outshot them, 46.6% to 34.8%. More important, perhaps, the Jazz simply played harder.

For the Lakers, whose Pacific Division lead over Phoenix was trimmed to 1 1/2 games, this was the worst-case scenario without Magic Johnson, who is recovering from a partially torn left hamstring.

They had won three of the previous four games without Johnson, but Wednesday night, they returned to their woeful ways of December and January, when they lost eight consecutive games on the road.

That, more than anything, frustrated Riley, who talked at length after emerging from hiding.

"We did all the things we talked about not doing," Riley said. "The things we talked about on the road in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Portland and Sacramento.

"On the road, you've got to have a defensive attitude. You have got to be precise with your execution. And the shot selection has got to be good. We did all the things we said we weren't going to do. . . .

"We took a lot of quick shots, which you can't do on the road. Their defense is the best in the league, and you have to execute. I can shrug off getting beat, but I can't when you not doing the things you're supposed to. I'm talking about key players not giving thought to the game tonight."

Laker players all pleaded guilty.

Guard Byron Scott, who had scored 35 and 33 points in the Lakers' last two victories, made only 5 of 20 shots and totaled 14 points. It turned out that Scott, treated again for back spasms, was the Lakers' high scorer.

"We did the opposite of everything Riles told us not to do," said Scott, who even managed to confuse his words. "What I mean is, we weren't patient, were quick shooting and weren't ever in the flow of the game. I was definitely one of those players. I took shots quick that maybe I shouldn't have. Maybe I was trying to do too much."

Midway through the first quarter, when the Lakers' slide commenced, Scott missed five consecutive shots and commited one turnover. It was in stark contrast to Monday night at Sacramento, when Scott scored 15 of the Lakers' first 20 points.

Scott, however, was not alone.

James Worthy, who had averaged 24.4 points in his last nine games, was held to 10 points and five rebounds. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had six points in the first half but played only five minutes in the second half and was shut out. A.C. Green had nine rebounds but only two points, and Michael Cooper made only 4 of 10 shots.

Riley, searching his bench for any kind of help, even turned to Tony Campbell, who had not played the previous three games. On this night, though, Campbell played 25 minutes and scored 12 points. "I don't think our heads were in it," Scott said.

Abdul-Jabbar agreed. "We stopped applying ourselves," he said. "I can't explain it. We kept the pressure on them early, did some good things and then stopped playing. First, we were in the game, then our minds weren't in it."

This out-of-body experience continued in the second half, and there seemingly was little the Lakers could do to stop it.

Asked about playing the Jazz in the playoffs, and whether losing both games in Utah this season will have a bearing, Riley grimaced.

"I'm not even worried about the playoffs yet," Riley said. "We've had hard times here. Everybody has. But we're a different team in the playoffs. We find a way to win. Plus, we might have a pretty average player coming back then."

But on this night, perhaps not even Magic Johnson would have helped.

Laker Notes

The four blocked shots by Utah center Mark Eaton Wednesday night moved him past Tree Rollins and into second place on the NBA's all-time blocked shots list with 2,300. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the leader with 3,151 blocked shots. . . . Are you ready for Cowboy Kareem? Perhaps the time has come, since the Utah Jazz went with a Western theme in honoring the soon-to-be-retiring Laker center. Among the gifts the Jazz presented to Abdul-Jabbar in his farewell tour ceremony was a Winchester rifle, with an inscribed plaque; a pair of custom-made rattlesnake cowboy boots; a rattlesnake-skin belt bearing Abdul-Jabbar's name and a gold-and-silver belt buckle with the seal of Utah, and a cowboy hat and leather jacket. He also was sworn in as a Salt Lake City special deputy sheriff. . . . Magic Johnson, suffering from a partially torn left hamstring, continued to work out on his own Wednesday, but no date has been set for his return.

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