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The Lakers Are Worthy Winners

February 23, 1987|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — He can hardly be described as the Laker of last resort.

But when it comes to counting the game-winning shots he has made in the last seconds, James Worthy gives it the Lawrence Welk treatment.

A one, and a two . . .

And that's where it stops.

No. 1, Worthy said, was a tip-in against Denver in his rookie season. No. 2 was launched off the wrong foot here Sunday afternoon with three seconds left in overtime, giving the Lakers a 112-110 win over the Philadelphia Wimps, Complainers and Chokers.

On CBS, which has given the nation back-to-back Laker wins on Sunday matinee screenings (against the Celtics last week), the Philadelphia entry in the NBA is still known as the 76ers.

But in the maelstrom that passes for Charles Barkley's heart, the 76ers have deserved a different description.

Earlier in the week, Barkley--whose raps make him a Grandmaster Flash in short pants--blasted teammates as "wimps" and "complainers," remarks 76er-watchers surmised were intended for Cliff Robinson and World B. Free. Robinson has missed a couple of weeks with an eye infection and sprained ankle; Free has bemoaned his lack of playing time.

But Sunday, Barkley stuck the stiletto at himself, clutching his throat when he missed the first of two free throws with nine seconds left in regulation and the 76ers trailing by a point, 104-103.

Did Barkley, who led all scorers with 29 points and also had a game-high 13 rebounds, intend the gesture to convey he was a choker?

"Apparently, because I did it," said Barkley, who made the second free throw but knew that had he made both, he might have spared himself the final indignity of kicking the ball out of bounds on the 76ers' last chance in overtime.

"If I had hit both of those free throws," Barkley said softly afterward, "the game would never have gone into overtime."

And Worthy would not have attracted the dressing-room crowd he did Sunday, for the type of situation in which he usually blends into the crowd.

Given the chance, Worthy might have passed on the glory, along with the ball, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after receiving the in-bounds pass from Michael Cooper.

"If I had a man open, I had the option to hit Kareem or Mychal Thompson with a pass," Worthy said. "But they (the 76ers) collapsed, almost into a zone, and I had to take that shot."

Worthy, who had come looping around a double screen to take the pass from Cooper on the right wing, cut left into the lane with Barkley guarding him. While still on the run, he tossed the ball up one-handed (his right) while coming off his right foot. The ball went through the net for the last of his team-high 24 points

"I've made that shot before, but never in the last seconds," Worthy said.

For a change, the shoe was on his foot, and he didn't mind the fit.

"We've been so accurate in that situation with Kareem's sky-hook and Magic (Johnson) making the basket or getting fouled on the drive, that's usually what we do, even though teams know what's going to happen," Worthy said.

"You just have to be poised for when your time comes in that situation. It just shows that we have different options, and every now and then we utilize them."

The 76ers utilized the considerable skills of Andrew Toney, who scorched the Lakers for 15 points in the first half, and the brute force of Barkley and Tim McCormick inside to take a 52-46 halftime lead. That advantage grew to 11, 61-50, before the Lakers stormed back.

A.C. Green, whose court time has been diminished by his own inconsistency as well as the arrival of Mychal Thompson, was as assertive as he has been in weeks. He scored 9 of his 15 points in the quarter and grabbed 5 of his team-high 10 rebounds, the five all coming on the offensive boards.

Magic Johnson, who was more passer (18 assists) and rebounder (9 rebounds) than scorer (he had 15 points, but 10 came in the fourth quarter, and he didn't have a basket until there was 3:11 left in the third period), crashed the defensive boards for 6 rebounds in the period, and fed Worthy for most of his 10 points.

The Lakers also clamped down on Toney, double-teaming him and forcing the 76ers on several possessions to use up the 24-second clock.

Fatigue, as well as the Lakers, may have caught up with the 76ers. Barkley and guard Maurice Cheeks played a full 53 minutes, Roy Hinson went 49 and McCormick and Toney 46 apiece. Julius Erving was celebrating his 37th birthday, but a fractured finger kept him on the sideline in street clothes.

"That's why we kept playing and playing," said Johnson, who told reporters he will stop playing in the next two games--home-and-home against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday and Wednesday--to rest his inflamed left Achilles tendon.

"We knew, even when we were 11 down, that we'd make a run. Sooner or later, they had to tire."

By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers had overtaken the 76ers, 80-77, but neither team was to lead by more than three points the rest of the way.

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