Lakers Make It Look Easy Against Outmanned Clippers, 133-116
Another Laker victory over the Clippers, not exactly startling news even those rare times when the margin is close, certainly gave no reason to stop the presses after Monday night’s blowout in the Forum.
No, the latest installment of local domination by the Lakers, a 133-116 romp over their poorer neighbors before 17,505 fans, was lopsided because the Clipper roster had about as much depth as a Stallone movie.
Without Benoit Benjamin, who was scratched from the lineup with an attack of the hives, and reserve forward Joe Wolf, nursing an elbow injury, about all the Clippers could realistically hope for was to be competitive.
But they weren’t even that, mainly because they started journeyman Ken Bannister at center and featured a bench stocked with interim players for interim Coach Don Casey.
The Lakers led by seven points after two minutes, 20 after 13 minutes, 25 at halftime and 30 at one point in the third quarter. And, after a fourth quarter marked by garbage time, the 17-point Laker victory equaled their average winning margin over the Clippers in the previous four games this season.
Common though it was, the Lakers (51-24) did not take this one for granted. The victory snapped a two-game Laker losing streak and put them two games ahead of the idle Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division race with seven to play.
“It was just a good win,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “We caught them undermanned, and they caught us after two tough losses.”
That was the Cliff’s Notes version of Monday’s game, which really did not warrant intense analysis.
About the only suspense came in the fourth quarter, when the crowd rallied behind benched forward Orlando Woolridge, who had not played in the previous three games. The chants of “O . . . O . . . O” began with 8:26 to play in the game and the Lakers comfortably ahead. They reached such a volume about a half-minute later that Riley stood up and pointed at Woolridge.
Although he had not played in a week, and the final quarter was ragged at best, Woolridge responded by scoring eight points, four free throws and two baskets on crowd-pleasing dunks.
Afterward, Riley said he planned to play Woolridge even if the fans had not offered some encouragement. Providing, of course, that the Lakers had secured a comfortable lead over the 18-57 Clippers.
“I was going to play him anyway,” Riley said. “But then, when I heard that, I said, ‘What the hell’ and got him in there right away. I’m a big fan of Orlando. He is a great person. But for 72 games, I went with the same eight-man rotation. But it wasn’t producing. It’s never been anything personal.” The past season and a half has been trying, personally and professionally, for Woolridge. He spent three months last season undergoing drug treatment in Van Nuys and has spent much of this season on the Laker bench after failing to adjust to a reserve role.
Monday, Woolridge missed the team’s morning shoot-around and a late-afternoon workout, but Riley said Woolridge’s absence was excused because of “family business.” About an hour before Monday night’s game, Riley summoned Woolridge for a meeting, during which Woolridge’s almost nonexistent role off the bench apparently was discussed.
“I had a nice talk with Coach tonight,” Woolridge said. “I knew it wasn’t a personal thing. It’s a decision he had to make. He’s won five championship rings, so he must know what he’s doing.”
But Woolridge, formerly a star with the Chicago Bulls and the New Jersey Nets, said he still has faith in his ability. He said he was touched by the fans’ support.
“That was incredible,” Woolridge said. “I needed that like nobody’s business. That’s something new for me, the fans being behind me.
“It’s been kind of difficult (during the benching). I was trying to act like Mr. Superhuman, but it’s got to bother you. I had to take an inventory of my game and see what was going on.”
The Lakers, having won only seven of their previous 13 games, are in the process of doing much the same thing. After losing at Golden State Saturday night, they vowed to use the final eight games of the regular season to gear up for the playoffs.
Monday night was a start.
The Lakers shot 59.1%, outrebounded the Clippers, 44-32, and showed no signs of letting up after stepping on the Clippers early.
Magic Johnson, who had 24 points and 13 assists, led a Laker attack in which seven players scored in double figures. James Worthy, playing his first game with a splint on the ring finger of his left hand, had 17 points and eight rebounds, A.C. Green 15 points and nine rebounds and Byron Scott 19 points.
As for the Clippers, who had been playing reasonably well recently, the loss of Benjamin and Wolf only made the loss that much more inevitable. They have lost eight consecutive games to the Lakers, 15 of the last 16 and 23 in a row in the Forum.
Clipper misfortunes spread to leading scorer Ken Norman, who was shut out in the first half. Norman finished with 13 points, third behind Gary Grant’s 21 points and Charles Smith’s 18.
The Lakers might have viewed the game as a playoff tuneup, but the Clippers know that the end is near. The draft lottery--barring a trade--is the primary focus of their future.
“They really jumped out on us,” Casey said. “We’re playing like it’s the end of the year. I sense a draining of just about everything--physically and mentally--that goes along with the end of an NBA season.
“Without Ben, or a threat like him, the (Lakers’) tips and second shots hurt us more than some of their set shots. But I thought we did play more up in the second half.”
The second half, as these Laker-Clipper tussles often do--seemed to drag. After all, the Lakers led by as many as 30 points and only occasionally let the advantage dip below 20.
Even the signature play of any Laker blowout--the no-look, give-and-go play between reserves Mark McNamara and Jeff Lamp--happened surprisingly early.
This time, it came with 4:02 to play. Just as the two did in recent blowout victories over Miami and San Antonio, McNamara received a pass in the low post and, without turning his head, flipped the ball behind him to Lamp for a layup.
The crowd cheered that play as much as Woolridge’s appearance. Both, it seems, can only be viewed in big Laker victories.
Laker forward James Worthy, who tore a tendon in his left ring finger Saturday night, said the splint he will wear does not limit his mobility. "(The finger) still is pretty sore, that’s the only thing,” Worthy said. “It hurts sometimes to catch the ball, but I have to alter the way I do it.” Worthy said he has to wear the splint for perhaps six weeks. . . . The Clippers had only 10 players dress. Benoit Benjamin had a bad case of hives, and Joe Wolf still is out with a strained right elbow. Benjamin will decide this morning whether to accompany the Clippers to Portland, Ore., for tonight’s game against the Trail Blazers. . . . The Lakers fly to San Antonio today for Wednesday night’s game against the Spurs. It will be the 21st stop of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s farewell tour.