Magic makes ball disappear to ensure meeting with Jordan


INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Oh, boy.

Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy.

Magic and Michael. Michael and Magic.

The heart and soul of the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the bread and butter of the Chicago Bulls.

The Most Valuable Player vs. the Most Unbelievable Player.

The best playing at their best against the best.

And here's the best part. We get to watch (Channel 2's telethon on Sunday notwithstanding).

We get to watch the NBA Finals we've been waiting for. We get to watch the NBA Finals we've been hoping for. We get to watch the NBA Finals we deserve.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," Magic Johnson promised last night after directing, leading, urging, willing the Lakers to one more date in the championship arena. "It's going to be exciting for everybody."

If it is half as exciting as the way the Lakers got there, eliminating Portland, 91-90, on a play only Magic Johnson would have thought of, that will do just fine.

"I knew what to do with it," Johnson said of the way he grabbed the final rebound and flung it the length of the court as slowly, agonizingly and without much help from timekeeper Robin "Big Thumb" Mahkorn, the clock ran out on the Blazers for the last time.

He'll know what to do when he gets to Chicago Sunday, too. He'll know what to do when he steps out on the floor against Michael Jordan and the Bulls. What he'll do is have a ball.

"We have become really good friends and we're both happy now," Johnson said. "I think we both really looked forward to this day. You play Larry Bird in his high time and now Michael in his high time. He's the man of our league now. That's what you live for."

For a time, it appeared the Johnson-Jordan dream title matchup might never come. The Lakers appeared to be slipping in recent seasons while the Bulls looked very much like a team that might always come up just short of the Finals. Johnson, however, said he never looked at it that way.

"I thought they would be there sometime," he said. "They finally got over that hurdle of Detroit. You can't hold a team as good as that down."

The same thing could be said of the Lakers, of course. Under a new coach and with new players, they got off to a shaky start and never really got comfortable with each other or hit their stride until the playoffs arrived. But now, as they proved once more against Portland last night, the Lakers showed how they can come at you from almost any direction and how cannily they can adjust their play when they find themselves in trouble.

The key to last night's victory was how, after being outrebounded in all five of their previous playoff games with the Blazers, the Lakers regrouped and outmuscled the Trail Blazers underneath. They won the rebounding battle, thereby denying the Blazers those second, third and fourth shots that gave them such an easy win in Portland Tuesday night.

Sam Perkins, in particular, was brilliant as he neutralized Portland's Buck Williams on the boards. Perkins scored 26 points of his own to take up the slack left by James Worthy, whose ability to run wasn't hampered by his ankle injury but whose shooting touch clearly was.

Then there was the way A.C. "Point a Minute" Green, who is supposed to be out there to provide rebounding and defense himself, shocked the Trail Blazers, the Lakers and probably himself by scoring 16 points, including a three-pointer to cap an 11-1 run at the end of the first period.

Still, when the way they stumbled across the finish line is compared with the Bulls reaching the Finals by blowing off the Pistons in four straight, the Lakers are sure to be underdogs again. Which means they have the Bulls exactly where they want them.

"The thing about Chicago is they're very similar to the team we just played," said Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy. "Portland goes to Clyde Drexler one on one and Chicago goes to Michael a lot. This was a good warmup."

It was a warmup that could have ended disastrously if it hadn't been for that play only Johnson would have thought of at the end of the game. But as the ball rolled down the court and the clock ran out despite the best efforts of the timekeeper to keep the game going, there it was.

Lakers and Bulls in the Finals. Magic and Michael out there on the court together. The one we've been waiting for all this time.

Oh, boy.

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