Like a good long-distance runner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar senses the end of a long haul and is gathering himself for a strong finish.
Abdul-Jabbar, playing one of his best games of the season, scored 22 points Wednesday night to lift the Los Angeles Lakers over the Portland Trail Blazers 116-108 and complete a sweep of their opening playoff series.
Unlike most of the season, Abdul-Jabbar used his famous sky hook to near-perfection in lifting the Lakers to a 3-0 sweep of their opening-round playoff series with Portland."Kareem had one of the best games he's had in a long time," Lakers Coach Pat Riley said. "They single-covered him and when the opportunity came he had the hook working."
Abdul-Jabbar, 42, has announced his retirement when the season ends.
In other games Wednesday night, the Houston Rockets staved off elimination with a 126-107 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics and the Chicago Bulls took a 2-1 lead on Cleveland with a 101-94 victory over the visiting Cavaliers.
Trailing 2-1, Houston will host Seattle in Game 4 Friday. Cleveland will try to even its series Friday in Chicago.
Byron Scott had 25 points and James Worthy 24 for the Lakers. The two-time defending champions will face the winner of the Seattle-Houston series in the second round.
Terry Porter led the Trail Blazers with 29 points, 24 in the first half, and Clyde Drexler added 25.
Asked if there was anything the Blazers could have done to win the series, Portland Coach Rick Adelman said, "I guess not. They took us three times in a row. They kind of took over the game."
Early on, the Lakers ran their fastbreak to near perfection. Worthy scored the first 8 Laker points and 10 of the first 12 to give Los Angeles a 12-4 lead. But Portland rallied and Terry Porter hit a 3-point basket to cut the Lakers' lead to 23-22.
The Blazers shot 41 percent in the first period, then found their touch in the second. They produced one of their best quarters of the season, outscoring the Lakers 32-22.
The Lakers wasted little time in the third quarter to take command. When Scott hit a 3-pointer at 8:21 of the third quarter, the Lakers had their first lead, 64-62, since early in the second period. Six minutes later, Scott connected on two free throws to push the Los Angeles lead to 80-70.
The Lakers had their largest lead at 99-85 and 107-93. The Blazers did not come closer than 8 thereafter, and the Lakers were assured their sixth consecutive first-round playoff sweep.
Rockets 126, SuperSonics 107
At Houston, Eric Floyd scored 28 points and Akeem Olajuwon grabbed 18 rebounds to fuel the Rockets.
Otis Thorpe scored 23 points, Olajuwon 19 and Buck Johnson 16 for the Rockets. Dale Ellis, playing with a broken nose, paced Seattle with 26 points. Sedale Threatt added 17 and Nate McMillan 15.
Houston took control early and built a 63-47 lead at halftime. The closest Seattle came in the second half was 13 points.
Tempers flared throughout. Technicals were called on Seattle's Alton Lister, Xavier McDaniel, Ellis and Michael Cage and Olajuwon.
Houston opened a 20-point advantage early in the second half. Olajuwon's free throws with 7:01 left gave Houston a 79-58 lead. Russ Schoene sank a pair for Seattle to cut the lead to 86-72, but Houston was back up 94-76 entering the final period.
McMillan sank a free throw with 3:57 remaining to again pull Seattle within 14. Avery Johnson's layup with 58 seconds left made it 120-107.
Bulls 101, Cavaliers 94
At Chicago, Michael Jordan scored 44 points and the Bulls blew past Cleveland in the opening quarter. Jordan hit for 15 points in the first 6:30 of the third quarter, then added 15 in the final quarter.
Jordan added 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 5 steals. Horace Grant pulled down 17 rebounds for Chicago and Craig Hodges had 12 points. John Williams led the Cavaliers with 22 points and Larry Nance added 20.
After Brad Daugherty hit a layup to give the Cavaliers a 4-3 lead, the Bulls went on a 30-10 run over the next nine minutes, including a spurt of 11 straight points.
The Bulls led 35-20 after one quarter, outshooting the Cavaliers 55 percent to 33 percent and outrebounding them 18-6. Chicago increased its advantage to 22 points midway through the second quarter before Cleveland closed within 50-39 at halftime.
Two straight baskets by Williams to start the final quarter pulled the Cavaliers within 79-73, and Williams' layup with 2:47 to go made it 91-88, but Daugherty then missed two free throws.
Jordan followed with a 3-point play to give Chicago a 94-88 lead, then added a breakaway dunk with 1:04 left to put the game away.