The Lakers wanted a tuneup for Sunday’s showdown in Boston. They got a marathon emotional wringer in which James Worthy went to the hospital for X-rays and Magic Johnson went 50 minutes.
Otherwise, it was just what the doctor ordered.
The Lakers won their 10th in a row, 108-103, in overtime over the New Jersey Nets Friday night after Worthy limped to the free-throw line on a throbbing right foot and made two free throws with 3.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the score.
Worthy then left the game and went directly to a nearby hospital for X-rays, which showed no fracture. Meanwhile his teammates--dead in the water in a fourth quarter in which they scored one field goal--turned it around in overtime.
Ask Coach Mike Dunleavy. He would give the game back if he could have his Worthy healthy again.
“I just hope we didn’t pay too high a price for the victory,” Dunleavy said. “If you could tell me he’d be all right, I’d take the loss.”
Worthy accompanied his teammates to Boston, where they play Sunday. However trainer Gary Vitti said if he’s still in pain today, he will send him home.
Unlike the Lakers’ romps in Orlando and Charlotte, this game was a walk-it-up, jump-on-each-others'-backs ordeal. The Lakers opened a 77-68 lead late in the third quarter and then went the last 29 seconds of the quarter . . . and the first 9:51 of the fourth without a field goal.
With 2:09 left in the game, Sam Perkins made a great block on a layup by Drazen Petrovic that turned into a breakaway with Vlade Divac scoring on an unopposed dunk. That was the longest and only shot the Lakers made in the quarter.
For good measure, they also missed five of six free throws in the last 1:30 of regulation until Worthy went to the line. Playing their fourth road game in five nights, the Lakers had plainly hit the wall.
But with 11 seconds left and the Nets ahead, 91-90, Petrovic missed one of two free throws, offering them a last chance.
Dunleavy ran a pick-and-roll, Johnson cutting off Worthy’s screen. The defense came to Johnson, who passed off. Worthy slashed into the lane, went up for a shot and ran into a logjam. A foul was called on Chris Morris, and Worthy’s foot rolled over when he landed.
He stayed on the floor and the Lakers called time. If Worthy came out, Net Coach Bill Fitch would choose the free-throw shooter from the Laker bench, where he would have a choice of Elden Campbell (63%), Tony Smith (60%), or Irving Thomas (53.8%).
“They had a wide group of characters to choose from,” Dunleavy said later, laughing.
Said Fitch: “I looked down there, but I didn’t dwell on it. I felt he’d shoot them. He’s a tough guy. He knew he wasn’t going to walk off and leave it if he could stand.”
Dunleavy asked Worthy if he could shoot the shots.
Worthy said he could.
He went to the line, limping with every step. He planted his right foot heavily, as if trying to make sure of it. He sighted deliberately. He swished the first shot. He put the second on the front rim with enough rotation to roll in and tie the score.
“You know what, it’s easy to concentrate when you’re in pain,” Worthy said. “Believe it or not.”
Byron Scott called Worthy “a tough character.” Johnson called him “the money man.” Both said they never doubted he’d arise to take his shots.
With the score 92-92, Fitch called time. Dunleavy had hoped for that because there was no way Worthy could get back to guard anybody.
The Nets ran a last play, with Reggie Theus taking a desperate three-pointer. But Scott blocked it.
The Lakers then returned to life in the overtime. Perkins hit a high-arching seven-footer on the baseline over Derrick Coleman, the first shot longer than a dunk they had made in 15 minutes 10 seconds. Divac rebounded a Johnson miss, was fouled and made two free throws, putting the Lakers ahead, 96-94. On the next two possessions, Scott made outside shots and the Lakers were cruising.
So Johnson can rest on the plane again and Worthy can try to heal and everyone else can take a deep breath.
What the heck, they’ve got all today off.
Said Bill Fitch: “I said going in, the Lakers have every bit as much a chance of winning a championship as I’ve ever seen them at this time of the season. I said that before playing them and I haven’t changed my mind. They’ve got talent. I think the bench is the key in the second half of the season. They’re probably going to have to get a little more help. Tonight, I think we’d have won against the teams that are going to be No. 8 in the playoffs.” . . . Speaking of the Laker bench: Mike Dunleavy coached around his reserve guards, leaving Tony Smith on the bench after halftime and playing Terry Teagle only six minutes. . . . Dunleavy said he kept asking Magic Johnson if he needed a rest and Johnson said no. “Every time,” Johnson said. “Why take a blow? We were trying to win.”