Lakers Countdown: At #7…

J.M. Poulard —  August 12, 2012

When the Decision happened, LeBron James became the symbol of the spoiled athlete that failed to understand just what was happening around him in “real life”. The end result was that he instantly became a villain and represented everything that was wrong about professional sports in the minds of many. Consequently he was booed in every road arena even though he never truly understood why.

How history treats him remains to be seen, but James certainly was not the first athlete to make a questionable decision in terms of how he conducted himself as a professional.

For instance, Kobe Bryant requested to be traded in 2007 but that has since been swept under the rug after winning back-to-back titles afterwards.

Winning tends to make people forget things.

But sometimes, odd actions can make people forget winners.

The best illustration of this clock in at #7 in our Los Angeles Lakers countdown of greatest title teams…

The 1981-82 Lakers

After winning the NBA championship in Magic Johnson’s rookie season in 1980, many thought the Lakers had a chance to get back to the mountaintop in the ensuing season.

Mind you, Johnson was injured early in the season and thus only appeared in 37 games. Despite the prolonged absence of one of their best playmakers and rebounders, the purple and gold managed to win 54 games on the strength of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes’ scoring. Also, Norm Nixon’s ability to run the offense helped a talented Lakers squad play at a high level.

The team seemed as though they might make some noise in the postseason but then they fell apart in the first round of the playoffs just as the team was getting used to playing with Magic Johnson.

With the team having faced an early season exit, they made some minor tweaks and acquired Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis to help shore up the rebounding in the offseason; and later acquired former three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo early in the ensuing 1981-82 regular season.

The franchise made news by signing Magic Johnson to a 25-year $25 million contract that led many to wonder if owner Jerry Buss liked Magic Johnson just a little too much.

The Lakers started out the season by once again being a very talented squad but some around the team felt as though head coach Paul Westhead was holding the team back with his half court offense. They had stopped being Showtime and instead became a team that brought the ball up the court and executed instead of consistently outrunning their opponents.

Magic went on to voice his complaints and requested to be traded, feeling as though his talents weren’t being maximized under Westhead. And just like that, Westhead was fired despite a 7-4 record at the time.

Had Kanye West been the artist back then that he is today, everyone would have said that the lyrics from his hit song Power were tailor made for Magic:

“No one man should have all that power.”

The former Michigan State Spartan was booed in every opposing arena and was viewed as an athlete with a sense of entitlement and a man possessing far too much power with his franchise. In an odd way, this situation somewhat overshadowed just how deep and talented the team was as well as what it accomplished.

The 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers had four Hall of Fame players (Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, McAdoo and Wilkes) as well as a stud point guard in Norm Nixon — yes, he was listed as the team’s point guard and Magic was listed as a guard/forward — that helped make plays.

The team may have had one of the best guard pairings ever when we look at their production during the 1981-82 regular season:

  • Norm Nixon: 17.6 points per game, 8 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game on 49.3 percent field goal shooting.
  • Magic Johnson: 18.6 points per game, 9.5 assists per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.7 steals per game on 53.7 percent field goal shooting.

As good as the guards were, things became infinitely more difficult for opponents when the frontcourt became involved when arguably the best center in NBA history had two exquisite guards feeding him the ball when the team played in the half court.

And just in case that wasn’t problematic enough, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was surrounded by great scorers in Bob McAdoo (coming off the bench) and Jamaal Wilkes.

With Pat Riley at the helm, the Lakers finished the season with a 57-25 record, tops in the Western Conference. They sported the second best offensive efficiency in the league and the 10th best defensive efficiency.

The Western Conference playoffs were a mere footnote for the Lakers who obliterated the Phoenix Suns (46-36) in the first round by an average scoring margin of 12.7 points in a four-game sweep.

The following series against the San Antonio Spurs (48-34) proved to be quite similar to the outcome against the Suns, as the Lakers swept them and won every game against the Spurs by an average of 8.7 points.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the NBA Finals — at the time, a team only needed to win two rounds to advance to the finals — as underdogs to the Philadelphia 76ers (58-24) given that they did not have home court advantage.

And yet, as if to come full circle, Magic Johnson led the purple and gold to another title against the same 76ers team that had lost against them two years prior in the title round.

Los Angeles won in six games and kept Julius Erving’s title drought alive for one last season.

The ’82 Lakers boasted an impressive 12-2 playoff record and sported an average scoring margin of plus-6.1 during the postseason. In addition, when we consider the roster top to bottom, there is no doubt that this is one of the greatest teams to ever hit the hardwood.

