They have a young scholar as coach, exuberant rookie as floor leader, a rejuvenated giant as the cornerstone and an eager supporting cast to fill the gaps.

These are the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most appealing teams -- and perhaps the best team -- professional basketball.

They lead the defending National Basketball Association-champion Seattle SuperSonics, 3-1, in the Western Conference's final series and a victory tonight at the Forum will advance the Lakers to the league final where the mighty Philadelphia 76ers, conquerors of the Boston Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference final, are waiting.

The Lakers cruised to a 60-22 regular-season record, second best in the NBA to the Celtics' 61-21. They downed Phoenix in five games in the Western Conference semifinals before taking on the Sonics.

Los Angeles dominated both the NBA's individual and team statistics this season.

Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sixth in scoring with a 24.8 average; second in field-goal percentage, shooting 60 percent; eighth in rebounding, collecting 10.8 a game, and first in blocked shots with 3.4 a game.

The Lakers were the best shooting team in the NBA, making 53 percent of their shots. No other team shot better than 50 percent.

They were second in the league in offense and second in point differential, averaging six points a game more than the opposition.

They led the league in assists and were the only team to have two players in the top 10 in that category. Norm Nixon was fourth with 7.8 a game and rookie Eavin (Magic) Johnson was seventh, 7.3 Abdul-Jabbar averaged 4.2 assists, second among centers to Kansas City's Sam Lacey.

The Lakers also had the best homecourt record in the league, 37-4.

The 6-foot-9, 20-year-old Johnson had a lot to do with all of the above.

"The Lakers are already winning without me," he said last June when the Lakers made him the No. 1 pick in the draft. "Now we're going to be exciting."

He was right.

"The Lakers have been on an emotional high all season and you have to give a lot of credit for that to Magic," said Seattle's Paul Silas.

"Everybody thinks Magic is up there riding on the wagon, throwing roses to everyone," said Laker Assistant Coach Pat Riley. "But he pulls the wagon a lot, too. When the game is on the line, he's in the action. He's not really a guard or a forward. He's what you would just call a player, a complete player."

Paul Westhead, the head coach, is also sold on Johnson.

"He's a point guard who is a slick passer and he's a power forward who plays like a thug," Westhead said. "There aren't many guys around like that."

As charismatic and talented as Johnson is, the Lakers still belong to Abdul-Jabbar. His teammates voted the 7-2 center both their captain and their player representative and his opponents voted him the league's most valuable player.

New Laker owner Jerry Buss is such an Abdul-Jabbar fan that he tore up his $650,000 a year contract and gave him a $1 million-a-year, four-year contract without Abdul-Jabbar asking for it.

Westhead, a 39-year-old former professor of English literature, may still know more about Shakespeare than he does basketball, but his success in unique circumstances is no midsummer night's dream.

Westhead has used patience, understanding and common sense to gain the respect of his players, the media and his coaching peers.

The Lakers are basically a running team, but when they can't run they set up and get the ball to Abdul-Jabbar, the most reliable offensive weapon in the game.

Last year, the Lakers played with two small forwards, Jamaal Wilkes and Adrian Dantley, and the rebounding was left to Abdul-Jabbar, who isn't built to take the kind of punishment that duty calls for. It took its toll on him as the season progressed.

One of McKinney's first moves was to get Abdul-Jabbar some rebounding help. He acquired Spencer Haywood and Jim Chones. Later, Mark Landsberger was added.