The fans had long since departed for their wide-body Mercedes' and gone in search of some good mineral water, by the time Jazz guard John Stockton was asked to explain what had happened. What had caused the Los Angeles Lakers, who the night before had been as docile as kittens, to come back home and batter the Jazz, 108-85 Wednesday night at the Great Western Forum?

Had it been fatigue? "No, I didn't feel tired," Stockton said. "I still don't."Was it the psychological boost provided by the return of Magic Johnson to the Lakers' lineup? "Who knows?" said Stockton. "I'm no psychologist. I just go out there and play. Outside that, I can't tell you the psychology of it. I just know we got our lunch served to us."

And so it was that the Jazz, with a chance to take over first place in the Midwest Division, ended up leaving town like "Heaven's Gate" - a massive bust in the City of Stars.

Leaving L.A. with a loss isn't all that uncommon. Considering the Jazz and Lakers have been playing for 17 years, the results are getting rather predictable. The Lakers lead the alltime series 55-19, and at home it is an even wider margin - 33-4. Since Magic Johnson arrived in 1979, the Lakers have gone 25-3 in the Forum against the Jazz.

The latest L.A. odyssey had begun under fairly promising circumstances for the Jazz. They were riding a six-game win streak (tied for the longest of the season) and only a half-game behind San Antonio in the Midwest standings.

Meanwhile, the Lakers had just lost in Seattle the previous night and Johnson, suffering from a badly sprained finger, was making his first start in three games.

However, before Arsenio Hall could get back in his seat following the national anthem, the Jazz were floundering. Johnson and Byron Scott combined for 12 of the Lakers' first 14 points, including a three-point basket by each. Meanwhile, the Jazz were settling into a pattern of allowing the Lakers to control the inside throughout the half.

"It appeared right from the beginning we didn't have any life," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.

After falling behind 20-8, the Jazz never recovered, standing by as the Lakers collected 13 offensive rebounds in the first half alone and 20 for the game. "They were beating us like crazy on the offensive and defensive boards," said Stockton.

By the time halftime had rolled around, the Jazz were hopelessly lost, trailing 58-41. Karl Malone, who scored 13 points in the first 24 minutes, had fought for every rebound and basket - and drawn two fouls for his trouble. With the Jazz trailing 51-37 late in the half, Blue Edwards and Malone each missed a dunk attempt, drawing jeers from the crowd.

"We missed the two dunks and turned the ball over a couple of times, and we just couldn't take advantage to draw energy from those situations. But they were trying . . . they were trying," said Sloan.

Only the perimeter shooting of Thurl Bailey, who came off the bench to score eight points in the half, kept the Lakers from blowing it wide open.

That would come soon enough. As the Jazz missed seven of their first eight third-quarter shots, the Lakers stretched the lead to 19.

Although Johnson finished with only 12 points, the Lakers were obviously pleased to have their marquee player back in action. He unloaded 15 assists, made two steals and took down four rebounds for his night's work.

However, Malone wasn't ready to credit his return with the reason for the blowout.

"They're the same all the time," said Malone. "Magic is Magic, and he plays great all the time, but at the same time, they're playing good. It's great for you guys to write in the headlines (about Johnson), but at the same time, the Lakers are the Lakers any time you play them."

Utah's effort to find someone with a hot hand was largely fruitless. The Jazz starters only totaled 42 points among them, half coming from Malone. Stockton, who has been in and out of shooting slumps for three weeks, had an awful 3-for-13 shooting night.

Six Lakers finished in double figures, led by Byron Scott's 20.

L.A. burst ahead by 27 points in the fourth quarter, with A.C. Green and Terry Teagle taking their turns in the limelight, when Sloan threw up the white flag, dispatching the final reserves with 6:18 to go.

The loss dropped the Jazz to 23-11 on the year. The Lakers, 20-11, picked up a game on Portland in the Pacific Division, as the Blazers lost to Dallas. The Jazz move on to play at Dallas Friday and San Antonio on Saturday.

Curiously, the loss was almost the exact opposite of the win Utah claimed in the Salt Palace over the Lakers last month. The Jazz beat L.A. by 22 in the Salt Palace and lost by 23 in the Forum.

"Hey, they went out and played and they won and we didn't," said Malone. "We'll play them next time."

Unfortunately for the Jazz, the next time is also at The Forum (April 11), where the Jazz can come off looking like a very bad production.