Orlando's Anthony Bowie was in Chick Hearn's popcorn machine and going back for extra butter, back-pedaling into the lane to defend the basket while being turned around and around by a hard-charging Nick Van Exel. The game was only on the line.
Van Exel could have gone the final few feet to the basket. Or he could have merely tried to draw contact and get a pair of free throws with a couple seconds left and the Lakers down by a point.
Who had "neither" in the office pool?
Instead, Van Exel dribbled out to the perimeter and hoisted a last-second 18-footer that didn't come close, allowing the Magic to escape with a 98-97 victory before 17,505 Sunday night at the Forum.
"For a point guard," Van Exel said not long after, "it was a dumb decision. I should have known better."
He did by then, but that was after the Magic had avoided a 1-3 trip and the Lakers had lost for the second time in the past four games, a major slump by their recent standards.
"I [messed] up," Van Exel said. "You don't even have to ask me."
Perhaps adding to his disappointment, it came on a gift play, a turnover that came when a pass from Penny Hardaway bounced off the side of Bowie's hand on the left perimeter at the other end of the court. So, with about eight seconds left, the Lakers were down by a point and suddenly in control as Elden Campbell picked up the loose ball and got it to Van Exel.
On a night in which he would finish with 22 points, tying Campbell for team-high honors, Van Exel raced downcourt. Bowie tried to stay between him and the basket, but Van Exel's moves had him spinning around and off balance.
There were about four seconds left by the time Van Exel had gotten deep into the lane, about six feet from the basket. It was decision time.
"When you've got the ball, you do what you feel," Laker Coach Del Harris said. "It's a feel thing. We couldn't have asked for a better situation. Seven, eight times out of 10, we come out on top."
Welcome to one of the two or three other times.
Van Exel suddenly veered left. He didn't stop until he got out near the three-point line, and only about two seconds remained by then. He turned and fired, and missed.
"Was I surprised?" Bowie said. "I don't know if I was surprised. But I sure was happy."
Said Van Exel: "I panicked a little bit. Time went by quickly."
Until the clock hit 0:00. Then the Magic celebrated, capping a night that had already been filled with good and bad: Horace Grant returned after sitting out two previous games because of a sprained wrist and Dennis Scott made five three-point shots to tie John Starks for the NBA's single-season record at 217, but Orlando lost Nick Anderson after only six minutes when a collision with Van Exel resulted in a bruised shoulder.
Grant played 43 of the 48 minutes, finishing with 26 points and 17 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. Shaquille O'Neal added 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven of the Magic's 20 turnovers.
Two days after pronouncing himself almost fully recovered from a pair of nagging injuries to his right leg, Magic Johnson strained his calf again in the second quarter. He returned and ended up playing 33 minutes, including 21 in the second half, but he will undergo an MRI test today. . . . When Vlade Divac was called for a technical foul with 9:43 left and the Lakers ahead by a point, Coach Del Harris erupted, screaming at Divac on the sidelines. Harris yanked Elden Campbell up from a chair by his shoulder to replace Divac. "He [Dennis Scott] missed the technical, so it ended up being of no real consequence," Harris said. "But I didn't like it, obviously."
The nine blocked shots by Campbell on Thursday at Golden State may have been a career high, but it wasn't even close to the Laker record. Elmore Smith had 17, the all-time NBA mark, on Oct. 28, 1973. Smith had 11 in the first half. Campbell's total was, however, the most for a Laker in more than 14 years, since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 10 on Jan. 22, 1982, and Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shawn Bradley are the only players in the league to have more than nine this season. . . . Milwaukee Coach Mike Dunleavy, after the Bucks' loss at the Forum on Friday, had had this to say about an older, heavier Magic Johnson:, "He's not anywhere near as good a player as he was four years ago physically, but mentally he's 100%. He's lost speed and quickness, but he's still plenty quick off the dribble. As a point guard, he's obviously not as quick, but he is still mobile enough to beat guys in the low post." Dunleavy was Johnson's coach in 1991-92.
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Magic Marker: Tracking Magic Johnson's comeback
Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ast. 33 4-11 (.364) 1-1 (1.000) 10 4 5 SEASON AVERAGES Min. FG% FT% Pts. Reb. Ast. 26.8 .477 .819 14.0 5.2 6.8 CAREER AVERAGES 36.9 .521 .848 19.7 7.3 11.4
Career averages before comeback
LAKERS BEFORE MAGIC 24-18 (.571)
LAKERS WITH MAGIC 16-5 (.762)