A true measure of the Lakers' problems may have surfacedThursday night when they lost to the Seattle SuperSonics, 105-103, before 30,847 at the Kingdome on Ricky Pierce's 20-footer at the buzzer--and found some good news.
At least it wasn't a 31-point loss to the Clippers, as it was Wednesday at the Sports Arena.
"I'd rather lose like tonight," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "I'd rather lose when we play a good game any day of the week than get beat up. This game had some positives for us. We were playing short-handed and had some guys step up."
As the losing streak reached six games, their longest since Jan. 4-14, 1978, the Lakers will take their bright spots where they can.
That last skid mark of a half-dozen games long was such a thing of the past that two of the losses came at Buffalo and Kansas City, franchises that don't even exist any more. This time, they fell back-to-back to a pair of teams playing well but whose main goal now is just to make the playoffs.
The Lakers, who suddenly find themselves grouped together with the wanna-be's in the standings, came from 94-82 down midway through the fourth quarter to tie the SuperSonics. It was 101-101 with 35 seconds left, but Byron Scott missed two free throws.
Seattle, winners of six of their last seven, took the lead when Shawn Kemp slammed in a missed shot by Gary Payton with 10.1 seconds remaining. The Lakers responded again, James Worthy converting the second rebound-tip of Sedale Threatt's errant jumper with 1.7 seconds to go.
It was 103-103, and the SuperSonics called timeout. Then another. Then, when referee Terry Durham had counted to four next to Nate McMillan trying to make the entry pass from mid-court, a 20-second timeout. Each time they changed the play.
When they broke from the huddle the last time, Pierce turned to teammate Eddie Johnson and said he was going to make the winning shot. So, alone on the left side after shaking Scott, he did.
"I was clean," Pierce said. "I was surprised how wide open I was."
The Lakers slipped out of Los Angeles on their charter under the cover of darkness Wednesday, about an hour after their loss to the Clippers. They arrived here close to 2:30 a.m. for the next challenge, the mood helped by a players-only meeting during the plane ride.
"Anytime you lose, you've got to dig down," Dunleavy said before the game. "It's going to be hard. The question is how we respond to it. It doesn't even come down to winning and losing. It comes down to playing hard."
The Lakers jumped to a 9-1 lead, were caught later in the first quarter, then used a 12-0 run before halftime to get some breathing room in the form of a 55-45 advantage. They scored on six of seven possessions in the streak, James Worthy accounting for six of the points.
Worthy had 15 by halftime, en route to 20. Threatt finished with a team-high 23, while A.C. Green had 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Limited because of injuries to Sam Perkins and Vlade Divac, Coach Mike Dunleavy said he has not considered a shakeup in the lineup simply for the shock value, hoping that would jump-start the Lakers. "I don't think it would do any good to do that," he said. "Any move you make, you want it to be a move that works. You want to instill confidence. If you do something stupid, it might have a negative effect." . . . Perkins missed his third consecutive game because of tendinitis in his left knee, but the Lakers are hopeful he will return Saturday against Golden State at the Forum.
This was the third of four high-interest games the SuperSonics will play at the Kingdome this season, not counting an exhibition game against Chicago. They also played the Bulls at the Kingdome on Nov. 22 and drew 38,067, the largest crowd in the league, and had 37,175 for Boston Dec. 27. Saturday's game against Portland is projected as a sellout (38,650), which would push the SuperSonics' average attendance to about 15,400. What makes that unusual is that the Seattle Coliseum, their normal home, holds 14,212 and has had only two sellouts. . . . Ricky Pierce, again approaching the NBA record of 78 consecutive free throws, set by Calvin Murphy, had his streak snapped at 62 when he missed in the first quarter. Pierce had a run of 75 in a row earlier this season.