It was a game in which the Sixers let their emotions get away from them. Rick Mahorn was ejected with nine minutes to go when the game still was close. Charles Barkley continued his running war with referee Mike Mathis and earned two technicals and an ejection. Assistant coach Fred Carter was given his second technical in two nights.
"Regardless of the circumstances, you still have to maintain your composure," an exasperated coach Jim Lynam said.
The Magic (3-6) had lost five straight games before electrifying a sellout crowd of 15,077 in Orlando Arena last night.
Once Mahorn left the game, it was showtime for the Magical Mystery Tour. And the Walrus was the Sixers' plodding defense. Orlando crashed the boards for offensive rebounds, totaling 19 for the game, and sprinted up court for easy shots.
"We're having trouble at both ends of the court, but they especially beat us in the second half on their half-court offense. They scored too many baskets off pick and rolls," Lynam said.
The Sixers were toying with this upsetting defeat all night. They fell behind by 11 in the first quarter before storming back to take a brief nine- point lead only minutes before the half.
After holding a three-point lead at halftime, 60-57, the Sixers went to sleep offensively again, and Orlando took the lead for good, at 75-73, with 3 minutes, 59 seconds to go in the third quarter.
The game was still there for the taking until Mahorn left. But not afterward. Mahorn had been assessed a technical for a flagrant elbow foul in the first half and when he picked up a technical for jawing with referee Steve Javie in the fourth quarter, he was gone.
"I'm not going to talk about any of that stuff. It doesn't do any good," Mahorn said.
Emboldened, the Magic went on a 17-10 run that gave it a 10-point lead with just under five minutes to play. The Sixers needed a break then and never got it.
The Magic shot 58 percent from the field in the second half and scored 59 points as it ran away.
Offensively, the Sixers were dreadful, making only 45 percent of their shots and scoring 103 points against a team that had been giving up 122 per game. In their previous loss, the Magic allowed the Bucks to score 50 points in the first quarter.
"There's no excuses," Derek Smith said. "You just don't lose that game."
The Sixers play Wednesday in Miami, the final game of a stretch on the schedule that had once looked like an inviting opportunity to build up some early-season wins and a modicum of confidence.
They had five games against teams from the recent four-team NBA expansion in the span of eight games.
"Good teams win those games," Lynam had said of the expansion contests.
But now the Sixers are 2-2 in those games, and confidence is not exactly brimming over.
"It shows you right at this point in time we're not playing well enough to
put ourselves in that category," Lynam said.
"We've got to learn to screw it down when we're in that situation," said Mike Gminski, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. "We're not fooling ourselves. We don't consider ourselves right now among the elite teams."
With five of their next seven games on the road, the Sixers might soon not even be among the .500 teams in the NBA.
"Great teams don't lose these," Barkley said. His 22 points led the Sixers last night. "We're not playing great enough, I guess. Obviously we were the better team, but we didn't play better tonight. It's nothing to harp on. It's not the end of the world."
Theus popped inside and out for his game-high 30 points, and Catledge had 25 points and 14 rebounds, nine on the offensive board. Green added 13 rebounds. Sam Vincent had 18 points and 16 assists.
"Everybody that plays for this team is important," Theus said. "They all have significant meaning to this club. We all have to play well to win."
The victory had to be particularly satisfying for former Sixers coach Matt Guokas, now the coach of the Magic. But he downplayed that.
"It never feels safe with a lead against a team with a talent like Charles Barkley," Guokas said. "He can hurt you in so many ways. Plus, he's surrounded by so much talent."
All that talent, however, was helpless last night against yet another expansion team.
NOTES. The Sixers will stay in Orlando. They will practice tomorrow and travel to Miami on Tuesday. . . . Hersey Hawkins was 4 for 12 last night. He is 12 for 40 (30 percent) in the last three games. . . . Barkley has five technicals in the last five games. . . . Johnny Dawkins had 21 points and 10 assists, but five turnovers. . . . The Magic outrebounded the Sixers, 50-36.