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Los Angeles Lakers: NBA dynasty of the ’80s
During the '80s, the Los Angeles Lakers won an astonishing 591 regular season games. The Lakers carried their regular season success into the playoffs as well. They participated in the postseason every single year of the decade and made it to the NBA Finals eight times. The Lakers established themselves as the NBA dynasty of the '80s by winning 111 playoff games and five NBA Championships during the decade.
The Beginning of a New Era
Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the Los Angeles Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979. That same summer, the Lakers drafted Earvin "Magic" Johnson with the first pick of the 1979 NBA Draft. With these two developments, "Showtime" was born and a new era of Lakers basketball began.
The 1979-1980 Los Angeles Lakers led the Western Conference with 60 wins and held home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference Playoffs. The Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals four games to one. In the Western Conference Finals, they beat the defending NBA Champion Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) in five games as well.
The Los Angeles Lakers faced the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals. After winning Game 1, the Lakers lost Game 2, 107-104, and surrendered home-court advantage to the 76ers. The two teams split Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia and returned to Los Angeles for Game 5 tied at two games apiece. With the Lakers holding a slight two-point lead late in the third quarter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar twisted his left ankle and went to the locker room. He returned to the game early in the fourth quarter and scored 14 points down the stretch to lead Los Angeles to a 108-103 victory and 3-2 series lead. With Abdul-Jabbar still in Los Angeles nursing his ankle, the series shifted back to Philadelphia for Game 6. In Kareem's absence, Magic opened the game at center and finished it with 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and a block. Johnson's magical performance helped the Lakers clinch their first NBA Championship of the '80s.
Magic missed much of the 1980-1981 season with a knee injury and the Lakers still managed to win 54 games. In the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs they faced the Houston Rockets. Each game of the three-game series was decided by five points or less. The Rockets outscored the Lakers 306-304 over the three games and won the series 2-1 to end the Lakers' season.
The Lakers won 57 games during the 1981-1982 season. In the Western Conference Semifinals, Los Angeles swept the Phoenix Suns in four straight games. They earned another trip to the NBA Finals by defeating the San Antonio Spurs 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals.
The 1982 NBA Finals featured a rematch between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers. Los Angeles won Game 1, 124-117, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and snatched home-court advantage from the 76ers. After losing Game 2, 110-94, the Lakers returned to Los Angeles and protected their home court with victories in Games 3 and 4. The series shifted back to Philadelphia with the Lakers holding a 3-1 series lead. After the Lakers were pummeled, 135-102, in Game 5, the series returned to Los Angeles. The Lakers defeated the 76ers, 114-104, in Game 6 and won the NBA Championship in front of their home crowd for the first time since 1972.
The Lakers entered the 1982-1983 season with their championship roster intact. They also added the number one overall pick of the 1982 NBA Draft, James Worthy, to their lineup. Los Angeles finished the year with 58 wins and defeated the Portland Trail Blazers four games to one in the Western Conference Semifinals. They faced the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals for the second straight year and won the series 4-2.
For the third time in four years, the Los Angeles Lakers met the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals. Los Angeles went into the 1983 NBA Finals with an opportunity to win back-to-back championships. But instead of winning their second consecutive title, the Lakers humbly surrendered to the 76ers in four straight games.
Lakers Finally Lift the Curse of the Leprechauns
The Los Angeles Lakers won 54 games during the 1983-1984 campaign and recorded their fifth straight 50-win season. After sweeping the Kansas City Kings (now the Sacramento Kings) 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks 4-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals. In the Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games and earned another trip to the NBA Finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers faced their old nemeses, the Boston Celtics, in the 1984 NBA Finals. The two franchises had battled in the NBA Finals on seven other occasions and the Celtics (with a little help from their leprechauns) had prevailed each time. Behind the stellar play of 37-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (32 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and a steal), the Lakers won Game 1 in Boston and stole home-court advantage from the Celtics. In Game 2, with possession of the ball and 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Lakers failed to hold onto a 115-113 lead and eventually lost in overtime, 124-121. After the two teams split Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles, the series shifted back to Boston for a pivotal Game 5 tied at two games apiece. The Celtics protected their home court and took a 3-2 series lead with a 121-103 victory in Game 5. The Lakers won Game 6 in Los Angeles to tie the series at three games apiece and set up a championship-deciding Game 7 in Boston. The Celtics won Game 7 and—just as they had on seven prior occasions—earned an NBA Championship at the Lakers' expense.
