Conveniently for the Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs were on the docket Thursday night in the Forum, which all but assured a reversal of play two days after Coach Pat Riley’s well-calculated tantrum at Phoenix.
Even if Riley had not harshly criticized his players after Tuesday’s 23-point loss to the Suns and not held a two-hour team meeting Wednesday, the Lakers probably still would have crushed the Spurs. But there seemed to be an urgency to the Lakers’ 138-98 victory.
Quality of competition has to be considered in evaluating this one. The Spurs, 3-34 on the road, can tie a franchise record for most road losses tonight in a game at the Sports Arena against the Clippers.
No doubt, there would be more suspense against the Clippers than there was Thursday.
The Lakers had no mercy on the Spurs, taking a big lead lead and expanding it to 47 points at one point in the fourth quarter.
“We had to start playing well tonight,” said Byron Scott, who tied his season-high in scoring with 35 points. “San Antonio just happened to be the team. It didn’t matter who we played. It was one of those games where we felt we had to be the initiator. Hopefully, this can continue.”
Seriously challenged in a race for the Pacific Division title for only the second time this decade, the Lakers (48-21) needed the victory. Combined with Phoenix’s loss to Sacramento, the Lakers took a four-game lead over the second-place Suns.
The Spurs probably could have seen this coming, had they known how upset Riley had been after the loss to the Suns.
Riley could not be anything other than pleased after a 40-point victory, and he tried to tone down the severity of the comments he made after the Phoenix loss.
“As much as I may accuse them at times of not playing hard, of not being commited and wondering about their pride, I know they have all of that,” Riley said. “It is something of a collective desire. Sometimes, we lose that.”
That desire had been misplaced in the previous seven games but, after the two-hour team meeting, it was found--at least for a night.
“We meet all the time,” Riley said, laughing. “This one just happened to last two hours. Actually, we went to practice (Wednesday) and Seton Hall was there and kicked us out. But sometimes you need (a meeting).
“That’s the thing with group dynamics. You have to control your collective (attitude). We did that, and tonight might be the start of something. We’ll just have to walk, not talk, from now on.”
Actually, the Lakers didn’t walk over the Spurs (19-51). They stamped on them. Hard.
“We’ve had some bad ones,” Spur Coach Larry Brown said. “This one is way up on the list. This one had to be one of our quickest (blowout losses).”
Consistency is what Riley had been looking for, and he received it. Scott made 14 of 23 shots, including two three-point baskets, and scored 35 points. A.C. Green had 22 points, Orlando Woolridge 15, James Worthy 14 and Tony Campbell 10.
Magic Johnson, seemingly making little more than a cameo appearance, had eight points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. He and the Lakers survived an early scare, twisting his left ankle in the first half. Johnson continued, and trainer Gary Vitti later said it could not even be called a sprain.
The Spurs, however, are limping badly these days. Even with David Robinson scheduled to join the team next season after he completes obligations with the Navy, the Spurs may not be much better.
Things are so bad that Brown reminisced about this time last season, when he coached the Kansas to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. title.
“At a time like this, with the Final Four going on and me being in Los Angeles, yeah,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t wish this (another Spur blowout loss) on anyone tonight. I look out on the court and know we have a lot of deficiencies. But tonight . . .”
Thursday night, the Spurs were particularly bad.
After Spur center Mike Smrek gave the Spurs a 1-0 lead 14 seconds into the game, the Lakers dominated and did not let up until they had 79-45 halftime lead.
“It is very tough to play the Lakers after they just came off a loss,” said the Spurs’ Willie Anderson, who scored 17 points. “We learned that tonight.”
The 79-point first half was the Lakers’ most productive half this season, eclipsing the 77 points they scored against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 28 at the Forum.
At least in December, the Lakers had some real competition. It took the Lakers less than three minutes to build a 10-point lead Thursday night, and the advantage increased to 18 entering the second quarter.
Laker inspiration did not fade even though they had the game in hand after making 66.7% of their shots in the first quarter. In fact, the Lakers seemed even more determined to bury the Spurs in the second quarter, which they did with an early 16-2 run that gave them a 61-32 lead.
The Lakers’ biggest first-half lead was 34 points, as the final six minutes of the half was transformed into the sloppy style that usually is only seen in the final minutes of lopsided games.
That style continued in the second half, when the Lakers’ lead rarely dipped below 40.
“It was a great meeting; it helped,” Johnson said. “A lot of things had to come out, and they did. People had to express opinions, and they did. We also played better together. We felt we had to move the ball on offense more, instead of just moving bodies.”
It is one thing to dominate the lowly Spurs, quite another to do so against a team with playoff aspirations. A more accurate test will come Saturday, when the Lakers play at Denver.
The Lakers are quite aware of that, but they didn’t mind Thursday’s result.
“It feels good tonight, but we have to move on,” Johnson said. “One game doesn’t tell you anything.”
As for the Spurs, well, it was more than just another big loss.
“It was a long game,” Brown said. “I’m glad it’s over. I feel sorry for the people who had to sit through it.”
Mychal Thompson will miss the next two games, Saturday in Denver and Sunday at home against Milwaukee, because of an illness in his family. The Lakers said Thompson will fly to Miami to be with his family tonight. . . . In addition to Magic Johnson’s twisted ankle, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also had a twisted ankle Thursday night. Trainer Gary Vitti said he is not hurt.