Waltzing across Texas in overtime, the Lakers found a happy ending, at last.
Sam Perkins, back in action with his left eye partly shut, hit a free throw with :00.5 left in overtime--the Lakers' third extra session in 27 hours--to give them a 114-113 victory over the Dallas Mavericks Saturday night.
Of course, the Lakers sustained their nightly injury, Vlade Divac going out because of back spasms.
They trailed by the usual double-figures, 14 points this time.
They survived the usual crunch time, a fourth quarter in which the lead changed hands on the last 13 baskets.
They withstood a controversial call, putting Dallas' Fat Lever on the line with :02 left in regulation to tie the game.
Finally, with legs and nervous systems nearing their limits, the Lakers got a call they liked better on an inbounds play under their basket. Lever was ruled to have held Perkins. Perkins squinted at the rim and made the free throw that gave the Lakers their first victory of the season.
Otherwise, it would have been another 0-2 start for Mike Dunleavy.
"To go 0-2 wouldn't have been anything unusual for me," Dunleavy said, grinning. "To get down that many points, it'd be very easy for them to sit on the fact that we've got guys missing.
"Hey, if we lose these games, what they'll write about is the fact we were short-handed. Nobody will really care that much. But we took another approach. We didn't want to deal with that."
Starting on the road, without Magic Johnson and Tony Smith, losing their power forward one night and their center the next, the Lakers escaped thanks mostly to Perkins, James Worthy (100 minutes in two games, 67 points, a career-high 14 assists Saturday) and, most notably, Sedale Threatt.
Threatt, the latest nominee for the backup point guard the Lakers have been seeking since Johnson turned 25, served notice the search may be over with a Magic-like line: 26 points, eight assists, a career-high 10 rebounds.
"Mr. Clutch, himself, Jerry West," Perkins said of the Laker general manager who traded for Threatt. "He knows what's he's doing."
"I can see Sedale struggling like me last year, just trying to fit in, to make the plays work. It takes a while."
Not a long while. Threatt, trying to be a point guard, shot three for nine in Houston. Dunleavy told him to look for his shot. Saturday, Threatt went 12 for 20.
"We had a list of guys who would be a perfect fit for us," Dunleavy said. "My wish list.
"One, the guy had to be able to handle the ball, set a team up. Then he had to be able to knock down the outside shot. One other thing would be a guy who could really defend. He does all three things."
Saturday the Mavericks double-teamed Worthy, a standard ploy. Worthy threw the ball regularly to Threatt, spotting up in splendid isolation, and broke his own assist mark.
The Lakers trailed, 22-8, early in the game but caught up by the fourth quarter. Threatt's three-pointer with 19 seconds left in regulation--on a pass from a double-teamed Worthy--put the Lakers ahead, 99-98. But Threatt was called for a foul, leaning over to tie up a fallen Lever with 2.2 seconds left. Dunleavy couldn't believe the call and Chick Hearn suggested Commissioner David Stern step in. Lever made one of two free throws and the game went overtime.
At 113-113 in the final seconds, Dunleavy set up a screen for Perkins, cutting to the basket. Perkins and Lever went down together, the ball rolling away. Mike Costabile, the official who had called the foul on Threatt, called this one on Lever.
The Lakers figured what comes around goes around and flew home.
A Laker spokesman said Magic Johnson is doubtful for Tuesday's home opener against the Clippers. Trainer Gary Vitti says Johnson might not play for a week after resuming practice and he hasn't resumed practice yet. . . . Vlade Divac was elbowed in the throat by James Donaldson, went down hard and suffered back spasms. He was in pain just trying to put his pants on late Saturday night.
* TIMELY RETURN: After sitting out a game because of an ankle injury, Kevin Williams comes back to bolster the Bruin running game. C6
* CLIPPERS: They defeat Cleveland, 106-105, in their home opener. C2
* THE NBA: Mark Heisler takes a look at the new season. C10
* MIKE DOWNEY: 76ers' Charles Barkley shoots from the lip. C11