A sure warning sign of Laker slumps, rare as they may be, is if one player dominates statistically.
Balance and consistency among his starters is the way Coach Pat Riley says he can accurately measure the Lakers’ well-being.
Thursday night, for the first time in more than a week, the Lakers received quality performances from starters and reserves. The result was a 115-92 victory over the Sacramento Kings before 16,517 fans at the Arco Arena.
“The last four games, we’ve been inconsistent,” Riley said. “We haven’t been getting balance. One guy plays well, but two or three play poorly. You can’t win that way.”
Riley’s solution to the Lakers’ woes, which included two consecutive home losses preceded by two unimpressive close home victories, was to remove his starters temporarily at the first sign of slippage.
“I talked to the team before the game and I told them I was going to play a lot of people and see who could perform consistently,” Riley said. “Let some of them sit a minute or two and think about it. I told them that’s the way it was going to be for a while.”
No Laker regular sat for too long on this night. Despite a shaky first half, in which they struggled to take a three-point lead, the Lakers hit the floor running in the second half and increased the lead to 13 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Consequently, when Riley perused the box score afterward, he saw the balance about which he had spoken before the game.
Magic Johnson, coming off what both he and Riley called an inconsistent performance in the previous two losses, recorded his 14th triple-double of the season. Johnson had 25 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. He was particularly impressive in the third quarter, when he scored 11 points, including consecutive three-point shots that pushed the Laker lead to 17 points.
James Worthy, shrugging off a poor start, finished with 22 points. He made 9 of 14 shots, getting hot in the second quarter during the Lakers’ comeback. Support also came from Byron Scott, who had 20 points, and A.C. Green, who had 15 rebounds while playing just three quarters.
Benefiting from Riley’s expanded substitution policy were Orlando Woolridge, who scored all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter, and Tony Campbell, who scored eight points in 15 minutes.
“I had not been playing as well as I’d like to the last couple of games,” Johnson said. “So, tonight, I just wanted to get back into the flow of my game, get out running.
“Everybody was into their games tonight. That was a difference. We need five or six guys playing well every game, not just one or two. Everybody was doing it tonight.”
In the second half, at least. A consistent effort for a full game once again eluded the Lakers, but this time they reversed a recent trend by playing poorly in the first half and dominating the second.
After making just 40% of their shots in the first half, the Lakers emerged from their daze to dazzle the Kings in the third and fourth quarters.
A renewed emphasis on stopping Sacramento’s perimeter shooting--Danny Ainge made only 1 of 7 shots in the third quarter after scoring 12 points in the first half--resulted in a series of Laker fast-break baskets.
At one point midway through the third quarter, the Lakers scored three straight baskets via the fast break, Scott and Johnson converting off missed King shots and Green scoring on a layup after the Kings made a shot.
That sequence was immediately followed by Johnson’s long-distance shooting display. The Lakers had a 73-60 lead with just under three minutes in the third quarter, when Johnson dribbled upcourt and sank a three-point shot with 2:45 to play. That gave the Lakers a 16-point lead.
But Kenny Smith, who led King scorers with 21 points, countered with a drive for a basket. Then Johnson did in the Kings for good by sinking another three-point shot 40 seconds after the first for a 79-62 lead.
The closest Sacramento came after that was 12 points early in the fourth quarter. The Kings shot just 40% and were outrebounded, 56-41. And the Lakers made better than 50% of their shots (52.7%) for the first time in six games.
It became such a Laker runaway that seldom-used reserves Mark McNamara and Jeff Lamp successfully executed their give-and-go wraparound pass through the lane for the first time since unveiling it earlier in the month in a rout of the Miami Heat.
So, if all is not totally right yet in the Lakers’ world, at least they could forget that poor first half and dwell on their second.
“If you’re going to have hard times (in a game), have it early,” Scott said. “But this team has a lot of pride. We can take care of business when we have to. That’s what we did in the second half tonight.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the 17th stop on his farewell tour. To honor Abdul-Jabbar, the Kings established an annual scholarship in his name at Cal State Sacramento. The scholarship will be awarded to a student based on financial need and commitment to fighting illiteracy among underprivileged youth in the Sacramento area. Gov. George Deukmejian and King owner Gregg Lukenbill presided over the ceremony, which delayed the start of the game for 30 minutes. “This is a man who is highly talented and very gifted as an individual,” said Deukmejian, who also presented Abdul-Jabbar with a commemorative desk clock. “Going beyond all of his records is the fact he’s a real champion. He’s a genuine individual, a person who carries a quiet dignity. . . . On behalf of all the people, we want to thank him for all the enjoyment he has brought to California, starting at UCLA and continuing with the Lakers.”
Abdul-Jabbar said he has followed the Kings’ franchise through many changes. “My relationship (with the Kings) goes a long way back--too long, it’s almost embarrassing,” he said. “I remember listening to the Knick games on the radio against Rochester, which was this franchise. I remember playing against Cincinnati, and that was this team. Then, I remember Omaha and Kansas City. Finally, (the franchise) has a home. I think this is probably the best place they could be.”
Laker Coach Pat Riley, who played college basketball at the University of Kentucky, said he expected the rumors that he was a candidate for the vacant coaching position. “It happened before, about three or four years ago,” Riley said. “I was rumored to be going there. It’s the same thing. I’m not going.”
Strange statistic of the day: Before Thursday night, in four games against the Sacramento Kings, Laker forward A.C. Green had made 17 of 27 shots. Less impressive, Green also had made 17 of 27 free throws.