The Mike Dunleavy era opened with an exhibition game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Honolulu last Oct. 12. Although the new Laker coach wanted to use his regulars sparingly, he altered his plans.
"It developed into a war," Dunleavy said Wednesday. "You had a lot of pride on both sides. A lot had been written about the fact that we were old and we had been picked as low as fifth in the division. I think our guys didn't like reading that. And I think Portland felt they had something to prove."
Displaying regular-season intensity, starters on both teams played most of the game. Magic Johnson scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 42 minutes, James Worthy scored 24 points in 38 minutes and Byron Scott scored 23 points in 31 minutes as the Lakers won, 119-115. Portland's Jerome Kersey scored 21 points in 37 minutes, Clyde Drexler 18 points in 33 minutes.
More than seven months later, the Lakers will play the Trail Blazers in the NBA Western Conference finals, beginning Saturday at Portland.
"I think a lot of people expected it to come to this," Dunleavy said. "They were picked to win the Western Conference, and we were the team that had been there and was hoping to retain it.
"They proved too much for us during the regular season, and they deserved to win the Pacific Division and the Western Conference (regular-season titles). But we still have a chance to change it all up."
Dunleavy's VCR will probably be humming as he views tapes of the Lakers' last two games against Portland, which won three of five from the Lakers to take the regular-season series for the second consecutive year, while winning its first Pacific Division title in 13 years.
The Lakers squandered a 21-point third-quarter lead as the Trail Blazers outscored them, 27-4, the last 8:35 of the third quarter in Portland's 109-105 overtime victory March 29 at the Forum.
Will the Lakers draw motivation from that collapse?
"I don't think this team really dwells on the past," Worthy said Wednesday. "We had some close games (with Portland) this year. Some of them, we felt like we didn't play our best ball. But it's natural motivation when you come this far and advance to the finals of the Western Conference.
"We've had a tendency to have big leads and let teams get back into the game. That's something we're aware of. We have to sustain what got us the lead and not come out with a complacent attitude.
"I think it has a lot to do with concentration. But it's a natural response for teams that have leads. You stop attacking, hoping that the other team won't get hot."
In their final game against the Trail Blazers, April 13 at Portland, the Lakers overcame a 20-point deficit but lost, 118-113, as Drexler hit a 17-foot jumper with 15 seconds left. The defeat ended the Lakers' nine-year Pacific Division championship reign and gave Portland home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. This is the first time since 1979 the Lakers have reached the Western Conference championship series without the home-court advantage.
"But I don't really think (the home-court advantage) is going to make a huge difference," Worthy said. "We've won at Portland, and they've won here."
After shutting down Chris Mullin as the Lakers eliminated the Warriors in five games, Worthy faces a new challenge from Drexler, who averaged 25.8 points against the Lakers and is averaging 22.4 points, 8.6 assists and 8.2 rebounds in the playoffs.
"I'm not going to take the title of being a defensive stopper or being a Dennis Rodman," Worthy said. "That's not my style. I've had some great defensive efforts against some players, and they still go off for 35 or 40 points.
"I've never been assigned to a player without having some help. When (Michael) Cooper was here, we always would switch if a guy came off a pick. But I'd have to say that this was one of my better defensive efforts because I never left (Mullin), not even to help out on drives. So it was a little easier to focus."
Mullin and Drexler have different styles.
"Mullin is a pure shooter, while Drexler can put the ball in the hole, but he does so many other things, like put the ball on the floor or take the ball coast to coast," Worthy said.
Because the Warriors lack an inside scoring threat, the Lakers were able to double-team the Warrior perimeter shooters. But center Kevin Duckworth, who averaged 18.2 points against the Lakers, gives Portland a dimension that the Warriors lacked. If the Lakers try to trap Drexler or Terry Porter, the Trail Blazers will probably dish off to Duckworth for a layup.
And the Lakers, who were able to exploit their size advantage over the Warriors, won't have this edge against Portland.
"They have no weaknesses at all," Dunleavy said. "They have a strong inside game and a strong outside game, and they're the best rebounding team in the league."
Coach Mike Dunleavy said center Mychal Thompson, who has played only seven minutes in one game during the playoffs this season, will probably see action against Portland. "Mychal certainly will have an opportunity to play," Dunleavy said. "He's played very well against Portland." . . . Center Vlade Divac averaged 16.4 minutes a game against the Warriors after averaging 42 minutes in the Lakers' first-round sweep of the Houston Rockets, but Dunleavy said he's not concerned that Divac is in a slump. "It was just a terrible matchup for Vlade," Dunleavy said. . . . Rookie Elden Campbell, who helped fuel a fourth-quarter comeback as the Lakers eliminated the Warriors, 124-119, in overtime Tuesday night, may have a larger role in the Portland series.