Why seventh then?

For a team as loaded as the ’82 Lakers, one can only wonder why they only won 57 games especially in a rather weak Western Conference. In addition, they dismantled their conference opponents during the playoffs but both teams fail to even win 50 games during the regular season, thus making the accomplishment a little less impressive.

In addition, this squad may have only had two losses during their postseason run, but they were by 16 and 33 points; meaning they were blown out of the building. Perhaps it’s nitpicking, but as we climb along the ladder of best Los Angeles Lakers teams in franchise history, these small details will add up and end up making the difference.

J.M. Poulard

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34 responses to Lakers Countdown: At #7…

  1. Nixon was great on that run.

  2. Lakers this season is like the Olympic selection in fact better in the post positions. We just have to wait for Dwight’s first game to make that assessment. If he can play the way he did before the injury, watch out even the consecutive W’s record is in danger.

    I read some complaints about Dwight’s health, Kobe & Nash age, and the bench in the other thread. Jamison, Meeks, Hill, Blake and Gasol as C for the bench, you think that’s not yet impressive? well it’s beyond logic to form such lopsided conclusion. Not even a LA homeless who rarely watch live basketball would agree with your opinion. It means nothing would ever satisfy a negative mind or simply not a Laker fan. Majority of sports writers including Lakers haters were unanimous to the Lakers upgrade, it created ominous dangers ahead of possible d-o-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n of the league.

  3. A couple of cool stats from this team:

    The Lakers shot 52% as a team…for the SEASON.

    Magic led the team in 3-pointers. He made 6. The team made 13 all season.

  4. Byron Scott was their first 3-point threat.

  5. The Lakers dynasty DVD has game 1 of the 81-82 Finals on it. If you watch that game, one of the first things you realize is that neither team ever looks to shoot a 3. Everything is mid-range or inside, high percentage looks (and the Lakers got a lot of fast break points of course). It’s just very strange to watch, given how the game is played today. It’s a much more efficient and explosive attack, to be sure.

    It’s only at the very end of the game, when Philly is down, that Andrew Toney starts shooting a few 3’s to try to get the team back in the game. The announcers treat this as a specialty shot, almost a desperation play.

  6. Also, this team was notable for Kurt Rambis’ contribution. Mitch Kupchak was the free agent signing who was going to hold down the power forward position, and he was playing great until a knee injury took him out. Mark Landsberger had a crack at the starting 4 until Rambis basically came in out of nowhere (as a rookie walk-on), took the gig, and held it for the next 5 years.

    People remember Rambis for the goofy glasses and the McHale foul, but he was absolutely the perfect blue-collar foil for this team. Great position D and rebounding, and all hustle all the time. Also a master at inbounding the ball after the other team’s made basket and starting a break the other way. This happened all the time.

  7. The Laker-Sixer match ups of the early 80’s were not as historically significant as the Laker-Celtic match ups of the mid 80’s. however, in many ways, they were more entertaining. Reviewing these makes you appreciate Magic – perhaps just not as much as the panel does : ) Magic made the finals 9 out of his 12 years and won 5 times. So for those who think I am spoiled and entitled: I could expect Finals trips 75% of the time, and titles 40% of the time – just like the 80’s. Instead my very reasonable goals are Finals trips 50% of the years and NBA titles 25% of the years. The Kobe era is very close to those levels (7 Trips and 5 Titles in 16 years).

  8. Actually Laker Soldier – your math is backwards.

    Shooting a 3 is a MUCH more efficient shot than shooting an 18 footer.

    A really good shooter from 18 ft will make about 50% of his baskets.

    A really good 3 point shooter makes around 40 % of his 3’s.

    10 shots at 18 ft w/ a 50% conversion rate = 5 made baskets = 10 points.

    10 shots from beyond the 3 point line w/ a 40% conversion rate = 4 made baskets = 12 points.

    Even for MWP, for his career he is a 34.2% 3 pt shooter – meaning that for every 10 shots at that rate he makes 3.4 of them which averages to 10.2 points (still more efficient than a very above average 50% field goal shooter from 18 ft…)

    Shooting the 3 also gives the benefit of spreading the floor, which allows more driving lanes for guards and less packed paint for big men.

  9. Im sorry but defenses are smarter and better today because you can play the Zone now. The Zone forces outside shots.

  10. Laker – soldier saying what every other old timer does.. That the older teams are better, that the league was better. I beg to differ.

