The Rest Is Easy for Lakers : Pro basketball: After two days off, Worthy gets 35 points in 127-117 victory over Nuggets.
Big Game James Worthy who had been Not the Same James returned to form Friday night, not a moment too soon for the Lakers.
With his teammates reassembling their game after three weeks on the road and two days off, Worthy scored 35 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds as the Lakers eased past the Denver Nuggets, 127-117, before 17,505 at the Forum.
The Lakers thus gained a game on the third-place Phoenix Suns, who are 2 1/2 games behind Los Angeles. But the one they wanted got away when the first-place Portland Trail Blazers won at Utah to keep their lead over the Lakers at 1 1/2 games.
Worthy, a career 55% shooter who had never finished below 53% in any of his eight seasons, started the night at 48.6%. He was 20 for 62 in three games before Friday’s 16-for-28 performance.
A man who shoots 55% might not know much about slumps. But Worthy knew at least as much as he wanted to.
“You recognize it,” Worthy said. “You definitely try not to dwell on it. It’s not the first one. In nine years, I’ve had one or two each year.”
Said teammate Magic Johnson: “You know sooner or later it’s going to come to him. He’s too good.”
Johnson worked a tidy 28 minutes as the Lakers opened a 64-52 halftime lead, saw the Nuggets cut the deficit to four points late in the third quarter, and then slipped away from the visitors in the fourth.
This time Johnson got the whole fourth quarter off--and enjoyed it.
“We had two good days off,” he said. “No basketball, no nothing. It was great. We had the legs tonight, even though we missed some layups.
“What did I do? Wednesday, all day I did nothing. Just enjoyed my house, sat on my favorite couch and relaxed. Thursday, you do a little more moving around. Not much.”
Friday, they arose and went back to work.
There had been no such rest for the Nuggets, who were not only 0-3 against the Lakers, but 1-17 against the NBA’s top seven teams and 3-27 on the road. They were playing on back-to-back nights, having beaten the Minnesota Timberwolves in Denver Thursday and flown in Friday afternoon.
“We took the MGM Grand III,” Coach Paul Westhead said before the game, laughing. “Continental Airlines. On ours, you can sleep at home.”
Must have been something to it because the Nuggets played with surprising enthusiasm and even skill, trailing by only 45-42 late in the second quarter when the Lakers hit them with a succession of dunks and fast breaks.
Worthy dunked off a lob by Johnson. Johnson made two free throws, Worthy a layup from Johnson off a fast break.
The next time the Nuggets missed, Johnson took the outlet pass and moved over halfcourt, turned his head to his left and whipped a no-look backhand pass to Vlade Divac on the right wing. Divac, perhaps a stride farther out then he thought he was, ran into the lane, slammed into Joe Wolf, fell backward and was called for traveling.
When the crowd stopped snickering, the Lakers ran a few more fast breaks before halftime and led, 64-52, at intermission.
The Nuggets chased gamely through the second half, but Worthy scored 23 of his 35 and the Lakers pulled out of range.
Mike Dunleavy said he was within a Denver basket of bringing the regulars back in on five or six occasions in the fourth quarter, but the Lakers never let the Nuggets score it. The Lakers came home and brushed the cobwebs off their running game. It was a start.
With his parents, Milenko and Rada, in the stands watching him play in the NBA for the first time, center Vlade Divac tied his career high with 25 points. Said Divac: “I think it is usual night for me.” Divac thus becomes the 11th veteran to set or equal his career high against the Nuggets this season. Four rookies have done it, too. Denver’s Michael Adams was held scoreless in the first half for the first time this season, and shut out on three-point goals for the first time in 24 games.