Can the Doctor and his often disorganized staff known as the Philadelphia 76ers do in the Mountain Man, or will Portland and the Family Trail Blazers once again prove that a good team can beat five good individuals?
The Trail Blazers and 76ers square off in game one of their National Basketball Association championship series this afternoon at the Spectrum in Philadelphia (WTOP-TV9 at 1:30) in the classic matchup of team versus individual.
"We've taken a lot of heat this year, and some of it was deserved," said Philadelphia's George McGinnis. "But when this season started, there were 22 teams playing. Now there are only two."
Those two are as different as the stars who lead them. Julius (Dr. J) Erving is the dream basketball player, the one-on-one artist, the dunker par excellence, the showman. He is as flashy as his nickname indicates and as good as all of his advanced notices.
"The big thing we have to worry about, the problem, is Julius Erving," said Portland coach Jack Ramsay.
Bill Walton, the 6-foot-11 Portland center is the ideal team player. He makes every Trail Blazer better and does all of the unselfish things. He isn't flashy and doesn't give a fancy nickname.
Walton is a major problem," Philadelphia coach Gene Shue said. "He's one of those dominating centers and he has no apparent weaknesses. He's just an exceptional basketball player."
Walton was eighth in the NBA in field goal percentage, first in rebounding and first in blocked shots.
Portland was 44-21 in games Walton played and 5-12 in those he missed because of injury.
The 76ers seem to be trying to be little carbon copies of Erving. They gyrate, they run, they slam dunk and they please the crowd.
One of their biggest problems is that, while the Doctor knows what else they have to do, many of his teammates don't.
Portland doesn't have that problem. They run a text book fast break, they press on defense and they make the opposition play their game.
The 76ers have won all season by outrunning their opponents. No one outruns the Trail Blazers.
Indeed, the 76ers may have more trouble than expected slowing down the aptly named Blazers due to a spate of recent injuries. Center Darryl Dawkins is undergoing treatment for an inflamed right eye and reserve forward Steve Mix, a former all-star, missed Saturday's workout and a sprained left ankle.
Erving and Walton won't be matched against each other.
Erving will be working mainly against Bob Gross. Gross has nowhere near the talent of Erving, but he can run like a race horse. In the past, fast forwards have given Erving the most trouble.
Walton will be going against Caldwell Jones and Darryl Dawkins. Jones can play defense and block shots and Dawkins can play offense. Together they may equal Walton, but they can only play one at a time. Advantage Walton.
When the ball goes to either Jones or Dawkins, the 76ers offense usually comes to a halt. When the ball goes to Walton, the Trail Blazers have just begun.
The big matchup is at power where the seemingly overrated McGinnis tangles with the underrated Maurice Lucas. When the series is over, many NBA observers feel McGinnis will no longer be overrated or Lucas underrated.
The Trail Blazers definitely have the advantage in the backcourt. Philadelphia's Doug Collins will get his points, no doubt, but the super-quick Trail Blazers will put more pressure on the 76ers than they have seen yet in the playoffs.
Henry Bibby is the Philadelphia playmaker and speed isn't his long suit.
Lloyd Free, who can run, is out with a fractured rib, so Mike Dunleavy, another slow player, is the third guard.
Ramsay delights in that. He has Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis, Dave Twardzik and Herm Gilliam to call on. All are quick, fast and do they love to run.
"We're going to use a lot of pressing stuff," said Portland assistant coach Jack McKinney. "We feel we can pressure them without hurting ourselves."
Ramsay says his team "has to attack quickly. We can't let them (the 76ers) run and we can't let them set up their one-on-one offense."
Shue is gearing himself for the inevitable pressure.
"They have great quickness," he said of the Trail Blazers. "That's what we have to contend with. They win their games on defense and by pressing. They are very aggressive.
"There just isn't any team in the league like this team. They gear their offense to their defense. They play fast-break basketball and over the year that is the style that has given us a problem."
The two teams split their four regular-season games, each winning both its home games.
The one thing that is in the back of the 76ers minds, however, is the 146-104 drubbing the Trail Blazers handed them back in November in Portland.
"That hurt," Erving said, "hurt real bad."
The second game of the best-of-seven series will be played Thursday at the Spectrum with games three and four in Portland.