It might be time again for Laker Coach Pat Riley to pull out that line of about his club needing to stay one step ahead of the posse.
Leading the posse's charge this season are the Portland Trail Blazers, who remain a half-game behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division going into the first meeting between the long-anticipated antagonists Tuesday night in Portland.
But before facing that challenge to their domain, the Lakers easily handled a far less significant threat on Sunday night at the Forum by hammering the New Jersey Nets, 121-105, behind dominating backcourt play from Byron Scott and Magic Johnson.
The Nets now dispatched, the Lakers now can turn full attention to the Trail Blazers. By a quirk of scheduling, the Lakers (33-11) have had to wait 44 games before facing Portland (33-12), the team that has been shadowing them in the standings all season.
"This is probably the one game I won't have to emphasize anything to them," Riley said. "Our players know this is one of those games . You have a few games like that every season that you get up for."
The Lakers certainly seem ready, especially Scott. After struggling with his shooting touch most of January, Scott has made 36 of 55 shots (65%) in the last four games. Sunday, he made 10 of 13 shots and had 22 points. Magic Johnson also had 22 points, as the Lakers' shot a season-high 60.4%.
Scott's return to form has coincided with his family's return to his house. For the first three months of the season, the Scotts had lived in a hotel while 1,500 square feet of their home was being remodeled.
"It's ironic that the day I moved back in, I started shooting better," Scott said. "It's difficult being on the road, then coming home and going back in a hotel."
Just like Scott, the Lakers appear to have their house in order going into Tuesday's game.
"When you've been there as many times as we have, you know what you got to do in these big games," Johnson said of the Trail Blazer game. "It's another challenge. We look at it the same going into Detroit--big game--and New York--big game. It's going to be a dog fight."
Portland Coach Rick Adelman said after the Trail Blazers edged Phoenix on Sunday night that his team will not back down, either.
"Everybody talks about past history (with the Lakers)," Adelman said. "But past history has nothing to do with it. We're 21 games above .500 and we're a pretty good team, too."
The Lakers are an even better team when Scott is shooting well.
Cautiously optimistic after two hot-shooting games, the Lakers now appear certain that Scott's shooting touch has indeed returned after four consecutive good games.
Scott, who acknowledged last month that he had lost a little confidence in his shot, now has regained that faith.
"All along, I told myself it'd come back," Scott said. "I just had to stay confident in myself and keep working."
Johnson said: "He knew and we knew it was just a matter of time. I can't say it's one thing that's changed (in Scott's game). All (great) shooters eventually get it back. Now is his time. We need that, too, to open it up for me and James (Worthy, who had 16 points)."
And the Trail Blazers? "It'll be a great challenge," Riley said. "Portland is simply a great team. The core's been there for three or four years, and now they have Buck (Williams), Wayne Cooper and drafted Cliff Robinson. They're for real. It'll be a tough test."
Center Mychal Thompson, who had 13 points and eight rebounds, lives in Portland in the off-season and says that his friends among the Trail Blazers told him that the teams would be fighting for the division title.
"It'll be a playoff-type atmosphere Tuesday night," Thompson said. "I was warned that last summer from Jerome (Kersey), Terry (Porter) and Buck that this would happen. This is what we get into pee-wee basketball for, games like Tuesday's."
The Nets, losers of nine consecutive games, still appear to be playing on that level, at least compared to the Lakers.
This one was not even close. Not only did the Nets end a six-game trip without coming close to a victory, they lost guard Mookie Blaylock because of a broken little finger on his left hand.
The rest of the game was nearly as painful for the rest of the Nets.
With 7:10 left in the first quarter, the Nets put together a 6-0 run to tie the score, 15-15.
At that point, Riley called a timeout. The Lakers then outscored the Nets, 28-12, to take a 43-27 lead into the second quarter. The Lakers' 43-point production was a season-high for a quarter as they made 72% of their shots.
New Jersey scored only one more point in the entire half--the Lakers led, 64-44, at intermission--than the Lakers did in the second quarter.
With 3:40 to play in the third quarter, the Nets cut the deficit to 12 points. But that was as close as they would come, and the fourth quarter was left to the reserves. In perhaps the strangest 10 minutes he has played, Laker reserve center Mark McNamara scored nine points, including a 360-degree spin move for a basket, before fouling out.
Upon reaching the bench, McNamara was met by a group of smiling and laughing teammates.
The mood does not figure to be quite as light Tuesday night.
"I'm not concerned about us being ready for Portland," Laker forward A.C. Green said. "We'll be there."
Because of chronic soreness in his left heel, center Mychal Thompson has not practiced in the last two weeks. Since the only effective therapy is rest, Coach Pat Riley has said that Thompson will sit out most of the practices for the remainder of the season. But neither Thompson nor Laker forward James Worthy believe that Thompson's missing practice will hurt the Lakers. "The games come at you too quick, so I don't really miss that much," Thompson said. "I pay attention to what's going on. And, if we have two or three days off, I will (practice) one of those days. It definitely helps to rest (the heel) between games. I can feel the difference. (Riley) and (Laker trainer) Gary Vitti were the ones who prescribed that treatment, not me." Worthy said Thompson's absence on the practice floor has not been missed. "I don't think it affects us that much," Worthy said. "Mychal is an experienced player; it's one of his best assets. He knows enough just watching practice to know what we're doing."
Going into Sunday's game, Laker reserve forward Jay Vincent had played in seven of 18 games since being signed by the Lakers on Dec. 24. Vincent had played a total of 45 minutes going into the Net game. Although unaccustomed to sitting, Vincent said he has adapted to the new role by working out by himself after practice. "I run about three or four miles a day," Vincent said. "It's tough to do it (along with practice). But if my number is ever called, I've got to stay physically strong. I'm just trying to stay in shape." . . . With the loss, the Nets have an 0-9 record against teams in the Pacific Division.