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1996 NBA Game Recap – Golden State @ LA Lakers

This is the first game of Magic Johnson’s return to the LA Lakers after 4 years away from the game, including a stint as the Lakers head coach in 1994. Has anyone ever gone from a coach to a player before in NBA History? 

We are almost exactly halfway through the 1995-96 season, with the up-and-coming Lakers coming off a surprising trip to the 2nd round after a defeat of favoured Seattle, and now sitting at 24-18. 

Golden State had so many chances in the first half of the 1990s, starting with TMC, then adding Webber, unearthing Spree and landing the #1 pick which became Joe Smith. They didn’t have much left to show for it, turning Richmond into Billy Owens into Seikaly and Webber into Gugs into an out-of-the-rotation Donyell Marshall, and were starting their decline into mediocrity with an 18-24 record.

What better time for Magic to make his return, playing a no defense team within the friendly environment of the Great Western Forum. It’ll be similar to his previous game – The 1992 All Star Game.


PG: Nick Van Exel v BJ Armstrong
SG: Eddie Jones v Latrell Sprewell
SF: Cedric Ceballos v Jerome Kersey
PF: Elden Campbell v Joe Smith
C: Vlade Divac v Rony Seikaly

Coach: Leslie Nielsen, I mean Del Harris v Rick Adelman, without a mo 

1st Quarter

From the tip off, you can tell that both of these teams like to get out and run. The Lakers come storming out of the gates behind a quick 6 points from Ceballos, and go up 10-2, getting Magic out of his seat. Maybe he was hoping to get subbed on. We’ve got Hubie Brown commentating this game, he reminds us that Ceballos never has plays run for him. He was partial to the odd cherry pick too, Hubie.

Magic doesn’t have to wait long, and neither does the crowd. He subs in earlier than expected with the crowd on their feet. Even Jack stopped eating his chips to applaud.
The Lakers repeatedly post him up on rookie Joe Smith, where it’s clear Magic’s go to move is going to be the lefty baby skyhook.

Peeler attempts to come into the game, but confusion reigns supreme as the Lakers end up playing with only 4 players on the court. The Warriors quickly score. Peeler does come in to the game eventually and the Lakers continue rolling, going up 19-6 with a Van Exel around the back pass for a Peeler score.

The Warriors call time out, where Hubie Brown uses the word “porous” for the second time already this quarter to describe Golden State’s defense, and Chris Gatling comes in.

A flurry of scoring gets the score to 25-16 with 5 minutes to go after Magic takes the ball out of the net after a Sprewell putback, and goes coast to coast for his first 2 points of the game.

Some familiar faces then show up, with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin entering the game. They’d been replaced in the starting lineup recently by BJ Armstrong and Jerome Kersey, and Hardaway especially wasn’t a happy camper about it. 

Magic then makes the most well-known play of the game, taking the Vlade pass on the cut and selling Sprewell the type of headfake which belongs on the Turramurra courts, before finishing with the layup. He needed a rest after that, and in comes Sedale Threatt, George Lynch and Derek Strong. 

A timeout is called to get Jon Barry on the court, and Del Harris addresses his troops with “This game is long from over”. Thanks for the insight there Phil Donahue, it’s still the 1st quarter and you’re not even up 10!

LA Lakers 33 – Golden State Warriors 26

2nd Quarter

It doesn’t take long for Golden State to get back in the game. Soon-to-be Pacer Mullin starts the quarter hot, following a Jon Barry missed layup up with another Turramurra move, the backboard tap. He then throws a nice looking no look pass behind him to Chris Gatling under the rim. Hubie Brown calls it the best pass of the season. Settle down, Hubie.

Showtime is soon back though. A big Eddie Jones block on a having-no-luck Jon Barry leads to a break. Magic throws the no look pass to Threatt, who touches it on to Ceballos to complete the somewhat cherry picked 3 point play.

Ceballos continues to pour on the points with only Gatling keeping this from becoming a blowout. A dunk from a Magic assist followed by a putback after Magic airballs a 3 point attempt (which no doubt the Lakers statisticians recorded as another Magic assist) gets his personal tally to 17 points on a perfect 8/8 from the field. The best #23 for the Lakers ever?

Magic looks like the same player he was 4 years ago at times controlling the break, throwing another assist to an Eddie Jones dunk to go up 17, Mullin watching Jones from no man’s land. Magic leaves with the Lakers outscoring the Warriors 36-20 in his 10 minutes on court.

