The nights of more than one magic show in the Laker backcourt appear to be over. Byron Scott's vanishing act is history.
Scott scored a career-high 37 points and Magic Johnson had 26 points and 17 assists in the Lakers' ninth straight victory, 131-115 over Philadelphia, Tuesday night in the Forum. That is not to say, however, that fans of abacadabra went home disappointed.
Right before their very eyes, 76er MVP candidate Charles Barkley went poof, disappearing after drawing two technical fouls within the span of 19 seconds in the third quarter.
By that time, the Lakers already had the 76ers pretty well salted away, leading by 20, 105-85, but Barkley assured a total disintegration by throwing an elbow at Laker forward A.C. Green just moments after being whistled for an alleged verbal assault on referee Paul Mihalak.
"I was talking to Maurice," said Barkley, who insisted his remarks were intended solely for the consumption of teammate Maurice Cheeks.
Cheeks concurred. "He was talking to me," Cheeks said, "but I can't tell you what he said."
There was no mistaking Barkley's message, however, when he drilled Green after a basket by Roy Hinson of the 76ers.
How much of that technical was borne of frustration?
"The whole technical part of it," he said.
"He (Green) was beating the . . . out of me, and I was retaliating. If you look at the tapes, A.C. was hitting me pretty good, and I was hitting him pretty good."
Without Barkley, the Laker lead increased to 30. That's nothing new for the 76ers, who recently lost to the Celtics by 37 after trailing by as many as 49.
"We're just a bad team," Barkley said. "The whole team, man. We're just a bad . . . team."
The Lakers, of course, can make anyone feel that way, the way they're playing. They came out and made their first eight shots and had 75 points by the half, even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar departed after just seven minutes with three fouls and A.C. Green did not have a point.
Johnson, however, had 21 at the break and Scott 20, and when it was over the Lakers' starting backcourt had outscored Philadelphia's, 63-16. Cheeks finished with 12, and Albert King had 4 on 1 of 9 shooting.
The Lakers, who had a season-low six turnovers last Saturday against Utah, gave the ball over just three times in the first three quarters and finished with nine.
Scott, who has scored in double figures in all nine of the Laker victories in this streak, is averaging 21.9 points a game and is shooting 62.1% from the floor in his last four games.
"He's learned how to mix in with that group--he takes what's there now," Philadelphia guard Gerald Henderson said of Scott.
"He used to force some shots. He used to get lost, you missed him. But now he's found his niche in their structure."
He may have found that niche when he didn't get lost in the cracks at Boston Garden, which traditionally has been a chamber of horrors for him. Scott scored 21 points in the Lakers' 115-114 victory over the Celtics on Dec. 11, and the Lakers haven't lost since.
"His confidence is soaring now," Johnson said. "You can tell. He's played awfully well.
"I thought he played well last year, too, but now he's not just relying on his jump shot.
"That's the key. Maybe there were nights before when he didn't have the jump shot going, you wouldn't see him, but now, he's getting a lot of points on drives, too.
"If you overplay him, he'll drive to the basket, if you sag on him, he'll hit the jumper, and he's running the break so well, I can kick it to him for the open jumper."
Laker Coach Pat Riley said Scott has been the most consistent of the Lakers this season.
"He's really got it going now," Riley said. "He's playing his position as well as any off-guard in the league.
"One of my criticisms of him, like James (Worthy), has been that he becomes a victim of his talent. He's so talented, the game comes so easily, that he can float some nights.
"Everything is mental tough ness with Byron Scott."
Collectively, Riley has detected a shift in the Lakers' attitude.
"We've had a lot of time over the holidays to rest and to practice," Riley said. "The spirit is better, we're fresher mentally. The level we played tonight, I think we can come out and play on a regular basis.
"For a while, there was a depressive atmosphere, guys were down, James was injured, there was a lot of frustration. But we've broken through that."
The same obviously, could not be said for Barkley, who finished with 25 points.
But in a marvelous first half, in which he scored 21 points, the round one did go to great lengths to make it clear that he has stepped up into the rarefied atmosphere occupied by Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
"He has worked his way up, and when a player does that, at some point he breaks through the clouds, comes out on top as a total player," Boston Coach K.C. Jones recently said of Barkley.