The Lakers, who have been having trouble on the court, suddenly found themselves with trouble off of it Sunday night before solving both problems at the Forum.
First, there was the blowout, courtesy of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a howling disaster on the road. The Timberwolves, losers of seven in a row on the road, once again unleashed 7-foot-3 center Randy Breuer on Magic Johnson and suffered the consequences of a 118-94 defeat.
Johnson played only 27 minutes, but that was long enough for 13 assists, 15 points, six rebounds and a mini-blowup with General Manager Jerry West.
Johnson reacted strongly to statements by West reported in the Plain Dealer of Cleveland last week in which West critiqued Johnson’s play. West was quoted as saying, “Magic has been playing OK. At times, he’s looked like the Magic of last year.”
Johnson told reporters before the game that because of West’s comments, he wasn’t sure he wanted to play for the Lakers. But after a brief postgame meeting with West, Johnson seemed placated.
“I feel a lot better now,” Johnson said. “He just told me that I guess he was taken out of context. Basically, that was it.
“What I’m saying, just come to me,” Johnson said what he wished West had done with his printed comments. “I’ve been here 12 years. I think I deserve that.
“I was shocked at first, then I was upset,” he said. “Now, it’s over. I want to be here. We gave each other a high five, laughed, and now let’s go back to work.”
The job Sunday night was to extend the Timberwolves’ losing streak to six, which they did. James Worthy had 24 points and A.C. Green 20 in only 29 minutes, primarily inside.
While the Laker running game reappeared in an unlikely matchup against the down-tempo Timberwolves, Coach Mike Dunleavy experienced the luxury of playing his non-starters for significant minutes.
Worthy, who played 35 minutes, and Sam Perkins (31 minutes) were the only Lakers to play more than 29 minutes. Johnson pointed out that the Laker break was a rolling gang on five, not just two or three players, but claimed he had nothing to prove to West or anyone else during the game.
“I got a job to do, regardless,” Johnson said.
But Johnson said he never considered West’s comments trivial.
“It’s serious to me, shoot,” Johnson said. “It’s like your boss saying something behind your back and he hasn’t told you and everybody else knows.”
In the meantime, West is busy trying to find some backcourt help.
“It’s pretty obvious our backcourt has not played as well as we would have liked,” he said. “There are some pretty decent names floating around.
“You always look to do something,” West said. “The danger is I don’t think anyone knows what this team is. At times, we play very encouraging. Other times, we come up with a stinker.”
This was one of the encouraging times. Johnson, who had eight assists in the first quarter, directed the Laker fast break to a 61-48 lead at the half. It might have been more if not for Gerald Glass.
At different times, the Lakers tried Larry Drew, Terry Teagle, Byron Scott and James Worthy on Glass, a streak-shooting small forward who leaned into the defense for 15 points in only nine minutes of the second quarter.
Green scored back-to-back inside baskets to end the first quarter with a 10-point Laker lead that was still nine points when Johnson and Scott returned after a relief stint by Drew and Teagle.
Glass finished with 32 points in 24 minutes and 7-0 Felton Spencer had a career-high 19 rebounds. The Laker revival signs included Drew, who passed out 12 assists in 21 minutes, and Vlade Divac, who had eight of the Lakers’ 50 rebounds.
“Things are not going as well as we like, but things are looking up,” Johnson said. “And now, they are looking really up.”
Bel-Air isn’t that far from Inglewood, but from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s house, the Lakers look a long way off. “I’ve watched from a distance,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who cautioned against expecting too much from the Lakers. “They’re going through a period of adjustment and it’s tough on them,” he said. “They have to find different ways to win than they did when I was there. We ran more, we played more post-up game. We had that type of personnel. They are having a hard time finding how to win with the personnel they have. But I think they have a fine team and they just have to stick with it. They’re definitely going to make the playoffs and they’re definitely going to be contenders.”