Well, not that much smaller, really. But he did let 6'9", 240-pound enforcer Maurice Lucas go, ostensibly giving Luke's minutes to Green, an unproved second-year forward. All of the other constants in Laker Land—Magic creating, Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy dancing in the paint, Cooper coming out of the bullpen—remain the same.
But that is on the surface. Underneath, the Lakers have made a few fundamental changes. Riley sent his players letters in the off-season, urging each of them to have "a career-best season." Riley let it be known that no one had exactly "careered" last year. Specifically he felt that Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis, Cooper and Worthy had slipped a notch from the championship season of '84-85.
Worthy went to work with the weights and added 10 pounds to last season's 225. "I just felt I needed to stand firmer when I posted up," he said. Translation: Firm was how McHale and Houston's Akeem Olajuwon stood against the Lakers. Worthy is still trying to get comfortable with his added weight—Riley says he's trying to "grunt the ball up" instead of using his natural touch—but against Boston he scored his 25 points with a perfect balance of power and quickness.
Abdul-Jabbar, who should be frozen one day so that medical science can take a closer look at this rare physical specimen, also tossed around barbells in the off-season, bulking up from 250 pounds to 265, while lowering his body fat by 3%. He's visibly bigger in the buttocks and upper legs, a fact that Parish said he noticed right away. Said Kareem, "The extra weight helps me maintain balance when there's a lot of jostling inside." Translation: Both Boston and Houston "outjostled" him to a lot of rebounds last season.
With his new Adrian Dantley-model derri�re, Abdul-Jabbar was able to pin Parish inside and score on power moves. And when Parish pushed him away from the basket, Kareem simply swished the skyhook. He turns 40 on April 16. The skyhook is 20 years younger and still going strong.
Magic didn't lift any weights in the off-season, but he did decide to lift more of the Laker offense onto his shoulders. "Pat told me he wanted me to shoot more," said Johnson. And? "I agreed with him." For the first time in his eight-year career, in fact, Magic is leading the Lakers in scoring (with 21.3 per game), while taking only 16 shots per game, just four more than his career average. He still scores on his coast-to-coast drives—he had three against Boston—but now he's posting up and getting shots off designed plays in the half-court offense.
The Lakers are not without their problems: Magic's ailing knees and the lack of a strong backup center are two of them. This team is by no means unbeatable. But the victory on Friday was decisive and sweet—green-and-white is now chasing purple-and-gold, not vice versa.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are hardly dead, though they may now be only the third-best team in the NBA, behind Atlanta and the Lakers. McHale and Parish, tired as they might be, are playing the best ball of their careers, and Bird—here's news—has been outstanding. What concerns them, though, is the future and what it holds for the 7-foot redhead whose inspired play off the bench ensured them a championship last season.
"Bill will come back," Bird said. "He has to. The only way we have a great chance of winning a championship is if Robert Parish is rested and Bill is playing well." Then he smiled and made a joke. "You know, we never had all these injuries till Walton came." The jokes will continue for a while. But if Walton doesn't make it back soon, no one in Boston is going to be laughing.