Eight-point losers when the teams played Dec. 5 at the Forum, the Clippers obviously found a cure Tuesday night, beating the Lakers, 121-104, before a sellout crowd of 15,350 at the Sports Arena.
The Clippers ended a four-game losing streak, their longest of the season, while the Lakers (31-11) lost their second consecutive game and dropped into a first-place tie in the Pacific Division with the Trail Blazers, who beat the Utah Jazz at Portland.
The Clippers played at fever pitch, scoring a season-high 71 points in the first half and rarely letting up. It was as if all the problems of recent days--three games of 101 points or fewer in the last five--were overcome at once.
Gary Grant, who had but one double-figure assist game in four previous tries, had 22 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds for his first NBA triple double and the Clippers' first since Ken Norman did it March 25.
"I've been coming close a lot and never getting it," he said. "Maybe a double-double or something like that, but never this. It felt good to get the triple-double, especially against the Lakers."
And the victory gave the Clippers a 9-7 record in January, tying a club record for victories in a month, set in December of 1980 in San Diego. It was also was their first winning full month since December of 1984. The 1985 Clippers went 4-0 in October to open the season.
Johnson played 25 minutes, but sat out all of the third quarter. He came back to start the fourth, not that it mattered much. With him in, the Clippers (19-23) took a 108-91 lead, their biggest of the night.
Still, his three-point basket with 5:43 remaining cut the Clipper lead to 110-99 and prompted Coach Don Casey to call a timeout. The Clippers responded, Manning's tip-in of a missed Benjamin shot making it a 13-point game, and Benjamin followed that by blocking a Vlade Divac shot inside. When Jeff Martin made a jumper from the left baseline the next time down, two of his 15 points off the bench, the Clippers were ahead, 114-99.
Something was different from the start. The Lakers being booed during introductions in Los Angeles? Johnson, who had 16 points and seven assists, said he had heard it before in the Sports Arena, but it meant something special to Grant and teammate Charles Smith.
"Very important," is how Grant described it. "It gave us a lot of confidence."
Said Smith, who had 12 points and nine rebounds: "I was surprised. A lot of people around town are talking, 'Yeah, we're Clipper fans.' But they never show up. Tonight, it was evident they did."
It was also obvious Johnson, who was bedridden during Monday's loss to San Antonio at the Forum, was laboring. Sluggish, rusty, weak--call it what you will.
"All of the above," Johnson said. "I felt it all because I had not played in four or five days."
And he appeared to be getting worse by the minute, thanks to the referees. Johnson got his third foul with 4:59 to play in the second quarter, a call that so incensed Pat Riley that the Laker coach crossed the 10-second strip to argue and was assessed with a technical foul.
It only 12 more seconds for Johnson to get foul No. 4. He came out, but the Clippers didn't seem to mind who played for the Lakers and took a 38-30 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"It felt bad knowing I couldn't help the team," Johnson said. "Not being there just tears you up."
The last basket of the quarter showed how much things were going the Clippers' way. Manning made a 17-foot running bank shot as the buzzer sounded.
The Lakers pulled to 56-52, but the Clippers, beating their crosstown rivals for the second consecutive time at the Sports Arena, responded with a 13-2 run to take a 69-56 lead 2:13 before halftime. Martin had seven of the points during the run.
The Clippers led, 71-62, at halftime thanks to 19 points from Manning, nine assists and eight points by Grant and 59.6% shooting overall. The Lakers trailed despite making 60% of their shots, with Byron Scott making eight of 10 for 17 points. But playing without Cooper, the Lakers couldn't find a cure for the Clipper offense.
Scott finished with a team-high 24 points, making 11 of 18 shots.
The Clippers will switch radio stations to KRLA beginning with Friday's game at Miami, a deal that will run at least through the end of next season. KRTH, the current broadcast home, has announced it will go to an all-Spanish format, but has not set a date for the change. No immediate changes are expected with the move to KRLA, meaning Ralph Lawler will remain as announcer and weekday games out of the Pacific time zone will be delayed until 6 p.m. Some thought is being given to a basketball-oriented talk show in the future, a la Chick Hearn with the Lakers on KLAC.
Michael Cooper is listed as day-to-day. The Lakers don't play again until Friday, when they will play host to Atlanta. . . . The Clippers' Tom Garrick, who was sidelined for the third straight game because of tendinitis in his left knee, will be out for at least two more. The Clippers begin a five-game trip tonight and play at Miami Friday, when Garrick will be re-evaluated in Los Angeles by Dr. Tony Daly.
Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor continues to call around the league, lining up possible candidates to replace Ron Harper as shooting guard. It's been slow going, Baylor said. "Everyone is asking an arm and a leg," Baylor said. "One team, and we're not talking about Michael Jordan, asked for our two first-rounders and Charles Smith." No need to ask what the response was. "Teams feel that we're desperately in need of a player, that now that we have become a real playoff contender we'll give up anything for a trade," he said. "That's just not the case."