  11. off topic, saw this bit on dwight’s back injury on the lakersground forum:

    “Just listened to Dr. Robert Klapper, chief of orthopedic surgery at Cedar Sinai and ESPN 710’s resident expert. 

    “Some highlights: 

    “1. From an orthopedic surgery standpoint he would much rather have Dwight’s back than Andrew’s knees. 

    “2. The knees have a much more “chronic injury” issue than Dwight’s back which is an “acute injury” that can be repaired with very little sequelae. 

    “3. After surgery, you can’t play basketball and engage in any heavy physical activity for 4 months. 

    “Why? 

    “Because the injury is a disc herniation: a small amount of the nucleus pulposus or the “shock absorber” of the disc got squeezed out. It is a VERY SMALL amount. You get rid of the “squirted out” material with a 1 inch incision under a microscope. 

    “There is a 5-10 percent chance that returning to physical activity too early could herniate more material. That’s obviously not good because you’ve reherniated the disc and have to remove more of the extruded disc. 

    “Bear in mind that Dwight was fully recovered, pain free, and ready to work out probably a few weeks after surgery (it is only 1 inch incision after all). BUT returning to physical activity too early gets you that 5-10 percent chance. Keep in mind that means there is a 90 to 95% chance that if he came back after only a month or so he would be fine. 

    “But he is Dwight Howard and so they are being super, super cautious. 

    “4. He had surgery 04/20/2012 which means he should be able to resume training, weights, basketball activity, etc around 08/20/2012 if everything goes according to schedule and he feels no pain, etc. 

    “5. Per Dr. Klapper, based on that schedule Dwight should be ready for opening night (10/30/2012). He’ll have 2 months to get his conditioning back. Again assuming he recovers as expected and at his age and conditioning there should be NO REASON for any setbacks. 

    “6. Dwight will ALWAYS know he had surgery, he’ll ALWAYS feel just a little different. That’s unavoidable. BUT that feeling doesn’t affect his ability to do what he needs to do. Per Dr. Klapper as fans we should be able to tell NO DIFFERENCE in the way he plays. He should have essentially NO difference in his skills, athleticism, etc. 

    “7. By way, reading some medical papers addressing the effects of laminectomy on NBA athletes, those papers support Dr. Klapper’s assertion that Dwight should be back as good as new. 

    “8. That should answer the question why teams are still willing to kill themselves to get Dwight Howard despite this “back injury” issue. It’s a non-issue moving forward. Also why he and his agent are very comfortable not extending and waiting for the end of the season to sign a new max contract. They know, all-world BEAST 3x DPOY Howard is coming back this year. With Stephen A interview, Dwight pointed out that he absolutely felt he could have won a 4th straight DPOY if he had been fully healthy. He’s ready to come back and remind everyone who he is on the basketball floor. Trust me, he may be smiling but this whole Dwightmare did affect him and he’s going to playing with an edge, especially on defense. 

    “The most dominant defensive force in the NBA basically feels disrespected and the league has NO IDEA what is coming down on them from the 5 slot. 

    “Summary: If everything goes according to schedule, we should hear something by the end of August that Dwight is starting to work out again on the court, lifting, running etc. 

    “Chances are good that he’ll be ready for the start of the season. 

    “Chances overwhelmingly good that there will be no lasting effect from this particular injury. 

    “Final point: He played with a lot of pain and discomfort when the incompetent, dumbass Magic medical staff misdiagnosed with “back spasms.” He said it was more pain than he had ever experienced since he was in the league. 

    “That’s why the thing that hurt him personally the most in the media was that he was faking an injury and quitting on his team. He put up All-Star numbers last year playing with a herniated disc. 

    “When I think of Bynum taking plays and games off and openly admitting it while Dwight is still putting up the numbers he did with an injury that ultimately required surgery and in a toxic, destructive environment . . . I think there is no doubt the sort of heart and work ethic Dwight is going to bring to our team. 

    “Hope all of this is a bit reassuring.”

  12. Older times were not better sorry to say that soldier.It is urban legend.May be more rough but not better.Put Kobe in a time machine and watch him then.

  13. Let’s just say, back in the 70s and 80s, you had players having day jobs (or serving in the military), playing only on weekends and still be able to compete at a high level.

    Today?

    Unless you’re prime Shaq, you probably don’t get away with not being in basketball shape. Heck, argument could be made that even Shaq couldn’t be Shaq when he didn’t put 100%.

