The world champion Los Angeles Lakers began defense of their title by holding off the Portland Trail Blazers 96-86 as the NBA season got under way Tuesday night.
In the most eagerly anticipated of the 13 opening-night NBA games, the teams failed to live up to the drama of their last meeting, when the Blazers blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals last June and lost 89-84.
The Lakers, who went on to beat Indiana for the championship, committed 20 turnovers, and their sloppy play in the third quarter let the Blazers come back to tie it at 67 heading into the fourth.
“We made a donnybrook out of that game in the third quarter by not taking care of the ball,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “But we were able to get it back in the fourth quarter. Our bench gave us a big lift.”
Shaquille O’Neal had 36 points and 11 rebounds, and Isaiah Rider showed up his old teammates in the fourth quarter for the Lakers’ win. Rider was 6-for-8 with five rebounds and three assists.
Rasheed Wallace scored 26 points to lead the Blazers, and Steve Smith had 22.
Portland’s Scottie Pippen sprained his left ankle in the first quarter and didn’t return.
Smith’s layup got the Blazers within 72-71 with 9:17 remaining, but the Lakers ran off six straight points. Rider, signed by the Lakers for the minimum of $700,000 after being waived by Atlanta last season, elevated on a 13-foot jumper to give Los Angeles a 78-71 lead.
The Blazers, who bulked up by adding Shawn Kemp and Dale Davis specifically with the idea of stopping O’Neal, got little production at either end of the floor from their big men. Kemp had four points on 2-of-9 shooting and committed four fouls in just 12 minutes; Davis had two points on 1-of-4 shooting and had five fouls to go with six rebounds.
Sixers Roll Over Knicks
In New York, the Knicks were not a pretty sight in the first game of the post-Patrick Ewing era, playing the worst season-opener in their history in a 101-72 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“We’ve set the bar so low, I can’t see us not improving,” said Latrell Sprewell, who shot 1-for-9 and had six points.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Knicks looking any worse. They were slow and unimaginative on offense, weak on defense and devoid of energy all night.
No weakness was more pronounced than in the middle, where Marcus Camby — Ewing’s replacement in the pivot for the time being — was repeatedly scored on.
Allen Iverson had 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds, Toni Kukoc went 10-for-12 in adding 23 points and Theo Ratliff added 12 for the Sixers, who outscored the Knicks 29-13 in the third quarter to turn the game into a rout.
Ewing, meanwhile, donned the Seattle SuperSonics’ uniform for the first time in the regular season and had two points and 12 rebounds in 37 minutes in a 94-88 loss to Vancouver. Seattle’s Gary Payton, playing in his 316th consecutive game, had a triple-double with 25 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. It was also Payton’s 11th season opener for Seattle, and his franchise-record 10th season-opening start.
Career-High Numbers for Some
Elsewhere around the league, some rookies made solid debuts while familiar faces scored career-high points.