LAKERS BREEZE : PROBLEMS ALL FORGOTTEN LAKERS 113, DALLAS 95.
With one forearm shiver, followed by one shoulder bump, they have redefined the concept of a playoff push.
If not commendable, it's certainly clicking for the Lakers - even when some of their best players aren't allowed to work.
Forced to play without the suspended Nick Van Exel and Magic Johnson, and the seemingly absent Vlade Divac, the Lakers forged on Tuesday as they have throughout this tumultuous but successful season, scoring a 113-95 rout of the Dallas Mavericks at Reunion Arena.
Even with all that talent missing, and with no one but Eddie Jones to back up point guard Sedale Threatt, victory came with little trouble for the team that has already clinched homecourt advantage in the first round against Houston.
``It's nice when you win on the road without Magic, without Nick and without Vlade - get it?'' Lakers coach Del Harris exclaimed, the latter portion of his analysis a thinly veiled dig at Divac's off night. ``We're counting on Vlade to show up later on in the Texas trip.''
That would be Thursday at San Antonio. Divac really wasn't needed here, with several other non-suspended Lakers abusing the hapless Mavericks.
To improve to 4-0 since Van Exel was banned for shoving referee Ron Garretson, and 1-0 with Johnson out for bumping referee Scott Foster, the Lakers (51-28) relied on Jones (22 points), Cedric Ceballos (23) and Elden Campbell (18 points, nine rebounds, nine assists).
L.A. is now 6-0 when Johnson is unavailable - though the five previous occasions were injury-related - despite Divac's apparent indifference (eight points, seven rebounds and five fouls in 25 minutes).
``I'd rather be in the third spot,'' said Ceballos, not satisfied that the Lakers, who still have an outside chance of passing No. 3 Utah, will get Games 1, 2 and 5 against the Rockets at the Forum in the first round.
``It doesn't matter who we play. I don't think we should run away from anybody. If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best.''
Since the chuck-it-up Mavericks (24-55) are far from the league's elite, Harris tried to maintain some perspective after his club built a 15-point lead in the first quarter and then built it back up after letting Dallas claw within 40-38.
``Play the next game and win the championship - that's the only two goals we have,'' he said.
So loyal to that credo, Harris wouldn't even let Campbell chase a triple-double. The coach pulled his low-block horse with 2:22 to play, with Campbell stuck on those nine boards and a career-high nine assists.
``I got on George (Lynch) a little bit because he missed a couple layups,'' said Campbell, who maintains his improved passing is really just a byproduct of better shooting from those on the catching end.
Jones quipped: ``Elden can pass. He just doesn't believe he can pass.''
That's OK. As long as the Lakers don't abandon long-range hope, as long as they don't fold before the playoffs even start, the embarrassed Johnson and on-edge Harris will be satisfied.
``We're going to be fine,'' Johnson said at Tuesday morning's shootaround before figuring out where - team hotel, a friend's house, a sports bar - to watch this victory. ``We've got a good team, a real good team.
``I think (morale) is great. They see now I'm one of them, that I'm not too big to say I'm sorry or that I'm messed up.''
Harris said: ``I haven't, in all honesty, enjoyed this season much. There's just been too many (distractions). And, yet, it will probably going down as my most interesting season. We'll see how it all works out.
``But fun, that's not exactly a word that fits into it.''
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Apr 17, 1996|
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