Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

1983 Flashback: Downtime for Showtime

"Magic" Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, right, and Marc Iavaroni of the Philadelphia 76ers collide during first period action Sunday, May 29, 1983 in thier NBA championship series game in Los Angeles. (Reed Saxon/AP file photo)
"Magic" Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, right, and Marc Iavaroni of the Philadelphia 76ers collide during first period action Sunday, May 29, 1983 in thier NBA championship series game in Los Angeles. (Reed Saxon/AP file photo)Read moreAP FILE PHOTO

Thitry years ago this week, the Sixers played the Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals. The Daily News has published an e-book, free for members to download, full of the paper's coverage of that run to the championship. Not a member? Download it from the Amazon store.

This story was originally published on May 24, 1983

When the Los Angeles Lakers first trekked into their Center City hotel headquarters last Saturday, there were scouting films to be watched, written reports to be read and a brunch designed to help ease the pain.

"We had something to eat," coach Pat Riley recalled yesterday, "but we also put some tape down on the floor and walked guys through some things."

Is this any way to dive into an NBA championship series? Or is it the only way? Is this the best-of-seven series in which matchups are more critical than ever? Or less critical than ever?

Is this the time of the year when Moses Malone acknowledges Kareem Abdul- Jabbar as the greatest player of all time and beats him anyway? Or is it the time of the year when 76ers owner Harold Katz reminds us that this is why he got Malone in the first place?

Is this when Magic Johnson unfurls his special skill and personality to lead the Lakers to their third championship in four seasons? Or is this finally when Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones soar with Moses?

The Sixers , after Sunday's 113-107 victory in the Spectrum, need three more wins to earn their first title since 1966-67, their first in four trips to the finals with Erving.

It is as close as that, and as far away.

"It's as far away as . . . Well, I haven't even thought about when we have to go to LA," coach Billy Cunningham said. "My only concern is Thursday (Game 2, at 9 p.m., on national television)."

The Sixers won the opener for the first time against the Lakers, in part because life on the open court tends to refresh them, in part because LA came in weary after winning the Western title late last Friday night in San Antonio.

The remainder of the games will be the direct result of intensified laboratory experimenting. Nothing drastic, just enough sophisticated adjusting to probe and search for weaknesses.

"If jet lag was a problem for us, it was obvious in the fourth quarter Sunday," Lakers assistant Dave Wohl said. "We didn't want to go five-on-five with them, challenging their strong halfcourt defense, giving them an opportunity to double on Kareem.

"What we really wanted to do was push it up the floor, but after a while the Sixers would do that, score and then - despite what our intentions were - we'd walk it up. You could see guys trying to fight off the tiredness, and that's a sign of a team that's been together, that's experienced a lot of success. Our guys believe they're invincible, that they won't feel it. It's a way of deluding yourselves, and sometimes it works for a while, but eventually reality sets in.

"Our reality now is, we're down one game, but we have four days to rest, prepare. There are two schools of thought about this situation: one says when you have too much free time on the road, you tend to get restless, lose your concentration; the other says it's a positive experience, that you have the time to absorb the things necessary to do your job better. I think we'll accept the latter."

Hey, it might take that long to get the matchups straight. Sometimes Abdul- Jabbar opens against Malone, other times Kurt Rambis draws Moses and Kareem takes Marc Iavaroni. Magic, despite playing guard offensively, slides upcourt to guard Erving, and Jamaal Wilkes glides into the backcourt to challenge Andrew Toney.

And all of that revolves in fascinating directions when Michael Cooper, Dwight Jones and Mark Landsberger come off the bench. And if Bob McAdoo, who has been out with a muscle pull in his thigh, is ready, the X's intermingle even differently with the O's.

"There's not much you can do differently in terms of matchups at the start of the game," Riley said. "The versatility really becomes a factor when you begin to substitute. In effect, the starting matchups are almost academic."

In their six-game series against the Spurs, the obvious pairings had the most dynamic effect on the results. Abdul-Jabbar faced a more stationary Artis Gilmore in the middle, and Magic drew a comparable big guard in George Gervin. In this series, Magic always has been the special consideration because of his flexibility. But now the Lakers have to contend with Malone, the rebounding champion.

"Moses," Riley said, "is a highly efficient player. His consistency in departments that kill you are extraordinary. We're not talking about just an offensive brute.

"There is a power there. Darryl Dawkins gave them that sense of power, but you never knew if it was going to be there every night. With Moses, you know you're getting 25 (points) and 15 (rebounds), or numbers right around there. And he, in turn, is enhanced here. Peer pressure makes them all better.

"Gilmore stayed in more of a stationary post, trying to beat Kareem to spots, using force against force. But he doesn't have the maneuverability Moses has."

Malone scored a game-high 27 points Sunday and swept 18 rebounds, his best total in 10 playoff appearances this season. He accepts the challenge of Abdul-Jabbar, winces at the constant collapsing zones, and wonders openly about the value of trying to stop him with the shorter, slower Landsberger.

"It's getting tougher and tougher every series," Moses said. "But now they're banging below my knees, too, and I gotta adjust. I don't know why they got Landsberger on me. He can't check me. But LA knows what they gotta do."

Malone has focused more specifically on Abdul-Jabbar, whether or not they always play directly against each other.

"He's 36, but you can't put a man's age at the top," Moses said. ''Kareem's the best player of all time, he's there to win, same as we are. And now, the referees are not gonna make too many calls, so you gotta prepare for everything. That's OK, that gives me a chance to do a little banging, too."

Riley indicated he is considering alternatives to deal with Toney, but is reluctant to use Magic there, dragging a key rebounder away from the boards. He seems more concerned with fast-break efficiency and an opportunity to win Game 2.

"We wanted to win the first one," Pat said. "Clint Richardson hit it right on the button when he said it was essential for them to win the first one. Had they lost, it would've been a psychological coup for us.

"We came out of the loss confident, and when you do that, it's a plus. Sometimes that doesn't happen, sometimes you lose and you're shaken. What beat us was our play in the open court. By our statistics, we converted on 17 of 39 fast breaks, they scored on 19 of 25. That's a hell of an efficiency percentage for them."

The Spurs beat the Lakers four out of five during the regular season, but were unable to win a best-of-seven series. The Sixers turned back the Lakers in their two games during the season, but that's not a factor now, either.

"San Antonio's record against us meant nothing at this point," Wohl said. ''It's one thing to play a team, move on to the next city, play again, and so on. When you're down to one opponent, playing a series, the whole focus changes. The same thing holds true now with us and the Sixers."

The goals are the same and yet very different. The Lakers want back-to-back titles, the Sixers want their first since 1967. The Lakers want to defend their turf, the Sixers want to justify their acquisition of Malone.

"To me, the big difference between now and the last two times we faced the Lakers," Richardson said, "is Moses. Plus, we have a year of experience together, we've been there before, we're tired of going to the finals and losing. Boston used to go every year and win. We'd like to be able to experience that feeling."

If McAdoo is unable to play, the Sixers finally might be able to counter- balance the Lakers' flexibility with strength and versatility of their own. If those are the circumstances, Philadelphia will win in six games.

If McAdoo is in a position to contribute, the remainder of this series will be tougher and closer, and the Sixers will win in seven.

You could look it up. That's the one game Harold Katz got Moses for in the first place.