The Lakers zoomed past another season landmark Friday night, though there was one little pothole.
But this is the road to respectability and beyond, another indication of which came before a Forum capacity crowd of 17,505 fans who nearly witnessed a nasty crash. But the Lakers, after wasting a 15-point lead with 6:57 to go and a six-point cushion with 38.4 seconds left, swerved just in time to rescue a 95-93 overtime victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Victory No. 34--the Lakers' fourth in a row and eighth in the last nine games--was especially significant because it surpassed last season's victory total, with 31 games remaining. If that wasn't enough, it allowed the Lakers to sweep the Hornets for the first time since 1990-91.
And if that wasn't enough. . . .
Elden Campbell, shooting only 34% in the five previous games since returning from an ankle injury, scored the winning basket on an eight-foot baseline jumper over Alonzo Mourning with 2.5 seconds left in the extra period. It served as the exclamation point to his 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Vlade Divac, in another in what is becoming a long line of standout performances, had 25 points, 24 rebounds, eight assists and four steals. That makes him the first Laker to record a 20-20 since doing it against the Clippers on Nov. 16, 1993.
The Lakers scored only 41 points in the first half, but they also got a club record: most three-pointers in a season. Needing two to break the mark of 309, they passed the 1989-90 team on Peeler's bomb from the left side with 5:13 remaining in the second quarter.
Three more three-pointers by Peeler in the third quarter, along with a pair of late putbacks by Divac, helped turn that 46-41 halftime deficit into a 68-57 advantage with 36 seconds to go in the third quarter. That was the end of a key 17-5 run that put the Lakers in control and sent Charlotte to an 11-point period, its lowest of the season.
For the Hornets, it got as bad as 78-63 with 6:58 to play. Then it got good.
What once was a 15-point lead for the Lakers was down to 79-74 with 4:26 left. That closed to 79-76 when Mourning, taking advantage of Divac playing the last 3:54 of regulation with five fouls, spun on the baseline for a reverse layup to make it a three-point game with 3:03 to go. It was a three-point game again after Del Curry's wide-open three-pointer with 36 seconds left made it 86-83.
The Lakers had the lead and the ball, but still weren't in the clear. When Hersey Hawkins intercepted Nick Van Exel's bad pass near midcourt on the ensuing possession, Larry Johnson converted that into another open three-pointer. This one, with 14.5 seconds left, forced overtime.
After starting 1994-95 as a special assistant coach and then being activated with a pair of 10-day contract when the injury epidemic hit the Lakers, veteran forward Kurt Rambis signed for the rest of the season Friday, one day shy of his 37th birthday. So, instead of playing for the Magic Johnson touring team, he again could be playing in the NBA post-season, depending on the future health of the team and the play of young power forwards Anthony Miller and Antonio Harvey in crunch time. "That's why I even considered coming back," Rambis said of again being part of an upbeat, playoff-like atmosphere. "Guys are laughing, guys are winning, guys are getting along. It's fun coming here again. I feel like I'm coming to be on a basketball team to play in a basketball game. It's not like going to the dentist." Like, say, last season? "That was worse than the dentist," Rambis said. "It was the proctologist." Rambis was averaging three points, 1.7 rebounds and 10.1 minutes in his 10 appearances. . . . Tony Smith missed his fourth game in a row because of a strained calf.
* ANOTHER LOSING HAND
The Clippers change their starting lineup for the third time in as many games, but their luck remains the same as they lose their 45th game, 118-106, to the Phoenix Suns. C4