  14. Harold

    Just how young are you? What you describe is the 40’s and maybe 50’s.

  15. Busboys4me

    I think I got it while reading When the Game was Ours, so it’s probably in the 70-80’s; maybe I am getting it mixed up with an anecdote re: Dave Cowens.

    And the military bit was about Baylor, but I guess Baylor was in the 60s.

    As for my age, I’ve only followed the NBA around 86 or so which was when I was 9 (and at the time I could only speak Korean and German). Back then all I cared about was a tall guy with goggles and a guy who would just do showy stuff with the ball.

  16. beh, stuck in moderation.

    I got the military bit from Baylor, and the taxi bit from Dave Cowens, I think. Maybe there was another player way back who actually did drive a cab for his day job and not just as a way to relieve stress; wouldn’t know tho.

  17. Scientifically… Athletes get better through time. Check out objective times of runners, sprinters, and swimmers.

  18. The game is different now. I grew up on the Showtime Lakers. I was in high school during Jordan’s title run with the Bulls. I don’t buy the notion that old school players where automatically better. I definitely don’t think the 90’s were better than now. That was some of the ugliest basketball I have ever seen. They were not tougher. They simply got away with more. If you allowed this generation to get away with clotheslines, forearms to the chest, and rebounding with your elbows extended plenty of them would do it. They don’t because they would get suspended for multiple games and have the pay docked.

    Let’s just accept the game is different today.

  19. Laker Soldier,

    Being a oldtimer as well, it is my opinion this team roster can surpass the 1972 and any of the Championship team starting ’00 to ’10. I’m no consummate homer and those who knows me can tell you that I go for the middle ground. However, with the hiring of Nash and Howard I just can’t believe the Lakers upgrade in the alignment of stars formed by Mitch and JIm. All they need is chemistry, honing of some skills on part of DH body conditioning and FT shooting and lastly, an inspirational mission statement which is Championship or bust.

    As you can see from the last season alone, Kobe, Gasol and Artest can still play their game role, maybe not as consistent when they ‘re younger. I believe if only Drew poured his best during the playoffs, we could have passed OKC. They had two games where OKC was beatable and as usual those Laker melt down in the crucial minutes.

    But this season my gosh!! those 3 stars added are enormous help: from Nash, (the tormentor of the Lakers in ’06 and ’07), our new diva, Howard ( the most dominating Center today but just hoping that his back surgery would heal quick), Jamison (formerly a star of his own right & No. 2 to King James with Cavaliers), Meeks, (a good perimeter shooter with Sixers) and finally, ( a full season of Jordan Hill, a good rebounder and post defender).

    Lakers have only weakness i.e. The Coach. He’s no Bill Sharman, Pat Riley or Phil Jackson. He is plain good, amiable & smiling Coach Mike Brown (former asst. of Popovich as a vidographer and a COY awardee with Cavaliers. I suspect one reason why Lebron left Cleveland because he was disgruntled with the Coach and the team which similar reason why Dwight fled Orlando. Mbrown will be tested this year with this roster and the spotlight will be brighter than Paul Westhead in ’82. Let’s see if he can back up his formula of winning when he brown nosed Jim Buss that he was the alternative to the triangle.

  20. I wasn’t trying to start an argument about which era of basketball was better! I just wanted to point out how much the game’s offensive philosophy has changed. It’s interesting how often you hear today’s commentators talk about the “lost art” of the midrange shot (Kobe is frequently lauded as one of the few remaining practitioners of this skill), as that is just about all you see in games from thirty years ago. There really is something to be said for watching two great teams methodically (and quickly; the pace was fast!) look for the highest percentage shots possible on every possession.

    No one will ever resolve the argument of which era was best. We’re blessed to be watching some of the greatest athletes ever right now. But to anyone who thinks Kareem and Magic’s Lakers (both the Wilkes-Nixon and Worthy-Scott versions) couldn’t have hung multiple championship banners in today’s NBA, I have to say, with all due respect: You’re trippin’.

  21. Gonna flash my old fogey colors here, but I still don’t like the 3 point rule. I think it does lead to less emphasis on executing the offense. Moreover, I think there’s a correlation between the Lakers success and the fact they’ve never relied much on three point shooting. Not to say, I wasn’t a happy dancing maniac screaming at the TV when Fish or Horry made some of those break the other team’s heart 3 pointers in play off crunch times…

    I wonder what someone like Gail Goodrich or Downtown Freddy Brown from the Sonics would have done w/ a 3 point rule.

