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Lakers Denied Top Billing in Matinee : Pro basketball: Puzzled Harris criticizes lethargic Ceballos after 99-82 loss to the Jazz.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

That big ball about to drop, signalling the end of 1995? Imagine Karl Malone and John Stockton being able to palm it, and that’s about how things were for the Lakers on Saturday afternoon.

Now imagine Del Harris, the pitcher turned basketball coach, taking it and throwing up and in.

It was that kind of matinee for the Lakers at the Delta Center, where the Utah Jazz got 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists from Malone and 17 points and 16 assists from Stockton to win easily, 99-82, before 19,911.

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The kind where the Jazz led by 16 points in the third quarter and 23 in the fourth.

The kind where Harris ripped his leading scorer and rebounder, Cedric Ceballos.

The kind where Harris, only days removed from praising this as a team that had come together, talked of there being “too much individual, too much ego going on right now.”

Happy New Year!

In the end, despite the recent impressive three-game winning streak that included an alleged sighting of team defense and harmony, the Lakers could do nothing more than survive the stretch of 16 games in 11 different cities. Finishing with consecutive losses after trailing by at least 23 points in the second half of both tends to do that.

Now comes the flip side . . . they hope. Starting Tuesday against Philadelphia, the Lakers play 14 of the next 20 games at home, a number that unofficially is 16 of 20 considering the two visits to the Sports Arena. The next trip isn’t until Jan. 24; they have only four contests outside of Los Angeles County the next 7 1/2 weeks.

Not wanting his team to look at this as a break, Harris has issued them a challenge: Be in first place when the schedule turns back with that Feb. 22 trip. Today, they are third in the Pacific Division at 16-14, but only 3 1/2 games behind Sacramento and five behind Seattle heading into Saturday night’s schedule.

“I would like to have finished stronger,” Harris said after the Lakers shot 40.3%. “I would have liked to have done better. But we have had the toughest schedule in the league. And we are over .500 and we do have a most favorable schedule coming up. Probably the best schedule in the league between now and Feb. 22.

“It’s up to our team to make a decision where they want to go and where they want to be. . . . But only by foregoing ego and individual statistics and trying to become a unified team again, which is what made us strong last year.”

Ceballos has become a particular concern. If Harris was hardly thrilled to learn that he had questioned his fourth-quarter moves Thursday against San Antonio, he was even less pleased with Ceballos’ play against the Jazz--18 points, but eight in the garbage time of the final period.

“I would like to think his lack of effort and energy is related to the sore knee,” Harris said. “If it’s a sore head, that’s something else. That’s something he’ll have to deal with.”

Said Ceballos: “I don’t think it’s the knee. I just didn’t have the proper snap. I wasn’t energized.”

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Laker Notes

Derek Strong, in the latest of a string of good showings off the bench, had 16 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes. This came as Corie Blount was in Southern California for his grandmother’s funeral, although Strong had already replaced Blount as the first big man off the bench. . . . Cedric Ceballos, after the Lakers came from 25 down in the third quarter Thursday at the Forum to get within seven points of the Spurs before losing: “There were times we could have gotten back into the game, but we didn’t make the right substitutions.” Coach Del Harris, on Saturday: “Basically, Cedric has enough to do to play.” P.S.: Ceballos, clearly hampered by the sore knee, spent the first 5:26 of the fourth quarter on the bench before being substituted in. . . . Laker officials discussed re-signing Antonio Harvey, their former reserve power forward, but have decided to stay with Pig Miller, with whom they have a $550,000 investment for this season and still feel could become a contributor off the bench. Harvey, a Laker the previous two seasons before being claimed by Vancouver in the expansion draft, was cut by the Grizzlies on Thursday and cleared waivers Saturday, making him a free agent.


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