Los Angeles led the Western Conference with 62 wins during the 1984-1985 season. In the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, the Lakers demolished the Phoenix Suns in three straight games and outscored them 408-347 for the series. After beating the Portland Trail Blazers in five games in the Western Conference Semifinals, Los Angeles did the same thing to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals and earned their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
In the 1985 NBA Finals, the Lakers faced the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics. The series began with the Celtics massacring the Lakers 148-114. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (12 points and three rebounds) was particularly ineffective in the Memorial Day Massacre. Between Games 1 and 2, the 38-year-old Abdul-Jabbar apologized to each of his teammates for his effort and vowed it would never happen again. In Game 2, Kareem led the Lakers to a 109-102 victory with 30 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks as the Lakers tied the series 1-1. The series shifted to Los Angeles for Games 3, 4, and 5. The Lakers defeated the Celtics by 25 points, 136-111, in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead. After losing Game 4 by two points, 109-107, Los Angeles won Game 5 and headed back to Boston just one win away from lifting the curse of the leprechauns. Holding a 3-2 series lead, the Lakers would have two chances to get over the Celtic hump; but with Games 6 and 7 both in Boston; it would not be an easy task. The two teams went into halftime of Game 6 tied at 55. In the second half, the "Showtime" Lakers outscored the Celtics 56-45 for a 111-100 victory and their third NBA Championship of the decade. The curse of the leprechauns had finally been lifted.
The Los Angeles Lakers won 62 games for the second straight season in 1986. In the first round, they destroyed the San Antonio Spurs three games to none and outscored them by nearly 100 points, 371-276, for the series. The Lakers defeated the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in a competitive Western Conference Semifinals matchup. Los Angeles had one final leg of the Texas Triangle to overcome in order to make their fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. In the Western Conference Finals, they faced the Houston Rockets. The Lakers won Game 1 by double-digits, 119-107. After that it was all Rockets, Los Angeles lost the next four games and lost the series 4-1. For the first time since 1981, the Los Angeles Lakers would not represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Back-to-Back NBA Champions
The 1986-1987 Los Angeles Lakers won a league-high 65 games. In the first round of the 1987 NBA playoffs, they swept the Denver Nuggets 3-0. The Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors 4-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals and swept the Seattle Supersonics 4 games to none in the conference finals.
In the 1987 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics met for the third time in four years. The Lakers won Games 1 and 2 by 13 and 19 points respectively, to protect their home court. The Celtics won Game 3 at Boston Garden to cut the Lakers' lead to two games to one. Magic Johnson made a junior skyhook in the waning moments of Game 4, which proved to be the difference in a 107-106 Lakers victory. Holding a 3-1 series lead, Los Angeles went into Game 5 with a chance to win the NBA Championship on Boston's vaunted parquet floor for the second time in three years. The defending champion Celtics refused to allow the Lakers to celebrate on their floor and sent the series back to Los Angeles with a 123-108 victory. In Game 6, the Celtics led 56-51 at halftime, but the Lakers dominated the second half and won the game 106-93. With that victory, Los Angeles earned their fourth NBA Championship of the decade.
The Lakers went into the 1987-1988 season with the weight of Coach Pat Riley's guarantee that they would repeat on their shoulders. Los Angeles responded with 62 wins and held home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Lakers swept the San Antonio Spurs in the first round 3-0. In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz, 109-98, in a series-deciding Game 7. Home court proved to be the deciding factor against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals as well. The Lakers lost the three games played in Dallas while winning each of their four home games to earn another trip to the NBA Finals.
Los Angeles lost Game 1, 105-93, at the Forum and surrendered home-court advantage to the Detroit Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals. The series shifted to Detroit tied 1-1 after a Lakers Game 2 victory. The Lakers regained home-court advantage with a 99-86 win in Game 3 at the Pontiac Silverdome. After losing Games 4 and 5 in Detroit, the Lakers returned to Los Angeles facing a 3-2 deficit. In order to repeat as NBA Champions, the Los Angeles Lakers would have to win two straight games over the defensive-minded Pistons. After trailing 102-99 with just a minute left in the game, the Lakers scored the final four points of Game 6 to escape with a 103-102 victory and forced a championship-deciding Game 7. With the support of their home crowd, Los Angeles won Game 7, 108-105, and became the first team to win back-to-back NBA Championships in over a decade.
One Final Run
The 1988-1989 Los Angeles Lakers won 57 games and finished the '80s with their 10th consecutive 50-win season. The Lakers swept the Portland Trail Blazers (3-0), Seattle Supersonics (4-0), and Phoenix Suns (4-0) in succession on the way to their third straight NBA Finals.
The 1989 NBA Finals were a rematch between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons. In their eighth Finals appearance of the decade, the Lakers fell to the Detroit Pistons in four straight games.
Although they came up a little short in their final run of the decade, the Los Angeles Lakers were clearly the team of the '80s. With 591 regular season wins, 111 playoff wins, eight NBA Finals appearances, five NBA Championships, and back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988, the "Showtime" Lakers established themselves as the NBA Dynasty of the '80s.
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Information from Basketball-Reference.com's Los Angeles Lakers Franchise Index, SportsIllustrated.CNN.com's Jerry Is Never Behind The Eight Ball, And Now For My Reappearing Act, NBA.com's Rookie Makes the Lakers Believe in Magic, Celtics Win First Bird-Magic Finals Showdown, Kareem, Lakers Conquer the Celtic Mystique, and Magic Maneuvers Lakers Past Celtics was used for this article.
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