The Lakers become complacent without Magic, a Joe Smith dunk starts a run of 3 straight layups for Tim Hardaway to get it within 10. Hardaway would end up scoring 14 points this quarter, playing with a chip on his shoulder. He would be a member of the Miami Heat in 23 days time.

The Warriors lack of defense gets the Lakers back on track to finish the half, an around the back pass is stolen by Vlade which leads to a Ceballos 360 dunk, a bit of razzamatazz.

Hubie, in his second grand exaggeration of the game, says he’s seen more layups so far in this half than in all the other games he’s ever seen combined.

LA Lakers 72 – Golden State Warriors 63

3rd Quarter

Sprewell starts the scoring in the third, he’s up to 15 points, and chewing gum so much he’s up to 10 juicy fruit and 8 hubba bubbas. He’s going for a triple double.

Ceballos throws a no look pass for an Elden Campbell dunk which was a better pass than Mullin’s “pass of the season”, relegating that to #2. Campbell returned the favour, catching a Magic bounce pass and getting it to Ceballos under the rim.

Hubie says Elden has been playing with a little more pizzazz than usual lately, averaging 20ppg, 14rpg, 4bpg over his last 3 games. He muscled up and got bigger. Elden that is, not Hubie.

Speaking of getting bigger, Magic uses his 30lb weight advantage to, surprisingly, post up Joe Smith with a lefty hook, before an Eddie Jones jam makes it 87-70. All the Lakers have to do is pass and cut and they get a layup. They get 44 assists this game, an NBA high.

Graphics with scores from other games comes on. The Pacers beat the Hawks 107-90, snapping Atlanta’s 10-game win streak and giving Indiana a 7-game win streak of their own. Marquee matchup!

Chris “The Energiser” Gatling, who would also be catching Hardaway’s flight to Miami, is instant offense, scoring 7 points in a row and going 9/11 from the field overall. He would go on to play for both Dallas and the Nets the following season before travelling around like a Leyland brother.

LA Lakers 98 – Golden State Warriors 85

4th Quarter

Ceballos is collecting highlights for his Globetrotters audition tape with an around the back pass at half court for no reason. Matador defense gives Threatt an open layup, and the Lakers are back up 18.

Another game has finished, this time both of Ash’s teams, with Denver getting up over Minnesota 88-86. Christian Laettner no doubt the main man behind Dikembe’s 9 blocks.

Peeler is automatic from 3 this game. The Lakers go up 22 and this game’s in the Lakers bank…..or is it?

The Lakers get complacent again. Mullin, who is only averaging 13.3 ppg this season, finds his midrange shot and Jon Barry blocks Vlade. Jon Barry had hair at this point, but the comb forward had already started. He knew. Commentators made no mention of his schnoz.

Joe Smith gets a few buckets to finish a furious 21-5 Warriors run to get them within 6 with 2 minutes left. This is not where anyone thought this game would be, and the crowd is back into it.

Elden scores a 3 point play over Clifford Rozier, who has been bad news all game. A Magic pass out of a double team for a wide open Van Exel 3 puts the Lakers up 124-115, which proves out of reach. Free throws, including a near airball from Gatling, make the final scoreline.

LA Lakers 128

Ceballos 33pts (15/18FG), 7reb
Elden 14pts, 9reb, 8ast
Magic 19pts, 8 reb, 10ast

Golden State Warriors 118

Hardaway 24pts, 10ast
Joe Smith 23pts, 10reb
Sprewell 22pts, 8reb, 7ast
Gatling 21pts, 8reb

So overall, a successful return for Magic. A graphic compares it to Jordan’s return the previous season, where Jordan ended up with 19pts, 6ast and 6reb. Magic beats him statwise with 19pts, 10ast and 8reb, but Jordan leads overall, 2 returns to 1.

Despite internal problems and frustrations, the Lakers would go 29-11 the rest of the way to end up with 53 wins and the 4th seed, losing to the defending champion Houston Rockets in the first round. Magic was never comfortable with not being the full time point guard, and retires for the second time, in a way we would see repeated in his time as GM. From the NY Times: “The Lakers were caught off guard by the announcement, apparently receiving no warning from Johnson”. It’s a shame he didn’t continue for one more year, I would have liked to see him play with this team.

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