The Lakers bagged more big prey Wednesday night, though maybe this one shouldn't be so startling, not when the catch is the Seattle Not-So-SuperSonics.
More than going 3-0 against Seattle with that 102-96 victory before 14,936 at the Forum, more than becoming the first team to beat the SuperSonics three times in a season since the San Antonio Spurs of 1992-93, more than improving to a season-high 14 games over .500, the Lakers delivered a loud message to the opposition.
"When they were sweeping us last year, all that trash talking they did, that motivated us," said George Lynch, who took advantage of his ninth start to contribute 14 points and seven rebounds. "We want to beat them bad."
Said Nick Van Exel: "Every time they beat us last year, they rubbed it in our faces. Things change."
A lot of things change.
"They're good; I think they're legit," Seattle Coach George Karl said after the SuperSonics' had their franchise-record 10-game road wining streak broken. "We have them in a week. We better find some answers."
The SuperSonics started to in the fourth quarter of this game, but it was too late. They cut what was an 87-72 Laker lead to six points at 96-90 with 4:29 to play, but couldn't move in for the kill.
The Lakers--who have defeated San Antonio and Seattle in the last two outings to increase their winning streak to four--regained control for good about two minutes later. That's when Lynch grabbed Vlade Divac's missed shot and, practically standing with his back to the basket while in the lane, was fouled by Shawn Kemp and tossed the ball in.
The basket and free throw put the Lakers ahead, 100-91, with 2:35 remaining. It was also the sixth foul for the all-star power forward, after he had collected 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Campbell should eventually return as the starting power forward, but, after sitting out five games because of a sprained ankle, he did not immediately move back into the spot. Antonio Harvey, who started again at that position, has averaged only 17.2 minutes as a starter in the five previous outings.
The availability of Tony Smith keeps things even more up in the air. After starting the three games before Wednesday at shooting guard, he did not suit up against the SuperSonics because of back spasms and his status tonight at Sacramento will be decided at game time. The ripple effect was Eddie Jones returning to the backcourt and Lynch taking what had becomes Jones' temporary home at small forward.
Clearly wanting to keep the few available bodies fresh, Coach Del Harris used all 10 available players by late in the second quarter.
Upon further review, Eddie Jones would still rather have had the weekend off to rest and--finally--heal his bruised left hip that has been lingering since the first week of January. But his trip to Phoenix wasn't all bad, especially after he earned MVP honors in the rookie all-star game. "I still feel the same," the Laker shooting guard said. "Winning the award was great. All that stuff is good. But the award won't mean anything until we have the accomplishments to go with it--like being the playoff-bound Lakers. If we go far in the playoffs, then I will enjoy that award more." Jones said his hip is nearly 100%. The Lakers' other participant in Phoenix, Antonio Harvey, said he had a good time, despite not advancing out of the first round in the slam-dunk competition. The second-year forward probably would have fared better had he been successful with a running 360, but he missed when, instead of going straight down the middle, he veered a bit to the right and lost his place. "You really have to know where you are on the court for something like that," Harvey said. Chipped in Tony Smith, sitting nearby: "Yeah, that would be a good idea." Teammates say Harvey makes that dunk with regularity, along with one he was saving for the future rounds that never came: sprinting toward the basket and then taking off at the free-throw line.