This past week, a local cable television network showed several airings of the 76ers’ championship game victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in 1983, when the Sixers – led by Moses Malone and Julius Erving – went 12-1 in the NBA postseason, just missing Malone’s now-legendary playoff prediction of fo’ fo’ fo’.
Watching that final game against the Los Angeles Lakers made me wonder how that Sixers team would have fared against the current champions, the Miami Heat. And I came to the quick conclusion that the 1983 Sixers would have whipped the 2013 Heat.
Sure, we know that today’s athletes are bigger and stronger and faster and quicker and, of course, richer than their counterparts of the past. And we know the Heat’s LeBron James will go down as one of the best players in NBA history. But basketball is still a team game and the 1983 Sixers had a much better team than the 2013 Heat.
In fact, the NBA as a whole was better back then, in part because there were seven fewer teams and the talent was more concentrated. In the Eastern Conference finals, the Sixers had to beat a playoff-tested Milwaukee Bucks team that had great players like Bob Lanier, Sydney Moncrief, Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman and Brian Winters. That’s a much better team than the Indiana Pacers squad the Heat barely beat 4-3 in the 2013 conference finals and the 1983 Sixers rolled past the Bucks 4-1.
Then the Sixers blitzed past Los Angeles 4-0 in the championship series, a Lakers team that boasted four future Hall-of-Famers – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Jamaal Wilkes. The Heat squeaked past the San Antonio Spurs 4-3 in this year’s championship series and if the Spurs had made one more free throw or grabbed one more rebound the Heat wouldn’t have won at all. As good as the Spurs were this season they weren’t as good as that 1983 Lakers team.
Looking at the matchups of a series between the ’83 Sixers and ’13 Heat, it’s clear that the Sixers would have trouble with James and he probably would have done a good job defensively on Erving. But the Heat would have no answer at all for Malone, who averaged 26 points and 18 rebounds per game in the ’83 championship series against the Lakers. The rugged and relentless Malone would have been even more dominant against the Heat’s frail frontline, which didn’t have anybody who could match up with him.
That’s one part of the game that has not gotten better as the years have gone by. There are no legitimate centers in the NBA anymore, with the possible exception of Dwight Howard – like most big men these days, the Spurs’ Tim Duncan is really a forward who plays in the middle at times. Howard is considered the best true center in the game right now, but in 1993 he would have been the seventh best center in the NBA at best. Ahead of him would have been six centers who are in the basketball Hall-of-Fame – Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, Artis Gilmore, Bill Walton, Robert Parish and, of course, Moses Malone.
And there’s something else that most people have forgotten or never knew – despite all the offensive firepower on that Sixers team, their success was mainly due to their defense. They had three players on the NBA’s first-team all-defensive team – Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones – and when was the last time another team did that? The answer: Never.
The Sixers were disciplined on offense and defense and they would take advantage of every mistake the Heat made, and anybody who watched the Heat in the playoffs this year knows they make lots of them. In that championship game against the Lakers the Sixers forced the great Magic Johnson into eight turnovers and they would have definitely turned up the heat on the Heat.
That defense would neutralize Ray Allen’s long-distance shooting and the one-two combination of Jones and Andrew Toney would have kept Dwayne Wade in check. Again, James would get his points, but the Sixers would make him work hard for everything he got.
Bottom line, the Heat simply couldn’t handle Malone and the Sixers’ defense would give Erving, Cheeks, Toney and Jones plenty of chances to pile up fast-break points.
So, how much better were the 1983 Sixers than the 2013 Heat? Put it this way — the series would be over in fo’.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.