It's legs, not jump shots, that Lakers are missing

MIKE LITTWIN

June 11, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

There are many mysteries in the world, not the least of them the location of Ted Kennedy's pants, but few match up to Byron Scott and the case of the missing jump shot.

When I say missing, I mean missing.

Missing is the only kind of jump shot he has these days, which is too bad because Byron Scott is supposed to be what they call in basketball a shooting guard. This is especially important in Scott's case because, as you know if you've watched him play, he is not a dribbling guard or a passing guard. His is a specialty occupation, like muffler repair. You don't want that guy taking out your tonsils.

So, Scott is a shooting guard whose shots always miss -- he went 115 minutes between baskets -- and the Lakers are losing big-time, meaning it's Scott's fault.

Right?

Wrong.

For those of us who picked the Lakers to beat the Bulls and who figured that Scott's not-exactly-reliable jumper was the key variable, it would be easy enough to say that Scott is the difference.

The difference, though, is not Scott's absent jumper. And it's not James Worthy's ankle. And it's not Sam Perkins' trying to make like Karl Malone.

The difference is young legs. Those of you who have young legs probably take them for granted, like, say, thick hair or thin hTC waistlines. Others of us remember our legs each time we climb a flight of stairs. Watch the Lakers-Bulls series for five minutes, and you can see which team looks like it needs an elevator. A hint: The other guys have the Human Elevator.

Even those who picked the Bulls thought this was going to be a great series. Remember all the Magic-Michael hype? You figured just seeing those guys on the floor at the same time was something you'd want to keep on videotape. The ratings would, like Michael himself, go right through the roof.

But they're going nowhere in a hurry. It looks now as if the Bulls, leading three to one, will wrap this thing up tomorrow, sweeping three in L.A., right in front of God and Jack and who knows how many movie producers.

OK, if Scott hits any shots in Game 3, the series is 2-2, but that's not the point. If Perkins misses the three in Game 1, the series is already over, but that's not the point either. The point is that young Michael Jordan and young Scottie Pippen have made Magic look so old, so weary, as if all 12 NBA seasons caught up to him this week. It's not as if Magic isn't playing great; he is. But he doesn't look great, and he doesn't look happy. What he looks like is someone who needs a nap.

And for the ultimate team player, there's hardly any team left. Worthy and Scott (for you irony fans: Scott injured the shoulder connected to his shooting arm) are doubtful for Game 5, and it probably wouldn't matter if they dragged themselves out. Maybe they could squeeze out one win. But not two. Certainly not three.

You've watched them. You've seen what everyone has seen: The Lakers can't score, and they can't stop the Bulls. They get caught in situations where Perkins, who was shooting 59 percent in the playoffs, goes 1-for-15 because somebody has to take the shots. On the defensive end, the Lakers leave John Paxson in open spaces of the court and Horace Grant alone under the basket.

This is the Lakers?

"I'm beyond disappointment," Magic told reporters after Game 4. "I'm . . . I don't know what I am. It's disbelief."

Magic thought it was going to be great. "Me and Michael," he kept saying. It was supposed to be Magic and Michael, but it turned out that it didn't matter which team had which superstar, although Jordan must have sold a couple million shoes on one fantastic move in Game 2 alone. It was the other guys. It was which team had the fresh legs.

Run the tape. Find any loose ball. Find a Bull with it wrapped in his arms. Find a Bull leaping over a celeb in the courtside seat to save the ball from going out of bounds. Find a group of Bulls surrounding every open Laker.

What do we make of these Bulls? How good are they? If the Bulls can beat the Lakers, why couldn't the Trail Blazers, who are just as fast as the Bulls and probably a little stronger? Did Portland soften up the Lakers for Chicago in much the way that Ali wore down Frazier before his fight with George Foreman?

I don't think so. The Blazers played dumb basketball. Too often they were out of control, trying to take more than what the Lakers would give them. And defensively, they gave up too much at too many positions. If you take the Lakers and Bulls position by position, the Lakers also match up well. They have guys the Bulls can't guard individually, which is what happened in Game 1. Since that time, the much quicker Bulls have smothered the Lakers (although cleanly; there hasn't been a cheap shot in the entire series).

Of course, the fact that Worthy can't post up the way he would ordinarily because of the ankle is certainly a factor. And when you take Worthy out of the picture, you ask too much from Perkins. And when Perkins and Worthy aren't drawing double-teams, Scott isn't getting open jumpers, as he did against Portland. But if everyone were healthy, I don't think now it would have been enough.

The Lakers aren't getting anything. I'll defer to Magic on this: "We can't make anything. We can't generate anything."

And so goes what might have been a great series.

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