It was the New Jersey Nets' 10th straight victory -- over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, at that--and nearly everyone on both teams knew the chief reason.
Forward Mickey Johnson, who was traded by Milwaukee two months ago for Phil Ford, scored a season-high 32 points to lead New Jersey over the Lakers, 110-96, last night before 20,149 at Meadowlands Arena, the Nets' first sellout there.
Teammate Buck Williams had a strong game with 21 points and 21 rebounds, but it was Johnson who drew most of the praise.
"We were outhustled from start to finish," said Jamaal Wilkes, who with James Worthy led the Lakers with 17 points. "They simply wanted it more than us. I think Mickey has really made a big difference with this team."
Johnson scored six points during a 10-0 run that put New Jersey in front early in the third period, 63-59. The Lakers, who had won nine of 10, trailed only 87-85 early in the fourth period but the Nets pulled away.
New Jersey Coach Larry Brown called Johnson's play "phenomenal," then added, "But I'm starting to expect that of him."
Johnson was the Nets' leading scorer for the fourth straight game. He was the NBA's player of the week for the period ending Sunday.
"I didn't think it would go this well," said Johnson, 30. "I came here apprehensive. I thought my career was going in another direction."