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Doubting the Lakers Is a Bad Bet

Let’s see, do the Lakers have their game heads on? Uh, yes, they do. Magic Johnson has shaved off his whiskers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has Naired clean his pate. Pat Riley has moussed his tresses. Michael Cooper has tattooed his forehead with a 21-stitch Frankenstein zipper. Serious games require serious faces.

Yesterday, I even shaved off my own beard. Where Magic leads, others must follow.

The Lakers are out to win championships back to back to back. This time, there are no guarantees. No refunds or rebates. No penalties for early withdrawal. The Lakers even go into 1989’s National Basketball Assn. playoffs as--gasp--underdogs. The favorites clearly appear to be the Detroit Pistons, the NBA’s Garbage Pail Kids.

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So, maybe you would like to know if I believe the Lakers will repeat.

Uh, no, I don’t.

Then again, what do I know? I’m the guy who went into the playoffs thinking this would be the year of the Utah Jazz. I’m the guy who figured the Lakers would be eliminated by the Salt Lakers. Now, I’m not even sure Utah will survive the first round. I suppose Frank Layden will waste away to a waistline like Oprah Winfrey’s before Utah wins the NBA.

Anyhow, I should know better than to doubt the Lakers. Any night now, Magic should be coming up with basketball’s first 40-20-20 triple-double. He will become the Jose Canseco of baseball. Forty points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists. There is only one thing wrong with Earvin Johnson, and that is that there are not two of him.

What sort of incentive do the Lakers need to beat the Portland Trail Blazers today and to keep on beating them until they are permitted to move along in the playoffs to beat somebody else?

Well, there is pride, of course. The pride of being and remaining the best. The pride of distinguished achievement. The pride of doing something--three straight titles--that has not been done by anybody in the NBA since 1966. And, not to be forgotten, the pride of being and remaining the principal tenant of the Forum. Remember, the hockey team lasted two rounds.

If the Lakers get bumped off in one round, they should be forced to change their uniform colors to silver and black. On a classy guy such as, say, James Worthy, it would be the next best thing to a tuxedo. This purple-and-gold thing is beginning to have a very Sunset Boulevard at midnight look.

Next, there is the win-one-for-Kareem factor for the Lakers. Although frankly, I am beginning to think maybe Kareem should win one for them. Anytime your associates get together and buy you a Rolls-Royce, the least you can do is give them a lift. If the Lakers lead Abdul-Jabbar to the title, as opposed to those bygone years when he led them, shouldn’t Kareem, at the very least, give each of his teammates a Toyota as a parting gift?

I am going to go under the assumption that the Lakers will handle the Trail Blazers in the opening round. I am not expecting much in the way of trouble from any team that gives Kiki Vanderweghe away for $24 in cash and trinkets, or whatever it was Portland got from New York. Never forget, this is the franchise that drafted Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. This is some way to blaze a trail.

Who is there in the Western Conference who can defeat the Lakers? Well, almost anybody, I’m afraid. After all, Utah and Dallas both took last year’s Lakers to seventh games before Detroit did. But there is a big difference between being able to beat the Lakers and actually beating them, which the Phoenix Suns probably will have a chance to find out.

The good news about this Laker squad is that the five starters all seem to be in fine form, although Johnson and Byron Scott have had nagging physical problems and the starting center is actually more of a combination of two men, Abdul-Jabbar and Mychal Thompson. Better still, Cooper is shooting like his 1987 self, not his 1988 self, and looks good on a basketball court when he isn’t walking into walls.

The bad news about this Laker squad is that the two best reserves are no longer kids, at 33-plus, and the two other top reserves, Orlando Woolridge and Tony Campbell, play defense from the manual of the Denver Nuggets. Woolridge and Campbell ought to be forced to stay on the offensive side of the court, like Iowa girls’ basketball.

The bad thing about next season’s Laker squad is that these guys had better locate a center somewhere, somehow. David Robinson got away. Mike Gminski got away.

A little voice in my ear keeps telling me that Ralph Sampson is eminently available, having become a wallflower with the Golden State Warriors, but the question is, do we really want Ralph Sampson? This guy may not be the biggest bust in the NBA, but he is definitely the tallest.

OK, now the good thing about this season’s Laker squad. His name is Pat Riley, and in our book he is coach of the year, year after year, and therefore does not need be presented one of those chintzy trophies they are always giving to Doug Moe or Don Nelson or somebody else who will be receiving no other trophies come season’s end.

Riley makes (lets) the Lakers play his way, which also happens to be their way. We’re happy to have him and hoping to keep him.

OK, on with the playoffs. Everybody go take a shave. This year, the Lakers might really be cutting it close.


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