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Lakers Knock the Super Out of Sonics : NBA playoffs: Ceballos, Van Exel and Divac lead 105-101 victory that gives L.A. 2-1 edge in series.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

. . . and back up again.

The unpredictable Lakers, only days ago doing a half gainer into the off-season, are back in control, one foot on a solid ledge and the other preparing to ascend the next peak, where the view gets even better. On a clear day, they can see potential.

For now, they only have eyes for Thursday night. That’s when they can close out the Seattle SuperSonics and win the first-round series, an opportunity the Lakers earned Monday night by taking a 2-1 lead with a 105-101 victory before a delirious 17,505 at the Forum.

Cedric Ceballos scored 24 points; Nick Van Exel had 23 points and zero turnovers while playing all 48 minutes for the second game in a row, and Vlade Divac got 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

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So, now the Lakers have the SuperSonics, upset losers a year ago to Denver in the opening round, on the ropes in a big way.

“Our whole season goes on Thursday night,” Seattle’s Nate McMillan said. “We gotta play, there’s no secret about it. If we don’t play Thursday, we go home. It’s as simple as that. They’ve outplayed us the last two games.”

Never was that more evident in Game 3 than at the start, when the Lakers sprinted to leads of 12-2 and 27-14. The 34-22 cushion at the end of the first quarter represented the most points the Lakers have scored in a period all series.

Quickly, the SuperSonics were rocked on their heels.

“I saw it, especially at the walk-through this morning, a lot of confidence in the guys,” Divac said.

Seattle Coach George Karl said: “We got shocked early. Our fight didn’t start until we got 15, 18 points down.”

That was still enough to create problems. The Laker lead was 44-26 with 8:45 left in the first half, when they went dead in the water, the SuperSonics responding with an 18-2 run to close within 46-44. L.A., 15 for 24 from the field just before that, went one for eight with two turnovers in those 5 1/2 minutes.

Then the pendulum swung back. It took four shots on the same possession, but Ceballos’ bank from the left flat finally got the Laker offense going again, the start of a 10-0 run that brought Seattle’s comeback to a halt, at least temporarily.

Even after Sam Perkins’ three-point shot at the first-half buzzer, the Laker lead was still 56-47 at halftime.

This, despite the fact that Karl, after his team scored 96 and 82 points while shooting a combined 39% in the first two games, changed the starting lineup, replacing Ervin Johnson at center with Perkins in hopes of better passing and general offensive production.

Perkins had played about twice as many minutes in the series so far--but it was only the third time all season that starting unit had been together.

“It gives them a little more offense and a little less defense,” Laker Coach Del Harris said before the game. “Well, it gives them a lot more offense, as a matter of fact.”

Perkins finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in 37 minutes, Johnson with two points and four rebounds in 11 minutes. Shawn Kemp scored a game-high 30 points for the SuperSonics.

The Lakers were up by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, the last time at 75-60 with 2:53 remaining, but didn’t go for the kill, and a 12-4 Seattle rally, capped by Perkins’ three-point shot with 2:42 left, narrowed the gap to 96-93.

It was still a four-point game, 98-94, with 1 1/2 minutes to go. One free throw by Divac made it 99-94 with 48 seconds left. And 24 seconds later, fouled by Kemp, Divac was back at the line, this time making both free throws for a five-point lead.

When Van Exel did the same with 13.3 seconds to go, the lead was 103-99. Those were the last of his nine points in the fourth quarter--helped by six-for-six shooting from the line--and the last of the SuperSonics.

“That’s Nick’s job,” said teammate Eddie Jones, a key contributor again with 12 points in 23 minutes off the bench. “He’s always been like that. Whatever is going down, he’s going to be in the middle of it.”

Said Van Exel: “We got on them pretty early. Then they stormed back and we held them off. Stormed back, held them off.”

Held them off for good?

“They surprised us, and that was probably the biggest disappointment,” Karl said. “Now we don’t worry about anything except winning Thursday.”

Laker Notes

If Denver beats San Antonio tonight, Game 4 of the Laker-SuperSonic series will begin at 8:30 p.m. If the Spurs win to close out that series, game time at the Forum will be 7:30.


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