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Divac Gets Laker Pep Talk Then Silences the Hornets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nick Van Exel gave the crowd a piece of his mind. Vlade Divac got the doubters off his back. The Lakers survived a serious gut check.

But that was no advanced anatomy lesson Monday night, merely a 108-102 victory over the Charlotte Hornets before 23,698 at Charlotte Coliseum as Cedric Ceballos had 26 points and 10 rebounds and Van Exel added 26 points and nine assists.

Merely a 108-102 victory?

Hardly.

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“We needed this game bad,” Van Exel said.

For a couple of reasons. A loss would have sent the Lakers back to Los Angeles with a 1-3 record on the trip, after having gone 3-1 on the two previous Eastern swings. And another bad showing by Divac, he of the seven rebounds and two blocked shots in 72 minutes the previous three games, would have had teammates hiding the sharp objects on the late-night charter flight home.

All Divac had done on the trip heading into the finale was trip, and that was against LaSalle Thompson and Dale Davis in Indiana, Eric Montross and Pervis Ellison in Boston and Sharone Wright and Shawn Bradley in Philadelphia, earning a benching for all of the fourth quarter and overtime against the 76ers. All this before he had even walked into the lion’s den--where Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson waited.

Opting against sending out for rosary beads, Coach Del Harris instead used part of his afternoon to give Divac a pep talk, before and after the shoot-around.

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Come Monday’s game, he was rebounding well, but his shooting touch was still absent. Until it mattered most, that is.

Only three of eight from the field, and with the Lakers holding a 94-93 lead, Divac made a 20-footer from the right flat. The next possession, after Eddie Jones got the ball back for the Lakers by intercepting Hersey Hawkins’ attempted lob into the post, Divac went inside. He got fouled by Mourning while cutting across the lane, then made the basket for an eventual three-point play.

Suddenly, with 5:03 remaining, Divac had provided the Lakers with the only breathing room they would need the rest of the way, 99-93. He helped seal the victory soon after by getting three defensive rebounds in the final 2 1/2 minutes, including the last two of the game, and kept an offensive possession alive when he tipped Van Exel’s missed three-point shot back out to Jones.

“Vlade joined the ranks of the living again here today,” Harris said. “We’re happy to have him back.”

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Said Divac, who finished with 15 boards and 11 points in 35 minutes: “The most important were the last two rebounds, to keep our position.

If the Hornets, who had their club-record 13-game home winning streak broken, had their hands full late with Divac, the Van Exel-vs.-crowd showdown was a mismatch.

Still sore that travel complications forced Van Exel to cancel two pre-draft workouts with Charlotte in the summer of ’93, the fans booed him loudly during pregame introductions, just like last season. And when he missed a free throw with the Lakers holding a 105-102 edge, some fans behind the bench were on him hard as he came back to the huddle when the Hornets called a timeout.

The final word came when the Hornets had called another timeout, after Tony Smith made a pair from the line to give the Lakers their final 108-102 margin. Just before taking his seat, Van Exel looked into the crowd behind the bench and shouted “Shut up!”

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“I was pumped,” he said later. “I thought I was Reggie Miller. They all looked like Spike Lee to me.”

By the end of the night, what they all looked like was disappointed.


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