The Los Angeles Lakers took the Salt Palace floor to work out Thursday afternoon, knowing perfectly well where they stand in this playoff series. "We've been here before," said Magic Johnson.Here, as in the Salt Palace, where they've had some wild adventures - and here, as in tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series.
A little Laker playoff history: 1985 - They lose Game 2 of the Western Conference finals at home to Denver by 22 points but bounce back to win Game 3 in Denver by 18 and go on to a 4-1 series victory.
1986 - They lose Game 2 at home to Houston in the West finals and never recover, losing the next three games and the series.
All of which means that anything could happen as the Lakers and Jazz play Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven series tonight and Sunday afternoon.
Last season, they had little to worry about in the West, losing only once - Game 4 at Golden State, with Sleepy Floyd scoring 29 of his 51 points in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, they coasted right through the West and seemed likely to do much the same until Tuesday night in the Forum, where the Jazz rose up for a 101-97 victory in Game 2.
"We should be able to fall back on that experience," Coach Pat Riley said. "We know what it is to go on the road after losing an edge. I don't know the name of the disease for teams that have the homecourt advantage and lose the second game."
Complacency? Riley, now an author, uses that word for the '86 fade against Houston in his list of catchy descriptions for recent Laker seasons. But not for Game 2. "I don't think our guys were complacent," he said. "They've been through this before."
Instead, they were just outplayed. And for at least one wild weekend in the Salt Palace, the Jazz and their followers can entertain thoughts of actually winning this Western semifinal series.
"I know one thing," said the Jazz's Karl Malone. "The excitement is going to be incredible. If you're a crowd-playing player, you can feed off that, and that's what I'm going to try to do."
Of course, the Lakers have fans everywhere they go - to the displeasure of Jazz Coach Frank Layden and others. "You watch when they introduce Magic Johnson and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar)," he noted. "The response for them will be as loud as for our players. Why that is, I don't know."
But the Jazz will still likely stir up the Salt Palace crowd more than ever, after a season when Layden, Mark Eaton and others were booed frequently and players on the bench were cheered wildly. Suddenly, Eaton and maybe even Layden will probably be greeted royally tonight for their perceived roles in Game 2.
"Especially after the season we had where there was some turmoil and some booing, to come through it and see everybody get excited in this community . . . it's created sort of a college atmosphere, and that's fun," said Bobby Hansen.
In any case, these games should add to a long list of memorable Laker appearances in the Salt Palace. How about December 1985, when Maurice Lucas' 60-foot shot at the horn forced overtime?
Or February 1987, when Riley followed a loss with a locker-room blowup they still talk about?
Or December 1987, when the Lakers scored the last 15 points of the game for an eight-point win? Before the playoffs even started, Riley said he wanted to avoid playing the Jazz because of bad memories in the building. Of course, the Lakers have had their moments, too. Asked how he figured the Lakers would respond this weekend, Malone said, "They're the champions. What do you think they're going to do? Do you think they'll tuck it in, or do you think they'll come and play?"
By all means, he's expecting the second option. We'll see what happens.