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In the Utah locker room, Mahorn and Barkley carry on an absurdly profane conversation about each other's mothers, noggins and butts. Mahorn knew he was in mess-talking heaven when he arrived the day before the season and a female friend of his was forthwith called "a chickenhead" by one of the 76ers. Largely because of the relationship between Mahorn and Barkley, the Sixers are loose but tight-knit. Says trainer Tony Harris, "When we're on the road, I sit them together for treatment, and they just go off on each other. Here and there they'll nail the other guys until everyone's in the flow. In team meetings it carries over, only it's supportive: 'Hey, Hawk, if your guy goes to the corner, I'll pick him up,' things like that. Then when the game starts they're all together."
Despite arriving in Salt Lake City from Portland on a charter flight at 1:30 that morning, the 76ers come out strong against the Jazz. The teams play even through most of the third quarter, but with 3:33 remaining in it, Mahorn picks up his fourth foul. He is on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter. With the tempo now out of its control, Philly never comes closer than 11 points and loses 115-102. Mahorn and Barkley wind up with technicals and are joined for T time by Lynam, who gets ejected with 2:20 left.
"They kept their emotional level and they played hard," says Mahorn. "On the road, little things start small and then they snowball and then—end of story."
WEDNESDAY, AT GOLDEN STATE
It is 1 p.m., with practice at the Oakland Coliseum Arena almost over. Gminski, a 10-year veteran, is figuring out how to fill up the 6½ hours until tip-off. "I don't think there's a pro in the game who's bothered by other teams' fans," he says. "The problems of the road are the travel [the Sixers took a 6:20 flight out of Salt Lake the previous night] and being at the mercy of the hotel restaurant menu and sleeping in strange beds. At home I eat at a certain time and get my sleep. I arrive at the Spectrum at 5:30. Now I'll go back to the hotel, but I don't want to read because I have to spend time concentrating on the game and I want to stay fresh. So I'll get a bite to eat, watch a little TV and try to get some rest."
Later, while Gminski winds up lunching on cold pasta and other sensible foods at the Airport Hilton salad bar, Barkley treats Hawkins, Dawkins and reserve Lanard Copeland to a postpractice meal at a soul-food restaurant he knows. Short ribs, smothered steak, cream corn, yams, black-eyed peas, corn bread, rice and gravy make up what would never be confused with a training table meal. General HospitalGeneral Hospital plays on a TV set overhead. Talk turns from Jesse Jackson to the players' positive feelings for Lynam and for their recent success. "You know, when you have those feelings when you think you can't lose?" says Barkley. Everyone nods and chews. With the powerful Los Angeles Lakers coming up on Friday and the red-hot Phoenix Suns on Saturday, the Sixers need to beat the Warriors, who have dropped three straight games.
Barkley believes the primary reason the Sixers have been successful this season is the development of the 6'3" Hawkins, who as a rookie in 1988-89 relied strictly on his jumper. Since then he has added an array of spin moves and fadeaways, along with a new attitude. "I'm looking to create," says Hawkins. Notwithstanding his winning shot against Portland, he has made only 8 of 24 field goals in the last two games.
"You got to keep shooting," Barkley tells him at lunch. "I will never understand how a great player can lose his confidence." Barkley pays the $68 tab, and the players stumble, stuffed, out into the 2:30 sun to walk a little until they call the Hilton van to come to pick them up.
Two hours before the tip-off, Hawkins is trying to sleep off his short ribs on a wooden bench in front of his locker. Barkley arrives later, and he looks sick. He thinks the creamed corn has caught up to him, although it might be the steak.
Popping Gelusil pills like M&M's before the game and during timeouts, Barkley is not his usual take-charge self from the outset. But no Warrior assumes control either, until Tom Tolbert, a 6'7" rookie from Arizona, scores eight points in the first 4:14 of the fourth quarter to cut a Philadelphia lead to 86-83. With the score tied 93-all and with 1:34 remaining, Hawkins takes a kick-out pass from Mahorn and converts a three-point shot for what proves to be his second game-winner of the trip as the 76ers hang on to win 96-95.