This was supposed to be part of the Lakers' warmup for the five-game stretch that starts Sunday, the one that drops the Orlando Magic and Seattle SuperSonics in their laps twice. Portland, Golden State and Milwaukee were to be momentum builders for the Lakers, a team that had plenty to begin with.
So welcome to their catapult:
Trail Blazers 105, Lakers 99.
Using a 15-4 run over the final 3:39, and a couple of critical offensive rebounds, Portland won Tuesday night before 16,971 at the Forum and might have caught the Lakers looking into the distance. As if a 7-foot-3 Lithuanian is easy to miss.
"Basically, we played an uninspired game," Laker Coach Del Harris said. "We really didn't have the effort and energy it takes to win an NBA game."
The Trail Blazers came in as the NBA's third-best rebounding team by percentage, and tops on the defensive boards, but it wasn't until 1:18 remained that they got their first second-chance basket of the fourth quarter. Then they made up for it.
Clifford Robinson's missed three-point shot became an offensive rebound for Arvydas Sabonis, followed immediately by a foul. He made both free throws with 78 seconds left, giving Portland a 100-97 lead.
One possession later, Harvey Grant missed a jumper from the right side, but Sabonis was there again, this time going right back up for the basket with 41.5 seconds to go, capping a 10-0 run and giving him 25 points and six rebounds for the night. It was 102-97, and the Lakers, who at one point had a 95-90 advantage, were done.
Big man. Big rebounds.
"As big as it gets," Coach P.J. Carlesimo said after the Trail Blazers won their third in a row, the last two over the Pacers and the Lakers. "We were getting [defensive] stops, so it's not like things wouldn't have worked out anyway. But it gave us the cushion."
Cedric Ceballos helped a little bit with that cushion, albeit early in the game. He came in having made 59.8% of his shots the previous 11 games for the Lakers, pushing his season mark up to 53.9% and back into the top 10 in the league, and he didn't slow down for the Trail Blazers' sake. He went seven of nine for 15 points the first quarter, getting open inside with regularity, as usual.
He was headed for a great first half, with only three misses in 11 attempts and 17 points in all. Then came the final 2.8 seconds.
First, he traveled. A half-second later, even though the Lakers were out of fouls, he committed one near midcourt just after the Trail Blazers had thrown the ball in, sending Robinson to the line with 2.3 showing. Robinson made both free throws.
Even then, the Lakers couldn't escape to the locker room with a one-point advantage. The final blow was left to Magic Johnson, turnover prone of late and at this moment throwing the entry pass away from under the basket after the free throws. Rod Strickland turned that into a straightaway three-point basket at the buzzer and a 57-55 gift lead for Portland.
The Trail Blazers, getting their sixth victory in their last eight visits to the Forum, had scored seven points in the final 23 seconds of the half and five in the last 2.3.
"We had a comedy of errors the last 35 seconds," Harris said. "That hurt us a lot."
The three-point cushion it provided at intermission also held up through the end of the third quarter, an 82-79 lead for the visitors.
It was one the Lakers could not overcome, falling for only the fifth time in the last 26 games. It came despite 26 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks from Elden Campbell, all game highs, and 23 points on 11-of-18 shooting from Ceballos.
This marked only the second time in Campbell's career that he had at least five blocks in three consecutive outings, the other time coming in 1991-92.
The statistics weren't all positive. The Lakers made only three of 19 three-point attempts. Eddie Jones missed all eight from long distance.
"I am upset," Johnson said. "The way we had the lead, and we were playing well. But it all just went up from there."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Tracking Magic Johnson's comeback
Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ast. 28 1-6 (.167) 2-2 (1.000) 5 5 8
Min. FG% FT% Pts. Reb. Ast. 26.2 .466 .802 13.4 5.6 6.9
Min. FG% FT% Pts. Reb. Ast. 36.9 .521 .848 19.7 7.3 11.4
Career averages before comeback
LAKERS BEFORE MAGIC: 24-18 (.571)
LAKERS WITH MAGIC: 14-4 (.778)