INGLEWOOD, CALIF. HHC BLB — INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The healing process has begun for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Only three days removed from Magic Johnson's stunning revelation that he has the AIDS virus and was retiring from the game, the Lakers managed to focus their attention on the court long enough yesterday to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 96-86, before 16,833 at the Forum.
The Lakers have some healing left to do, but this effort was light years away from the emotional whirlwind they underwent in a Friday night loss at Phoenix.
General manager Jerry West did not want a repeat performance in the Lakers' first game at the Forum since Johnson's announcement.
"I talked to them this morning for about 15 minutes and impressed upon them the importance of us trying to be a professional basketball team. 'Let's don't feel sorry for ourselves. Let's feel sorry for Earvin Johnson,' " West told them.
"These people are professionals. I think they were wounded by this," West said. "Our coaching staff, I don't think there is any question they were affected by it. And management, that's obvious. But we all have a job to do, and we have to do it to the best of our abilities."
Basically, everything that didn't happen in a wasted exercise in Phoenix happened at the Forum.
* Newly designated starting point guard Sedale Threatt, who had three points and two assists against the Suns, had 27 points and 14 assists against the Wolves.
* James Worthy, who missed his first nine shots two nights before, sank his first two shots and finished with a Magic-like line of 12 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
VTC * Byron Scott, visibly shaken throughout Friday's contest, composed himself and poured in 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting.
In sum, it was a typical Lakers rout at the Forum. The play that said it best came in the second period when Threatt looked up and saw both Worthy and Scott streaking unattended down the court. The Lakers' new point guard lofted a pass high in their direction and Scott took it in for a two-handed dunk.
"I'm probably fresher today than I've been in a while, since he's been out," Scott said. "I've been wondering how he was, and hoping that it didn't come down to this, but I'm probably fresher today because I realize that you've got to have your whole body . . .
"The only part of Earvin that has been taken away is his basketball. The only part of us that has been taken away is that we enjoyed him and we loved him as a person. The rest is still here, because he's still around."
Actually, Johnson's body was elsewhere, on a short vacation with his wife, but his spirit was with his teammates, coaches and fans. Worthy spoke to the Forum crowd at midcourt before the tip-off and promised the fans the team would go on as Johnson wants them to. Then he read an open letter from Johnson:
"I can't begin to tell you how much strength my family and I are getting from the tremendous support we've received from the media, from fans in Los Angeles and from so many people everywhere.
". . . I want to tell you that this is the first day of the rest of our lives. I say this to you fans because we, the Lakers, need your support more than ever before. I say this to all of my teammates because, starting now, it's winnin' time. And I'm saying it to myself, because I have an important battle to fight -- and in this battle you all are my teammates."
They were words the Lakers plan to heed.
"It's very important to us that we continue to play, continue to have the same attitude, and continue to win," Worthy told the crowd. "He's been so courageous this past week. It's only fair that we give him in return the same kind of courage, faith, confidence and support."