Sometimes things actually do go the way the experts say they will! This is why no one should be surprised that the Philadelphia 76ers have taken a 1-0 lead against the defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers in their best-of-seven series for the National Basketball Association title.
Game No. 2 will also be played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on Thursday night, where the 76ers have lost only six times all season and are 6-0 during the playoffs.
As fine a team as Los Angeles is with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson (and the Lakers have won two NBA titles the past three years), Philadelphia went ahead of LA this season the moment it traded with Houston for center Moses Malone. All year long Moses has been the difference between the 76ers being merely a good team and a great one.
With Malone in the middle to score, rebound, block shots, and play the tough defense, Philadelphia won 50 of its first 57 games; out-rebounded every team in the NBA this year; and had the league's best road record (30-11).
As Los Angeles coach Pat Riley told reporters about Philadelphia before this series even started: ''I think the 76ers' greatest asset is the motivation they acquired from the frustration of the last three or four years. You know, when they were supposed to go all the way in the playoffs and then got knocked out either by the Celtics or us. They definitely have a quest and management proved this when it went out and got Malone, who is one of the steadiest players in the league.''
Malone, eight years younger than Abdul-Jabbar, had more than twice as many rebounds (1,194 to 592) as Kareem during the regular season - a season in which Philadelphia won both of its games against Los Angeles.
This isn't the first time Moses has experienced success against Abdul-Jabbar in a playoff. It happened in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in 1980-81, when Houston (which still had Malone at that time) defeated the defending champions twice in the LA Forum.
Expecting Kareem to nullify Malone's production at this point (especially on the boards) is as unlikely as Lawrence Welk and Liberace agreeing to exchange wardrobes for a television spectacular. Los Angeles, trying to become the first team since the 1969 Boston Celtics to win back-to-back NBA championships, simply doesn't have enough weapons to handle the 76ers. For example, in Sunday's game, Moses outrebounded Kareem 18 to 4.
If Abdul-Jabbar could play 48 minutes a game at full speed; if Bob McAdoo and Michael Cooper were 100 percent physically coming off the bench; and if rookie James Worthy were available, the Lakers might have a chance.
But when you have to rely on journeymen like Dwight Jones or Mark Lands-berger to get you the ball, and when your No. 4 guard played only 447 minutes all season, it's like trying to throw small, wooden rings over the necks of soda pop bottles at a carnival.
Malone and co-star Julius Erving also have an excellent supporting cast in guards Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks, either of whom can shoot an opponent right out of a game. And although nobody talks much about the forwards who play opposite Dr. J., Marc Ivaroni often gets a lot of rebounds in relation to minutes played, while reserve Bobby Jones plays defense about as well as any forward in the league.
Also sometimes overlooked are reserve backcourt men Clint Richardson and Franklin Edwards. While neither is as experienced as Toney and Cheeks, they are both excellent shooters and probably could start for several NBA teams. In fact, the Lakers were still looking for a way to control Richardson's offense after the former Seattle University star came off the bench with a 7-for-12 shooting performance that many observers felt was the key to Sunday's outcome.
Winning Thursday night's game is almost a must for the Lakers, who would otherwise be faced with the imposing task of winning four of the next five games. That's a feat which has been accomplished only twice in the 37-year history of the league, though ironically one of those times was by Portland in 1977 against these same 76ers.
Probably the best thing the Lakers have going for them at this point is the irrepressible Magic Johnson, who, at 23, still looks at life like Peter Pan; is probably the best floor leader in the game; and can occasionally beat an opponent single-handedly.
But basically what this series is about is what Philadelphia has been about all year - the brute force of 6 ft. 10 in., 255-lb. center Moses Malone.