Lakers Put an End to the Skid : Pro basketball: Los Angeles gets past the Bullets, 87-72, to snap its three-game losing streak.


The Lakers finally located a team as tired as they were, not to mention one that was ice cold, undermanned and injured, so they gratefully routed them, right?

Well, almost.

They played a solid defensive game as they thankfully slipped past the Washington Bullets, 87-72, to end their three-game losing streak.

That's as good as it gets now for the Lakers, hanging on by their fingernails after 17 of the past 20 days on the road, with two games left on this trip--including tonight's night-after challenge in Orlando--before they walk over the hallowed thresholds of home.

Every game needs a star, even a game as ugly as this, so it goes to Magic Johnson, improbably enough.

Johnson's stomach wasn't feeling right before the game, prompting him to ingest enough antacid to put out an oil well fire.

Johnson then scored 25 points with 10 rebounds and eight assists. He made three three-point shots, his most since Jan. 22.

"I was all right when I was on the floor," Johnson said. "My stomach started bubbling over.

"I was just hoping I didn't get elbowed on the court."

Considerately, Johnson neglected to tell Coach Mike Dunleavy of his condition, seeing as how Dunleavy had enough troubles with the season's longest losing streak, Sam Perkins' sore toe, Byron Scott's shooting slump, Vlade Divac's wall-to-wall slump and an offense that hadn't produced 96 points in a game in eight days.

He was about to add to that list, the Lakers' first-quarter performance.

It was a Capital Centre game like any other. The Bullets were out-gunned but played hard. The screaming fan behind the visiting bench, lawyer Robin Flicker, assaulted the Lakers all night.

"You guys are not a better team than the Bullets!"

The Bullets, having taken a 26-point pounding by Phoenix Friday for their eighth consecutive loss while the Lakers rested, jumped to a 14-4 lead while Dunleavy reconsidered the value of pregame meetings.

"We got off to one of those slow starts that had me pacing the sidelines in a hurry," Dunleavy said.

Unlike their loss at Minnesota and three-quarters of the one at Milwaukee, the Lakers had a discernible pulse Saturday and fought back.

With 1:01 left in the first quarter, Divac made a 17-footer and history was made--the Lakers had their first lead on the trip, 19-18.

"Every time they score, they say it's your fault, Vlade Divac! It's not! It's your fault, Mike Dunleavy, you little rookie!"

Tony Smith, the rookie whom Johnson cheers for so he can get some rest, took over in the second quarter with a six-point lead and his unit increased it to 11.

Smith took over again to start the fourth quarter with the Lakers ahead by 11.

This time, it didn't go as well.

The Lakers had 11 possessions with one shot (Mychal Thompson's missed jump hook) inside 15 feet. The Bullets cut the lead to 73-70 and Dunleavy hurried Johnson back in.

While Magic sat at the scorer's table, Haywoode Workman, shooting for the tie, missed a three-pointer. Thompson rebounded and threw a pass three-quarters the length of the floor to Smith, who scored on a layup, was fouled and made the free throw for a 76-70 lead.

Since the inoffensive Bullets neglected to make a field goal for the last 7:02, or a free throw for the last 5:40, the Lakers were in pretty good shape.

Johnson felt good enough to do a postgame imitation in the shower of the screaming fan:

"Magic Johnson, you've got the mind of a 20-year-old and a body that's 34!"

The losing streak was over. A Laker parachute opened and hope for a soft landing continues.

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