Don't count the Jazz among those who are feeling sorry for the Lakers these days. Magic Johnson may be gone, James Worthy on the operating table and Sam Perkins on the injured list, but they still have something that works.
Missing all their main stars, the Lakers went with a group effort Friday night at the Delta Center, which was help enough. Six players scored in double-figures - led by Terry Teagle's 23 points - and the Lakers committed only six turnovers as they beat the Jazz 103-92.The loss was only the fourth of the year for the Jazz in the Delta Center. "We talked about coming in here and doing what no one expected us to do," said L.A. coach Mike Dunleavy.
So maybe there was a letdown. Take the Lakers seriously? Come on. Aren't they just the second-best team in L.A.?
"Yeah, there's that tendency (to underestimate them) because they've lost a couple of guys," said Jazz center Mark Eaton. "That's always the scariest teams to play."
Going into Friday's game, the Lakers weren't exactly the embodiment of the word "scary." They had won two in a row, but that was against the (ugh!) Mavericks and (burp!) Timberwolves. No reason to get excited there.
Though they are languishing in sixth place in the Pacific Division, the Lakers are apparently serious about making the playoffs, despite the sad circumstances surrounding their season. Dunleavy brought his team to the Delta Center Friday afternoon and held a closed practice prior to tipoff, holding early-arriving fans back from entering until the Lakers were finished.
But closed practice sessions aren't usually a cure for injuries and illness. Perkins is out with a bad shoulder, Worthy is gone for the season after knee surgery, and Magic Johnson is only a vivid reminder of L.A.'s glory days, since retiring last fall.
On a smaller scale, the Jazz had their own problems to deal with. Starting forward Blue Edwards wasn't with the team, having left for North Carolina to attend his grandmother's funeral.
In Edwards' place, the Jazz started rookie David Benoit and brought veteran Tyrone Corbin off the bench.
As soon as the game began, nobody was feeling sorry for the Lakers. Byron Scott, who was supposed to be in decline this year, made five straight shots in the first quarter, as the Lakers took a 27-23 lead.
But Scott's performance was eclipsed by the Jazz's Karl Malone, who made seven in a row and had 15 points at the quarter.
While Malone was rolling inside, en route to a 31-point night, things were beginning to look strangely like the old, predictable Jazz.
"We went back to some old ways," said guard Jeff Malone. "We were just standing around and they hurt us. We were standing when Karl had the ball. We had gotten away from that."
By the time the Jazz realized they were in serious trouble and made their run, the Lakers were digging in for the finish. While the Jazz made only seven of 24 fourth-quarter shots, the Lakers made 10 of 15.
"This team (L.A.) does as good a job as any team in basketball by controlling the shot clock," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "They set good screens and know where they want to go.
"We're not playing pot luck. You take pot luck out there and you won't come away with anything."
Utah went up 65-59 in the early fourth quarter but was soon back in trouble. Sedale Threatt's 18-footer put L.A. ahead by two, and though the Jazz tied the score twice thereafter, they never regained the lead.
Carefully working the clock, the Lakers built their lead to 88-80 and held on.
Stockton missed a driving shot and he and the Mailman each missed a tip attempt with 1:25 to go and the Jazz down 94-88. The Lakers made eight of nine fourth-quarter free throws to keep the Jazz safely behind.
"The bottom line is we didn't get the job done in the first three quarters," said Jazz center Mark Eaton.
The Jazz, 46-24, conclude their five-game home stand with a Monday contest against Milwaukee. Until then they'll have to live with Sloan's disapproval.
"It's exactly what I told my players this morning," said Sloan. "They executed very well. With Worthy and Perkins out they move the ball and they're very unselfish . . . They came in here and beat us and did a nice job."
GAME NOTES: Stockton's 12 assists moved him into fifth place on the all-time NBA assists list, ahead of Lenny Wilkens . . . The Laker win moved the season series to 2-1 for the Jazz . . . Utah has won five of the last eight games against the Lakers . . . L.A. has won six of its last nine games.