Every time Magic Johnson made a solo foray through the lane Wednesday night against the Golden State Warriors at the Forum, it brought back painful memories among Laker watchers, if not Johnson himself.
It was exactly three weeks ago Wednesday--same opponent, same site--that Johnson partially tore his left hamstring after making one of those twisting layups, resulting in two weeks of forced inactivity.
Wednesday night’s sequel between the Lakers and Warriors, however, bore little resemblance to that Feb. 8 night of upset and injury. This time, Johnson scored 35 points from inside, outside and everywhere in between as the Lakers avenged a rare home-court loss by pounding the Warriors, 142-121, before 17,505.
If any doubt lingered as to whether Johnson had fully recovered from his injury, it was definitively answered with one of his most dominant performances of the season and certainly his best since returning three games ago.
All Johnson did in three quarters of action was make 13 of 20 shots, including four three-pointers, grab a season-high 14 rebounds and pass for 8 assists. Had the Lakers needed Johnson at all in the fourth quarter of this blowout, he probably would have registered his first post-injury triple-double.
That was of little concern to the Lakers, who extended their Pacific Division lead to 3 1/2 games over idle Phoenix. More important, perhaps, was that Johnson touched down from each drive without a grimace or a limp and usually with another Laker basket.
“Don’t remind me of that (Feb. 8) game,” Johnson said, wincing slightly. “I couldn’t think about that. I was just going right at them. I never get scared or worried about getting hurt. You just got to continue to drive and see what happens.”
Johnson wasn’t the only offensive weapon for the Lakers, only the most potent one.
Byron Scott benefited from the Lakers’ running game by scoring 11 of his 25 points in a 46-point third quarter. A.C. Green had 18 points and 12 rebounds, James Worthy 15 points and nine rebounds and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 12 points and eight rebounds.
But it was Johnson, supported by excellent team defense and a 66-40 rebounding edge, who was responsible for the blowout.
When he wasn’t driving through the crowded lane for twisting layups or drawing fouls and a pounding, he was swishing long-distance shots that eventually opened gaps in the lane through which he could have driven a Buick.
“He was strong tonight,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “Real strong. When he drives to the basket now, he drives with force. He doesn’t let the opponent strong-arm him. It opened things up. I mean, at 6-foot-9, 220, he can do that. I think that’s something he’s learned the last three years.”
Another thing Johnson has learned, painfully so, is how to swiftly recuperate from injuries. He said he did not rush back, made sure he was fit and now totally forgets about his hamstring when he steps onto the court.
“I think I’m all the way back now, except maybe for my conditioning,” Johnson said. “Last game, I was better. This game, better. Not only my game, but my condition. I don’t think I’m far away at all. Another one or two games, and I’ll be (the way he was).
“You feel good being able to do things like before tonight, the twisting layups and things. You have to do that.”
The Lakers, obviously, are happy to have him back. They survived during his absence, winning three of five games. But since Johnson’s return, the Lakers (38-17) have recorded three straight blowout victories against Pacific Division teams at the Forum.
Just as they did to the Suns three nights earlier, the Lakers came out strong and dominated the Warriors from the start.
They led by seven points after the first quarter and stretched the advantage to 17 by halftime.
Then came perhaps the Lakers’ best third quarter of the season, the 46-point quarter that gave them a 33-point lead heading into the final quarter.
In the third, the Lakers held a 25-5 rebounding advantage, forced Golden State to make just 40% of its shots, held Chris Mullin (25 points) to only two free throws and converted seven fast-break opportunities for baskets. Then, there was Johnson, who sank three three-point shots and drove the lane with abandon.
So dominant were the Lakers that they rendered the inevitable matchup problems moot. Golden State starts four guards and 6-8 Larry Smith at center, but then can bring in 7-7 Manute Bol and change a game’s flow entirely.
But, unlike the three-point loss on Feb. 8, the Lakers handled every combination the Warriors threw at them.
“We were concerned with the matchups,” Riley said. “You have to get them before they get to you. The key was rebounding. In that third quarter, we had something like a 24-6 advantage. If you let a team of 6-5 guys outrebound you and run, you’ll get blown out.”
Instead, the Warriors (31-22) were on the receiving end.
“We just got blown out,” Coach Don Nelson said. “It happens several times a year, but it hadn’t happened to us in a while. This was total domination.
“They did everything they wanted to do. They beat us in the rebounding game, the shooting game, the defensive game. They just blew us out, cut and dried, from the first quarter.”
Now, instead of Johnson, it is Golden State that carries the painful memories.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar declined to comment Wednesday night on his conviction for misdemeanor assault stemming from a shoving incident involving a tourist in a Phoenix shopping mall last year. Gary Bettman, the NBA’s vice president and general counsel, said that there is a good-conduct provision in all player contracts, and that a player who violates it can be suspended.
“But let me say that there’s a big difference between, say, shooting somebody and shoving a camera in his face,” Bettman said. “Based on what we know about the case, it’s not exactly a heinous offense. I haven’t read the judge’s ruling, so we aren’t going to do anything--if we do anything--until we get a full determination from the court.”
Only in California Department: At the request of Golden State Warrior owner Jim Fitzgerald, who lives in Palm Springs, Warrior reserve center Ralph Sampson spent part of Tuesday receiving treatment from two “anatomical functionalists,” an elaborate name for physical therapists. The specialists analyzed Sampson’s body motion and discovered a problem with some muscles around his hips and spine. So, they realigned his hips and spine in hopes of improving his movement on the court. This, apparently, has nothing to do with Sampson’s knee surgery. . . . The Lakers are off today and play host to the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. Then, they embark on a five-game trip.