That was no Bull run Tuesday night at the Forum, and therein lies the rub. A team scores like Chicago did and shoots like Chicago did. . . . and suddenly it's not unusual?
"That's the thing that's my biggest concern," Laker Coach Del Harris said after watching the Bulls make 55.1% of their shots from the field and get 34 points, 13 rebounds and four steals from Scottie Pippen to win, 119-115, before a capacity crowd of 17,505.
"We just aren't as dedicated to defense as we need to be, to be a consistently good team."
It is all the more obvious because the Lakers of 1994-95, the ones who have become one of the success stories of the NBA, got their legs because of defense. The trapping, the pressing, the shot blocking.
And now to say they aren't dedicated to defense? What gives--besides the Lakers?
"Success probably hurts you some," Harris said. "Defense is not a lot of fun sometimes. Sam (Bowie, who went on the injured list) is one of our best defensive players, and not having him makes a difference. Everyone else has to step up.
"It's hard to say. The stats just show you that we are not as good of a defensive team in January as November and December. . . . Determination and desire create good defense. These are things we need to get back into our minds and our basketball hearts to be a good team. Good teams play good defense all the time."
Some rebound too. On this night, though, the Bulls pulled away from a 97-97 game thanks largely to their own scrapping. A tip-in by Corrie Blount broke the tie, and Pippen's baseline jumper on the next Chicago possession also came on a second-chance opportunity, making it 101-97 with 6:28 left.
When Nick Van Exel made one free throw for the Lakers, Steve Kerr answered for the Bulls with a three-point basket. Back to the inside--Blount, Van Exel's college teammate at Cincinnati by way of Monrovia High, with another successful tip. That was worth an 106-98 lead with five minutes to go.
Van Exel finished with 27 points and 16 assists against only one turnover. Blount got 11 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench, not to mention a victory.
And then there was the off-court action.
Before the game, the Lakers activated Threatt after he had spent 13 games on the injured list because of a stress fracture of his right foot--14 considering he only played two minutes the last outing before being sidelined--and put Bowie on the injured list because of a badly sprained right thumb.
To take his place, 36-year-old Kurt Rambis, retired since the end of last season, got a 10-day contract to switch from special assistant coach to reserve forward.
The latter transaction comes some two weeks after Bowie saw Rambis running the stairs inside the Forum to stay in shape, then joked that the popular member of four Laker championship teams was merely waiting for one of the big men to go down. Bad move. The injury-prone Bowie might as well have been standing under a ladder on Friday the 13th when he said it.
Threatt, before his injury the most consistent Laker in the eyes of Harris, had only one practice at full speed before returning to action.
Greeted with an ovation late in the opening quarter when he made his first appearance since Dec. 30, he played seven minutes as the Lakers built a 62-54 advantage heading into intermission behind 17 points from Cedric Ceballos and nine assists from Van Exel.
That cushion was gone by midway through the third quarter, the Bulls going up, 77-76.
When they finished the period with an 11-2 rally over the last 3:26, with the Lakers' only points coming on a pair of free throws, the lead was at 91-85 heading into the fourth.
Sam Bowie might be out as long as three or four weeks, but it could have been worse. Before X-rays showed his injured finger to be nothing more serious than a bad sprain, the reserve center could have been heading for an operation. Again. "It's not like that's something foreign to me," the oft-injured Bowie said. "I'm just glad surgery's not the direction this time. In the past, there was always some sort of hardware that needed to be inserted into my leg."
The available roster spot for Sedale Threatt came when the Lakers did not give Danny Young a second 10-day contract. Young's first contract ran out after Saturday's game at Seattle. . . . The Lakers went 9-4 without Threatt. . . . Kurt Rambis, letting the "real details" of his contract slip: "I signed a 15-year deal with a 14-year option. The only problem is, I get a buck and a half a year and that's deferred over the 14 years. I'm such a shrewd negotiator."
* The TimesLink on-line service has player bios, team history, the '94 season schedule and team notes supplied by the Lakers, as well as a collection of Times feature stories. Sign on and "jump" to keyword "Lakers."
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* ALL-STAR: Forward Cedric Ceballos became first Laker in three years to be named to All-Star team. C2