Laker guard Eddie Jones has spent the last two games in sort of a final countdown toward reaching 100%. Picture a fighter jet speeding down the runway just before takeoff.
He never seemed to lose the ability to dart to the basket during those 6 1/2 weeks on the sidelines because of the torn thumb ligament. Defense never has been a problem. His legs are almost in complete game shape.
But it was not until the last two outings that Jones' game has looked complete. Wednesday at Houston and again Friday night at the Forum, during the Lakers' 120-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors before 12,982, he showed consistency from long range, previously the missing piece to his offense.
He scored 27 points, tying teammate Sedale Threatt for game-high honors, and made 10 of 15 shots, including three of five on three-point tries, in a season-high 35 minutes. This after going three of six from behind the line at the Summit, a two-game showing that should again force teams to cover Jones tighter outside and provide him a better chance to drive past the defender.
"It was a matter of time," said Jones, who also had 11 assists. "You just can't come right back and play great games. There's just one Michael Jordan.
"It's coming," Jones said. "It's almost there. The last two games, I've felt very comfortable."
The sore right knee that made Vlade Divac so uncomfortable that he had to sit out was something of a rarity--take away the herniated disk and subsequent back surgery that cost him 44 games in 1991-92 and this was only the fifth contest he had missed in the other five-plus seasons. Not so unusual was the Lakers playing short-handed.
They had 10 players for the opener of the brief home stand with Toronto and Detroit, a chance to get healthy in other ways just after losing consecutive games at San Antonio and Houston by 28 and 13 points and just before heading back on the road for six more. Divac and Anthony Peeler mean about 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, but their absences presented other opportunities.
With Divac day-to-day, Corie Blount went into the starting lineup for the first time as a Laker and the 18th time in his two-plus seasons as a pro, a start at power forward that moved Elden Campbell to center. Having already taken advantage of the off-season trade that brought him from Chicago by dominating the minutes as the first big man off the bench, Blount stepped up again by grabbing eight rebounds in 30 minutes.
Peeler's sore foot, meanwhile, allowed Jones, his explosiveness clearly intact, to continue to get significant playing time to shake the rust from his outside game. He went 31 minutes at Houston, a season high after missing the first 11 outings because of the thumb injury, then upped that again Friday.
"He's not there," Coach Del Harris said of Jones. "He is getting to the point of being very good. But when he's right, he's outstanding."
No one capitalized more than Threatt, the backup at both guard spots again since Peeler went out, and averaging 15.3 points and 31 minutes in those four games. This was his first real scoring outburst, getting 17 points in 18 minutes the first half alone.
No matter the lineup, though, these remained the same Lakers. The big lead, then the big fall.
They needed only 10:50 to build a 20-point advantage, 35-15, and nearly lost it almost as quickly. The Raptors were within six late in the second quarter, fell back by 11 heading into halftime, and climbed again, getting as close as 69-65 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Then, just like that, they were gone. Going without a basket for 5:29 can do that and the Lakers used a 17-2 run late in the quarter to make it 90-72 heading into the fourth.
"We showed the ability to come back," Raptor guard Alvin Robertson said. "We showed that we can play against teams that are good. But we have to play 48 minutes and we're not doing that."