This must be the Lakers' version of a stress test, these 11 games to open the season. They stress all summer and all training camp the desire to be a running team, they make rookie Nick Van Exel the starting point guard over veteran Sedale Threatt largely because he is better at pushing the ball, then can't get out of neutral.
So far, they have failed to break triple digits four times in 10 non-overtime games and scored only 101 points in two others. Tuesday, the Lakers lost, 103-94, to the Atlanta Hawks after scoring 30 points in the first quarter.
"My fear when playing up-tempo basketball is, do you have the talent to play fast?" Coach Randy Pfund said. "We've got some young guys on this team for the future who can play fast-paced basketball. Where we may not have a full roster with that, Nick, Anthony (Peeler) and Doug (Christie), especially, those guys are runners.
"I think we're playing with a faster tempo than we did last year. "Once we get in sync, I hope that we'll be getting 107, 108 on nights."
Until then, he has a team that is 3-8 and averaging 98.6 points a night, far from the worst in the league but still a problem.
"I really can't tell you what the problem is," Van Exel said after scoring a team-high 22 points before 10,920 at the Omni. "I know one thing: we're not executing the full play. We do some of the play and then we stop.
"It's been going on all year. It seems like we get a little rattled if a team sticks us or gets us out of what we're doing."
In spite of the problems--they shot only 43.2%--the Lakers again managed to stay close. Down by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, back-to-back fast-break baskets got them within 98-91 with 2:19 left, a spark that came at the same time the Hawks were going 3:13 without a score.
But the Lakers got no closer. Their next possession ended with Elden Campbell's airball from the right baseline, and Dominique Wilkins turned that into a three-point play and a 10-point cushion with 1:30 to go. Wilkins' two free throws a minute later gave him 28 points to go with 12 rebounds, both game highs.
The Lakers scored only 19 points the fourth quarter, a fitting ending under the circumstances. It was the seventh time they had failed to get at least 20 points in the last 16 quarters.
"I take responsibility for the fact we are not winning," Pfund said. "We've got to get better. We've got to keep improving. We are not the only team with new players or who is young, and at some point we have to start winning."
At some point?
Bad choice of words.
Kurt Rambis and Trevor Wilson are eligible to come off the injured list at any time, an option Randy Pfund is very aware of. "I think we ought to look at it," Pfund said. "The two guys on the injured list are two real good effort guys, two guys who play hard." In other words, even though Rambis and Wilson were sidelined with largely bogus injuries so starters Elden Campbell and Anthony Peeler could return, they may not be "recovering" for long.
George Lynch should get a nice welcome when the Lakers play at Charlotte tonight because all former North Carolina players do. "I'm sure I've got some fans in Charlotte," he said. "I don't know if they are Laker fans, but I know they are George Lynch fans. If I get a chance to play, it would be great." That's a big if. The first-round pick has appeared in only five of the 11 games and played a total of 51 minutes, including 12 against the Hawks.
Magic Johnson could have been at the Omni Tuesday night--coaching the Hawks. Johnson said recently that he came close to accepting an offer to replace Bob Weiss as early as last December, when Atlanta was in a seven-game home losing streak and failing to draw respectable crowds. Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that, after meeting with Hawk General Manager Pete Babcock and President Stan Kasten in Los Angeles, he ultimately decided to continue to pursue ownership of an NBA franchise. "I almost did it, though," he said. "I told Pete to look out, that I thought I was coming aboard. But then I decided it might not be the best thing." Weiss was fired at the end of the season and became the Clippers' coach.