With the Lakers' 48-win season and an opening-round upset of the Seattle SuperSonics in last season's NBA playoffs, it appeared that "Showtime" had returned to Los Angeles.
The Lakers boasted the Coach of the Year (Del Harris), Executive of the Year (Jerry West), an All-Rookie first-team player (Eddie Jones) and two of the league's most exciting young stars (Nick Van Exel and Cedric Ceballos).
But the first month of the 1995-96 season has been a struggle for Los Angeles, which needed Wednesday's win over the Phoenix Suns to reach the .500 mark. Before Wednesday, the Lakers had lost three consecutive one-point games, becoming only the second team in NBA history to do that (the 1986-87 Bulls were the other):
* Playing at home Nov. 21, the Lakers lost to the Portland Trail Blazers, 109-108, on James Robinson's three-pointer at the buzzer.
* On Nov. 24 the Lakers blew a 16-point second-half lead and lost to the Sacramento Kings, 99-98.
* The next night, leading Phoenix by 16 in the fourth quarter, and by nine with 56 seconds left, Los Angeles lost on Michael Finley's jumper at the buzzer.
The Lakers are talented but have not played smart. In the Phoenix loss, Van Exel, waiting to get fouled in the finals seconds, instead was tied up by Charles Barkley, forcing a jump ball that set up the winning shot by Finley. The Lakers had one timeout remaining, yet the five players on the court said they didn't realize it.
Harris was furious.
"Bill [Bertka, Lakers assistant coach] and I have been at it about 70 years," Harris said. "There wasn't, and there won't be, a time that our players won't know how many timeouts we have. . . . If people are saying they don't know, that's because they're not in the huddle. I will not accept that the information was not given."
The Lakers need a bigger contribution from Van Exel, who emerged as one of the league's top clutch shooters with his buzzer-beating heroics last season. This season Van Exel is averaging 13.0 points on 36.1 percent shooting, down from 16.9 points and 42.0 percent last season.
"I know I haven't been playing like Nick," Van Exel said. "It shows and it plays off to my teammates. I know I've got to pick it up."
Shawn Bradley got no respect from the Golden State Warriors after last Saturday's game.
The 7-foot-6, 248-pound Bradley, who was dealt from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Nets last night in the six-player trade involving New Jersey's Derrick Coleman, was scoreless in 23 minutes against the Warriors.
The previous night he played 20 minutes against the Detroit Pistons and grabbed no rebounds.
"Shawn Bradley's 7-6, but he's really not going to scare anybody," said Golden State forward Donyell Marshall, another first-round pick who hasn't made a name for himself, either.
The Warriors' Joe Smith, the former Maryland standout whose weight (220 pounds) is the only obstacle to his becoming a true star in the NBA, said he heard of Bradley's attempts to gain weight.
"I was guarding him one time, and I was saying, 'Good God,' " said Smith, who then struck a pose and flexed his right biceps. "I felt good. I didn't want to leave."
Around the league
How much do the Indiana Pacers miss center Rik Smits, recovering from surgery to remove bone chips in his left ankle? In two games before last night's meeting with Sacramento, the Pacers didn't record a blocked shot. . . .Rookie Tyus Edney has replaced Bobby Hurley as starting point guard for the Kings. . . . Los Angeles Clippers center Stanley Roberts, who has ruptured both Achilles' tendons in the past two years, sprained his ankle Tuesday when he landed on Hakeem Olajuwon's foot and collapsed. He left the locker room in a wheelchair. "He's 300 pounds and has a couple of little ligaments," said Houston Rockets team physician Bruce Moseley. "The ligaments lost this battle." Roberts was placed on the disabled list yesterday. . . . Miami Heat coach Pat Riley took offense to being called "Crisco Head," among other things, by Washington Bullets heckler/fan Robin Ficker. "Ficker, he's a joke," Riley said. "He's got something loose up there." . . . Overheard from Bullets forward Bob McCann, speaking to teammate Juwan Howard before a game at the Meadowlands Arena, site of the 1996 Final Four: "Hey, Juwan, you ever been to a Final Four?"
Quotes of the week
From Nigerian-born Nets center Yinka Dare:
* When asked about Thanksgiving: "It's just a meal, but they hype it up."
* When asked by teammate Jayson Williams if he had seen a story on Beirut: "You mean the great home-run hitter?"