76ers-Lakers matchup is shadow of former rivalry

December 19, 1993|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA -- The Los Angeles Lakers, it was alleged, were in town Friday night.

But there was no Kareem, no majestic sky hook spooling out. There was no Earvin making Magic.

There was no moussed-up, GQ-slick Pat Riley whip-cracking at courtside, no break-neck Showtime.

There was someone masquerading as James Worthy, but he began the evening seated, and when he did get in the game that pretty pirouette along the baseline that used to paralyze defenders seemed several revolutions slower than you remember, though that quick-release jump shot still lives.

But then a lot has changed, and little of it for the better, for both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Lakers.

Wasn't it just yesterday that these two franchises, along with the Celtics, were the "creme de la creme" of professional hoops?

Now they are down with the dregs of the league. The Sixers and Lakers came into Friday's game each an unthinkable six games below .500.

There were, understandably, seats available, and that in itself was a mocking reminder of how things have deteriorated.

PTC Presumably there will be a day in the misty future when ticket stubs from Friday night will have some value beyond trivia or nostalgia. For this was, supposedly, the last visit to the Spectrum by the Lakers.

The Sixers, as you may have heard, are headed for the Camden waterfront, although that is a horse that is being galloped before it has been completely saddled.

The governor-elect of New Jersey was making threatening noises yesterday about calling for a referendum on the Sixers' relocation. If that is put to a vote, wary taxpayers would likely snuff it.

The Lakers, who were pirated away from Minneapolis some winters back, must be the only team in captivity starting two left-handed guards. That would be Anthony Peeler, a second-year player from Missouri, and Nick Van Exel, the feisty Cincinnati rookie.

Van Exel looks to be a keeper, although he tends to over-dribble.

Van Exel has bark, too. He banked in a running jumper over Shawn Bradley, then lingered to woof at Matchstick Man, a delayed reaction to an earlier forearm to the face that hadn't been called.

Inside, the Lakers tried to keep at least two of the tall trio of Elden Campbell, Vlade Divac and Sam Bowie on the court at the same time so that Clarence Weatherspoon was always forced to guard someone half a foot larger.

Weatherspoon's response was to take it out on the Lakers on offense, driving past taller but slower defenders along the baseline, and then stuffing with two-handed vengeance.

The only combatant in Friday night's game besides Worthy who remembers the elegant ferocity with which the Lakers and Sixers used to do battle is Moses Malone.

In a sequence that looked as if it came straight from the videotape archives of the 1983 NBA Finals, Malone kept rebounding his own misses while Lakers stood, impotently frozen. He seized three offensive rebounds in a row, mis-fired twice (you always wondered if he didn't do that intentionally, to fatten his stats) and then shot two free throws.

The Sixers were supposed to own the fresher legs, having had the previous night off while the Lakers were in New York in the midst of one of those wearying trips on the other side of the continent. But it was Los Angeles that seemed to want to push the pace, although the Lakers' accelerator is but a shadow of the marvelous mechanism it used to be.

Fatigue overtook the Lakers in the third quarter and they began to settle for perimeter shooting, and the Sixers got some lively help off the bench from a spirited, driving Orlando Woolridge, himself once a Laker.

But then the NBA is awash these days in players who once were in the employ of L.A. And Philadelphia.

The Lakers, like the Sixers, are going through bodies at a frenzied clip in their futile efforts to recapture the sweet used-to-be.

The Sixers, for the first time this season, have won two in a row and consider it worthy of celebration.

The Lakers have 15 losses after Friday night, and you can count the teams with more defeats than that on one hand.

There was a time when that was unthinkable.

Those were the days, my friend.

We thought they'd never end.

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