Charles Barkley is no stranger to exaggeration, so it wasn't surprising that nobody paid attention early this season when he said the Philadelphia 76ers were a vastly improved team.
After 31 games, the 76ers were only a game above .500, and Barkley's warnings continued to go unheeded by the NBA.
All that has changed.
Barkley was hampered by a pulled groin muscle and teammate Rick Mahorn was ejected in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Milwaukee, but the 76ers outlasted the Bucks, 105-102, to extend their winning streak to 11 games.
A three-point play by Derek Smith with 25 seconds remaining capped the victory after Barkley, limping badly, who provided the spark earlier in the fourth quarter.
Barkley averaged 29 points in the first 10 games of the streak that has carried the 76ers into first place in the Atlantic Division. But he aggravated a groin injury in the first half and planned to sit out the second half.
Then, with nine minutes left in the third quarter, referee Lee Jones ejected Mahorn.
"I wasn't coming back," Barkley said, "but when Rick was tossed I had to help the team. I'm not going to play in the All-Star Game, though. I'm going to rest. I don't know about the Utah game tomorrow night."
The 76ers opened an 11-point lead in the third quarter and Barkley scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. He played the last 19 minutes.
"The guys took up the slack," Barkley said. "Everybody just chipped in. That's what a good team does."
The 76ers had only a 98-96 lead when Smith made a dunk, was fouled and converted the free throw. The 76ers' Ron Anderson made four free throws in the last 12 seconds.
After losing twice in the past three days to the 76ers, the Bucks are impressed.
"They started out with a lot of new guys and now they're playing together," guard Jay Humphries said. "Charles is having an all-star year and they all can shoot. You have to give them credit."
Portland 123, Phoenix 121--Kevin Duckworth scored seven of the Trail Blazers' last nine points at Portland to thwart a comeback by the Suns.
The Suns trailed at halftime, 76-60, but fought back to take the lead, 101-96, with nine minutes left.
Clyde Drexler, who had 33 points, and Duckworth rallied the Blazers. A jump shot by Duckworth put Portland ahead to stay with 2:10 left.
Jerome Kersey added 28 points and 18 rebounds for Portland, which has won 12 in a row at home and trails the Lakers by half a game in the Pacific Division.
Detroit 115, Utah 83--Two weeks have made a big difference in the Pistons.
After looking terrible in losing to the Lakers on Jan. 21, the Pistons turned in an impressive performance at Auburn Hills, Mich. They made the Jazz take forced shots and were unselfish on offense.
By winning seven consecutive games since the loss to the Lakers, the Pistons have opened a four-game lead on the Chicago Bulls in the Central Division.
In their past two road games the Jazz, tied with the San Antonio Spurs for first place in the Midwest Division, has lost by 24 and 32 points.
James Edwards, making five of his first six shots from the field, helped the Pistons build a 25-13 lead in nine minutes.
Golden State 105, Minnesota 95--The Warriors have rebounded after winning only four of their first 18 games.
Despite a 40-point performance by Randy Breuer at Minneapolis, the Warriors ended the Timberwolves' three-game winning streak with their fourth victory in 21 road games.
The Warriors, who have won four in a row and finally reached .500, broke the game open in the second quarter. Chris Mullin scored 10 of his 18 points in the quarter as the Warriors outscored the Timberwolves, 30-10, to grab a 61-40 halftime lead.
Denver 125, Atlanta 113--The Nuggets, leading by only 68-65 at halftime at home, went on a 9-0 run in the first 70 seconds of the second half.
Michael Adams, a 5-foot-11 guard, had 27 points for Denver, including four three-point baskets and an alley-oop dunk.
Boston 121, Sacramento 89--Kevin McHale and Michael Smith combined for 24 points in a 33-10 second-quarter spurt to lead the Celtics at Boston.
Larry Bird had two free throws for 65 in a row. The record is Calvin Murphy's 78.