James Worthy strolled the plush studios of Time Warner Cable SportsNet with the same energy that made him one of the most beloved Lakers during the Showtime Era.
No matter that he woke up early to provide in-game commentary for a Lakers’ 100-95 preseason loss to the Golden State Warriors in Beijing that started at 4:30 a.m. PST. But there’s nothing a good night’s sleep and coffee can’t do. And besides, Worthy went through much worse, including duplicating what the Lakers are currently experiencing with an overseas exhibition trip for the sake promoting the NBA.
Worthy played on the Lakers’ 1990-91 team that traveled to Paris for the NBA’s McDonald’s Open, a pair of back-to-back exhibition games against Limoges CSP of France and Joventut Badalone of Spain, but the trip went beyond just competing on the hard wood. The Lakers also snuck in visits to various landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Notre Dame cathedral and Moulin Rouge.
“In training camp, you need to be really focused and you don’t need to be going to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa,” Worthy said following the Lakers’ 100-95 preseason loss Tuesday to Golden State at Time Warner Cable SportsNet’s studios in El Segundo. “You don’t need all those distractions. It was a tough trip getting there.”
That’s why Worthy wasn’t surprised the Lakers only beat Joventut Badalone, 116-114, thanks to a clutch Magic Johnson layup with under two minutes remaining. Press reports also detailed a controversial finish that entailed a ball bouncing out of bounds after a Badalona missed shot that went in favor of the Lakers. But Spanish fans erupted because they believed the ball bounced off Worthy.
“I thought it did too. It went between my legs, I think,” Worthy said. “I thought it brushed my leg. But the referee didn’t see it that way. I ran and turned the other way. But we almost lost that game.”
Worthy blamed that mostly on the fatigue and believed that attributed to the Lakers’ 1-4 start to begin the season. Still, the Lakers put together a 16-game winning streak and finished 58-24. Worthy also posted a career-high 21.4 points per game. And the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals under Mike Dunleavy’s first season as head coach, though the team lost in five games to the Chicago Bulls.
But Worthy downplayed the team bonding component of their overseas trip, namely because of the team’s veteran laden roster and the need to adjust to Dunleavy’s coaching style.
Will the Lakers’ current trip help their bonding?
“I do. I think they already have what they didn’t have last year,” Worthy said. “That’s likability. They like each other. You can already feel the synergy.”
Nonetheless, Worthy still maintains the Lakers will finish either fifth or sixth in the Western Conference, while predicting the Clippers will advance to the NBA Finals.
That’s because Worthy has plenty of concerns on this year’s team, including the obvious uncertainty on when and how Kobe Bryant will recover from his left Achilles tendon.
“He’s not ready to go come back now. Derrick Rose took his time,” said Worthy, referring to the Chicago Bulls guard who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury. “Kobe should too. It will give the team time to develop without him and not need him as much.”
The Lakers also are trying to limit the 39-year-old point guard Steve Nash, who has to monitor a sore left ankle in addition to the hamstring and back he spent all offseason healing.
“I’m a little bit concerned about the ankle,” Worthy said. “But I see [Mike] D’Anton is going to monitor him really closely this year. Not a lot of back to back games. I wouldn’t have him practice that much. He’s a veteran player and doesn’t need to practice, doesn’t need to play a lot of back to back games. He needs to be healthy to do what they’re trying to do.”
And that’s why Worthy hardly seemed excited about his trip to France.
“We didn’t get a chance to do too much sight seeing. We just wanted to sleep,” Worthy said. “You have to get focused. You can’t give up that energy. But taking a trip like that takes a lot of energy out of you.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org