Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 39, had little trouble getting over and around 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, scoring 31 points today to lead the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers to a 119-107 victory over the Houston Rockets in the opener of the Western Conference finals.
Abdul-Jabbar got few chances to use his hook shot in the Lakers' ninth victory over the Rockets in 11 games since the beginning of the 1984-85 season.
"They didn't give me the hook and they sent me the other way," he said. "So I had to adapt."
He did, although he was one point short of his average against Houston over the last two years. And, as usual, he got the best of Sampson and 7-foot Akeem Olajuwon, Houston's other so-called "Twin Tower."
"We always throw a lot at him," Coach Bill Fitch of the Rockets said. "Playing defense against Kareem is not one of our strengths. Both Ralph and Akeem will get better. It's tough to play Kareem one-on-one."
Abdul-Jabbar, who is 7-2, scored 14 points in the second period and by the end of three periods had 28 to enable the Lakers to take charge before a sellout crowd of 17,505.
The Lakers, trying to become the first team to repeat as NBA champions since the Boston Celtics 17 years ago, led by 64-58 at halftime, thanks mainly to Abdul-Jabbar's 20 points.
The Rockets got within three points three times early in the third quarter. But Magic Johnson spurred the Lakers to a 10-point advantage midway through the period and they weren't threatened seriously after that.
"I took more control and tried to quicken the pace," he said, "because we needed to increase opportunities for myself and the other guys. I tried extra hard to push the ball upcourt as fast as we could go."
He had 10 of his 26 points in the third quarter. He finished with a game-high 18 assists. Teammate Byron Scott had 18 points.
It was 94-82 entering the fourth quarter and Houston got no nearer than eight points in the last 12 minutes.
Olajuwon led the Rockets with 28 points and 16 rebounds. Sampson finished with 19 points.
The Lakers, who are trying to win the Western Conference title and earn a berth in the NBA Championship Series for the fifth straight year, led by 34-32 after the first quarter by making 14 of 15 foul shots.
The Rockets, meanwhile, tried only two, which Olajuwon made with 14 seconds left in the period.
He had 12 points in the first quarter and substitute guard Mitchell Wiggins had 10 for Houston. But Wiggins committed his third foul with six seconds left in the period and didn't play again until the second half.
Wiggins finished with a career-playoff high 24 points.
Olajuwon had 18 of his points at halftime and 26 after three periods, but scored only two in the fourth quarter.
Neither team led by more than four points until the Rockets scored the first nine points of the second period to take a 41-34 advantage.
Before long, it was 44-36, but then the Lakers scored 13 straight points and led the rest of the way. They were up by six at halftime.
The second game in the best-of-seven series will be played here Tuesday night, then the series will move to Houston.