PHILADELPHIA — Give the Lakers a nice little overtime victory and suddenly everything looks normal again.
From just about the time that Magic Johnson's three-pointer with five seconds left in regulation sent Sunday's game against Philadelphia into overtime, the Lakers no longer appeared to be the same team that recently had been losing as many games as they had been winning.
Now, things are looking up. Byron Scott became a starter again on Sunday after 12 games on the bench and scored 22 points, Johnson's knee looked healthy again and the Lakers were winners again, beating the 76ers, 117-111, in overtime at the Spectrum.
Johnson played 43 minutes and scored 34 points in what he called the Lakers' most satisfying victory of the season.
If his right knee was sore, he didn't act like it. If you wonder if the Lakers really needed a game like this from him, don't even ask.
How big a victory was it for the Lakers? How big is Charles Barkley?
"We had to have this game," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "We endured. We didn't crack at all."
To be sure, the Lakers had their chances to fall apart.
They started slowly and fell behind by eight points after the first quarter when Moses Malone and Barkley owned the backboards, but the Lakers got to within 56-54 at halftime, then sped away to a 13-point lead in the third quarter.
Besides Johnson, one of the other reasons for the Laker surge was the play of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who finished not only with 28 points in 44 minutes working against Malone, but also with a season-high seven blocked shots as well as three steals.
The Lakers would still need more. The Laker lead was 88-79 on A.C. Green's no-look rebound basket with 9:33 left. But then the 76ers came back.
Malone, who along with Barkley had a great day inside, shot the 76ers to a 102-97 lead with 2:04 remaining in regulation.
With the Lakers still trailing 103-99, a three-point play by Maurice Lucas cut the 76ers' lead to just one point. Malone and Johnson traded baskets and Barkley's two free throws with 11 seconds left put the 76ers ahead by three.
The Lakers were down to their last shot. Riley called for a three-point attempt, for either Michael Cooper or Scott, but they never touched the ball.
Instead, Johnson dribbled quickly until he was just behind the three-point stripe and, with defender Julius Erving sloughing off, sent the ball straight through the hoop.
For a moment, everybody stood there on the court kind of shocked. After all, Johnson is a 22% shooter from three-point range this season.
"That shot was going in all the way," Johnson said. "It was like a shot in the arm."
The 76ers felt the shock waves all the way down to their sneakers. They didn't want to let Johnson penetrate and pass the ball off to either Scott or Cooper, so they left him alone. Too alone.
When Johnson's shot dropped, no one was more stunned than Erving. But after thinking for a minute, he said there may have been someone else.
"I was really surprised," he said. "It probably surprised Magic, too."
In the overtime, all of the Lakers seemed to sense that they were going to win.
"Maybe we're out of our rut," Riley said. "I hope this game turned us around. We've been criticized and judged harshly, but deservedly so. Our standards are so high."
Johnson's reaction was one of relief. He played well, his knee is getting better and the Lakers won. There might be a connection there.
"I think I'll be back at 100% in a week or two," he said. "As for us, the way we have been playing lately, we'll get a lot out of this win, believe me."
Said Lucas: "I'm just so glad to see Magic have a good game. When he's playing like that, everything opens up for us and we start playing like we should. We really need him."
Johnson getting back on the right track was significant, and so was the play of Scott, who made 8 of 12 shots in 42 minutes.
Another new starter for the Lakers was Larry Spriggs, who replaced injured James Worthy.
The 76ers outrebounded the Lakers, 54-51, getting 28 offensive rebounds which led to 25 points. But Philadelphia is in need of something besides the power games of Barkley and Malone.
Barkley had 18 rebounds, 11 on offense, to go along with 24 points. Malone bulled for 12 rebounds, 8 at the offensive end, and led the 76ers with 24 points.
Barkley got the 76ers back in the game, not only with a series of power dunks, but also with his defense. Barkley wound up with three blocked shots, one of them a layup attempt by Johnson.
"Charles is a four-dimensional guy in one body," Johnson said. "He runs, blocks shots, rebounds and shoots. He plays end-to-end so well, he's one of my favorite players."
Erving has been a favorite here for a long time, but he didn't have it down the stretch. He missed his last four shots and did not score in the last 10 minutes.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played in his 1,304th game, which broke Elvin Hayes' record for games in an NBA career. . . . James Worthy, who watched the game from the Laker bench in street clothes, returned to Los Angeles after the game. Worthy missed his second consecutive game because of a bruised groin. "I would be playing, but I'm not 100%," he said. "It's better I go home and get treatment and try to play Friday night." . . . Byron Scott said Pat Riley told him Saturday that he was returning to the starting lineup. "I was kind of surprised," he said. "I just felt a lot more at ease out there. If I get a lot of good shots, no doubt 60 or 70% are going to go in." Scott's confidence seems to be returning, too. . . . The Lakers flew to Atlanta after the game and will play the Hawks tonight at the Omni. The road trip ends Wednesday night in Dallas.