Lakers Routed by Suns, Then Ripped by Magic


This is how bad things have gotten for the Lakers:

They were routed by the Phoenix Suns, 117-88, before 19,023 at America West Arena as Charles Barkley had 20 points and 20 rebounds and Cedric Ceballos had 29 points in only 28 minutes.

And that wasn't even the biggest scorching of Wednesday night.

That came afterward, when Coach Magic Johnson ripped most of the starters as quitters who have taken an early vacation.

"One team (Phoenix) is in the playoffs and going for a world championship, and another team is already on vacation," Johnson said after the Lakers' fourth consecutive loss, their longest skid since Jan. 9-18. "And they played like it.

"We've quit already. As a matter of fact, we had done that the last couple of games. As soon as we didn't win versus Denver, we kind of packed it in.

"I don't know how it's going to play in my decision (to return as coach). This is just tough for me to handle and deal with.

"Elden (Campbell), Vlade (Divac), all them, if they don't want to play, fine. They won't play. . . . I'm disappointed in all five of them in their effort and the way they came out and approached this game. This is natural. Every time we get hit with a right hook, we submit. It's over. We go into the tank."

Johnson later amended his statements to find praise for the starting guards, Tony Smith, who had 22 points to lead the Lakers in scoring for the third consecutive outing, and Nick Van Exel. The frontcourt players should just be happy they weren't cut on the spot. Johnson threatened them with reserve roles against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, saying the likes of Dan Schayes, Kurt Rambis, Antonio Harvey and Doug Christie deserve the minutes.

Replied Divac: "It was really tough. But I think we will come out strong the next game."

On top of all their other problems, the Lakers played without James Worthy, who was suspended by the league without pay and fined $5,000 for his fight the night before with Golden State's Chris Gatling. Gatling was fined $4,000 but did not have to miss any games because NBA Vice President of Operations Rod Thorn ruled he tried to retaliate while Worthy instigated the scuffle and connected on a punch.

The total damage for the Laker forward was about $27,811--$22,561 for the missed game, $5,000 for the fine and $250 for the ejection. He accompanied the Lakers to Phoenix on their late-night charter flight Tuesday, only to return to Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon after news of the suspension because he would not have been able to attend the game, even as a spectator.

Laker Notes

The Laker loss, combined with Denver's victory at San Antonio, dropped the Nuggets' magic number to clinch the final playoff spot to two. . . . There is a downside for the Lakers having Magic Johnson as coach after all. Witness the comments from Chris Webber after collecting 25 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocked shots, all better than his season averages, to lead Golden State to a 128-117 victory Tuesday at the Forum. Asked about playing in front of Johnson, the Warrior rookie said: "It made me want to play harder. I want to beat him, even in all-star games, and tonight was no different. You look over and you see your idol over there and it makes you want to play harder. . . . There is nothing like using what he taught you against him." Johnson said the two Michigan natives have been friends since Webber was in eighth or ninth grade. And of the most recent comments? "I want him to get pumped up," Johnson said. "I want my team pumped up, too."

The Lakers are guaranteed back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1974-75 and 1975-76. . . . The Lakers will commemorate the 10th anniversary of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becoming the NBA's all-time leading scorer with a halftime ceremony at Friday's game against Portland. Abdul-Jabbar passed another former Laker center, Wilt Chamberlain, on April 5, 1984.

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