The talent rich Philadelphia 76ers, considered by observers the uncrowned champions of the National Basketball Association before they played a game this season, are now "frustrated, confused and maybe even a little scared," according to Julius (Dr. J.) Erving.
The 76ers also are one game from being eliminated in the NBA final by the scrappy young Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers, in the playoffs for the first time in their seven year history, and whose starters average 29 years in age, are one victory away from fulfilling the prophesy Bill Walton made before the season - that they would stand alone when it was all over.
Portland drubbed the 76ers for the third straight time Friday night at the Spectrum, 110-104, to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.
The sixth game will be played this afternoon in Portland (WTOP-TV-9 at 3 p.m.). The Trail Blazers seem to have everything going for them; while the 76ers are on the verge of ruin.
Portland has won 17 in a row at home and 44 of 50 overall on its own floor. In the two previous games of this series played there, Philadelphia lost by 22 and 32 points, respectively.
"We finally did what we had to do - we beat them on the road," Portland forward Bob Gross said after Friday's victory.
"Now it's in our laps. We've got them on our home court. It's up to us to finish them off."
There were times Friday night when it looked as if the 76ers were finished. They did storm back from 22 points down in the fourth period to make the margin respectable at the end, however.
That is about the only encouraging thing the 76ers can say going into today's game.
"I would hope that comeback would help us," Erving said. "If we wouldn't have had that spurt and got blown out, the attitude would have been that the guys quit. We didn't bounce back enough to win, but at least we didn't quit."
The 76ers are still not a happy team. Coach Gene Shue has blamed the Philadelphia press for trying to "break up my team." And some of his players, namely Lloyd Free, Steve Mix and Darryl Dawkins are seething at their limited playing time.
Shue, at least outwardly, hasn't given up.
"We're not going out to Portland just to see the rain," he said.
"You've got to be positive, to go out there and play 100 per cent and let the chips fall where they may," added Doug Collins. "Those fans will be crazy out there. They'll be sky high."
"We expect a war on Sunday," Portland coach Jack Ramsay said.
Maurice Lucas, Portland's leading scorer in the series, vowed, "We aren't going to give them anything. They're going to have to take it. I know this thing isn't over until the last nail is in the coffin, but I don't plan on coming back to Philadelphia."
If a seventh game is necessary, it will be played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia Wednesday.
As predicted by most experts before the series, this has indeed been a classic match up of a team versus individuals. The team (Portland) is winning it.
Philadelphia has been reduced to Erving, Erving, Erving, with a little Collins thrown in occasionally. Portland on the other hand, is Walton, Lucas, Hollins, Gross, Twardzik and on and on.
A look at the first five games of the series shows that Erving has led the 76ers in scoring in four of them including the last three.
Gross led Portland in game five; Hollins in game four; Lucas in game three; and Walton in games one and two.
Only Erving and Collins are averaging in double figures for the series for Philadelphia while five Trail Blazers are scoring more than 10 points a game.
Philadelphia, nevertheless, probably will go almost exclusively to Erving today. That's the tactic Shue used in the crucial sixth game of the Eastern Conference championship series against Houston. But Erving has one weakness - he gets tired.
"There are times when I can tell he doesn't want to do anything," Gross said, and usually it's because he's tired.
"Our offense is based on four guys moving around the ball. Their's isn't."