    Harold, I think by the 70’s most NBA players were full time. It was wildly different in the 40’s and 50’s, a lot of players could make more money playing for the industrial leagues (GM hard their own team, etc.)

  22. It is difficult to compare eras per se, perhaps you can only compare their records of consecutive victories, number of Championships or individual player’s records of achievement. Should I compare Kobe to Jerry West? or Magic J to Steve Nash? or Howard to Kareem? It is impossible and very subjective isn’t it? Let’s leave the past to the past but let’s compare on winning or the opposite the losing records. When it comes to individual prowess, let’s leave it to the basketball historian who have a wider spectrum of viewpoints.

  23. Not only should we stop trying to compare teams from different eras, but also players from different eras – at least in arguments about who is best.

    Wilt and Jerry played in a different era from Magic and Kareem (well Kareem sort of lapped over two eras). Barkley and Jordan played in a different era than our current era. Because of this, I don’t feel comfortable trying to compare these players to determine the best – they were all great.

    I know, I am sort of downgrading what this thread is supposed to be about, but I do find the comparisons lacking – and I have actually seen all the players over the last 50 years and read lots and lots of newspaper/magazine articles – old fashioned, I know.

  24. I think the elite players would be great in any era, but as a whole, the players and the game have evolved. It’s no different than any other major sport. Basketball has become a worldwide sport, the average NBA player is more athletic and skilled, and the defensive schemes now are much more complex. I think there was a brief time in the 90’s, AKA the expansion era, when the evolution of the NBA went backwards a bit, or at least slowed down, but for the most part, the NBA player has steadily evolved and will continue to evolve as long as the NBA continues to be the largest revenue generating basketball league in the world.

  25. It’s hard to compare players in different eras. But I’d like to think all the 10 top all timers would adapt to any era. Doesn’t mean they’d have the same success but they’d be just as effective. We already see carbon copies of players in other eras. Rondo reminds me so much of Magic if he was 6’9 that comparison would be inevitable, Kobe and Jordan, Bird and Dirk, Oscar and LeBron, Kareem and Duncan.

    I was listening to 710 and Max compared the 04 Lakers to this team. Even though the 04 super team didn’t play LeBron or Durant. This team is as deep and won’t run into one of the most underrated championship teams ever. That Prince-Wallace-Wallace frontline was monsterous. It helps the Lakers picked up the B. Wallace of his era. PLus that 04 team had the Shaq-Kobe dynamic. GP and Malone signing were looked as a last stand type year. This team has zero distractions team chemistry wise going into the season.

  26. Kevin,
    Max didn’t compare this team to the 04 team. He said they are not very similar as Payton and Malone were both no longer all star players and were both no longer more than above average players. The Lakers have one super old player (Nash) and he was an All Star last year. Wait… I think Payton was an All Star the year before signing with the Lakers. That is my only concern (if Dwight is healthy)… that this is the year Nash gets old.

  27. Aaron: Misinterpreted what he said then thought he compared both lineups and seeing which team had the most hype coming into the season. Along with the 4 HOF position he’s taking.

    I was looking at pace. Nash’s team last year was 92.6 possessions per 48 and the Lakers were 90.5 possessions per 48. Not as big a gap I suspected he was playing half court ball last year too. While posting basically the same offensive rating (106.2) than Lakers (106.0) with FAR less talent. I think this bodes well for the Lakers.

  28. Dwight Howard’s 2nd leading rebounder last 5 years: Andersen 7.7, Bass 5.6, Barnes 5.5, Lewis 5.7, Turkoglu 5.7.

    Three of those years he won defensive player of the year. He’s a 1 man wrecking crew.

  29. I’m very confident that this year’s squad wont’t turn out like the ’04 squad, and the reason for that is because you don’t have the Kobe/Shaq drama. The 2 best players on this team are Kobe and D12, and, while their relationship together is something we’ve yet to see play out, Kobe is no longer the trying to prove that he can be the alpha male. Not to mention Pau and Kobe have a great relationship, and Nash is the kind of player everybody loves playing with due to his unselfishness.

  30. who’s going to get cut?

  31. Of course comparing teams/players from different eras is pointless. But can you imagine if Jordan and LeBron played in the same era… we can only imagine how the two would have raised their games to a new level.

  32. Presumably the TV and radio ratings for the Lakers games will be higher this year – how much more revenue will that bring the team?