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'Showtime' with the Lakers

1979-82: "Showtime" Arrives
Los Angeles picked Earvin "Magic" Johnson, an electrifying 6-9 point guard who had led Michigan State to the 1979 NCAA Championship. "Showtime" had arrived, and a dynasty was established almost overnight.

The 1979-80 season was one of intense drama for the Lakers. With the team at 10-4, Head Coach Jack McKinney suffered a serious injury in a bicycle accident and was replaced by Paul Westhead. The Lakers rallied to finish the season at 60-22, tops in the Pacific Division. Inspired by NBA All-Rookie Team member Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar turned in the best all-around performance of his career and earned his sixth and final Most Valuable Player Award. The Lakers were talented and deep-Jamaal Wilkes, Jim Chones, and Abdul-Jabbar made for an intimidating front line, and the backcourt of Johnson and Nixon could stand up to any guard tandem in the country. The Lakers' bench included Michael Cooper and Spencer Haywood.

Los Angeles walked all over Phoenix and Seattle in the first two rounds of the playoffs, taking each series in five games. The NBA Finals pitted the club against the Julius Erving-led Philadelphia 76ers, and the two teams split four close games to start the series. Abdul-Jabbar sprained his ankle in Game 5 but still scored 40 points to give the Lakers a 108-103 win.

Abdul-Jabbar was unable to play in Game 6, but Johnson stepped up to turn in one of the most remarkable performances in NBA Finals history. Still just a 20-year-old rookie, Johnson moved from guard to center and tallied 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists, single-handedly carrying the Lakers to a 123-107 victory and the NBA Championship. Johnson earned the first of three NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards.

The 1980-81 season was a major disappointment. The Lakers lost Magic Johnson for much of the season to a knee injury. Behind another brilliant year from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (26.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg), the team turned in a 54-28 record and finished second behind the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division. But Los Angeles was stunned by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. Led by Moses Malone, the Rockets bumped the Lakers in a best-of-three series, notching both victories in Los Angeles.

Owner Jerry Buss fired Coach Paul Westhead after the Lakers went 7-4 to start the 1981-82 season. Buss promoted Assistant Coach Pat Riley, a former Lakers backup point guard, to head coach on November 19, and the team won 17 of its next 20 games.

The Lakers took the Pacific Division title and then embarked on one of the most impressive playoff journeys in NBA history. They swept both Phoenix and the San Antonio Spurs with an average margin of victory of 11 points. Los Angeles then stretched its postseason winning streak to nine games by taking the first contest of the NBA Finals from the 76ers. Philadelphia came back to win Game 2, but the Lakers prevailed in the series, four games to two, to win their second title in three years. The team's playoff record that year was 12-2.

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