The oddsmakers may have the National Basketball Association championship series rated as even, but the Los Angeles Lakers, the darlings of Hollywood, have been cast as the sentimental favorites, and the Philadelphia 76ers as the villains from the East.
The best-of-seven series begins today at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., (WDVM, TV, 9 3:30 p.m.), where the Lakers have won 46 of 51 games this season. Game two will also be played at the Forum Wednesday.
The series then shifts to the Spectrum in Philadelphia for games three and four Saturday and Sunday.
All of the games will be televised by CBS.
The series is expected to display the finesse of the Lakers against the muscle of the 76ers.
Rookie Earvin (Magic) Johnson has the Lakers playing like an excited high school team in a state tournament and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been devastating in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, averaging 31.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per game.
The 76ers are more subdued and serious. Their leader is Julius (Dr. J) Erving, but he is by no means a one-man show.
"I think Philadelphia is just too powerful for the Lakers," said Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry. "They (the 76ers) can beat you in so many ways, but no matter how you look at it, Los Angeles has to beat you with Kareem."
"Of course, we have to neutralize the big guy or it's all over," said Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham. "We also have to stop their transition game and keep them from running."
While the Lakers reached the championship round primarily because of their offense, the 76ers did it with defense.
Los Angeles outran Phoenix and Seattle, winning both those series in five games, while the 76ers reduced their contests with Washington, Atlanta and Boston into half-court games and then wore down their opponents. They beat the Bullets in two straight and the Hawks and Celtics in five games each.
" a lot of people . . . think of us as being only offensive-minded," said Philadelphia's Caldwell Jones, "but to get this far, we had to be a great defensive club.
"I don't think defense will necessarily be the big thing in this series, though. It will be the loose balls, the charging fouls and the little things."
The 76ers match up with the Lakers perhaps better than any other team in the league because they have 6-foot-11 260-pound Darryl Dawkins to beat on Abdul-Jabbar and the 7-1 Jones to run him.
Dawkins probably will start on the 7-2 Abdul-Jabbar, while Jones, who starts at forward and then moves to center when Dawkins sits down, probably will guard 6-11 Jim Chones.
Cunningham said he is contemplating switching those assignments.
Erving will be matched with Jamaal Wilkes, while Maurice Cheeks will go against the Lakers' Norm Nixon and Lionel Hollins will try to contain Johnson in the backcourt.
The 76ers last were in the NBA finals in 1977, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in six games. They last won the title in 1967.
The Lakers won the championship in 1972 and finished second to the New York Knicks in 1973. That was before Abdul-Jabbar returned west.
The Lakers and 76ers split two regular-season games, the Lakers winning at the Forum, 124-103, Jan. 25 and the 76ers winning at the Spectrum, 105-104, Feb. 10.
The Lakers have the home-court advantage in the series because of their 60-22 regular-season record. The 76ers were 59-23.
"We've gotten this far by playing together, having fun and blending with Kareem," said Laker Coach Paul Westhead. "We aren't going to change anything."
"We aren't planning any major changes, but we will make whatever minor adjustments we have to," said Cunningham. "Making adjustments is what got us here."
"In past years, our offense was based on three big scorers," added Erving. "The idea was for those guys to get 20 or 25 points apiece and we'd win. Now, with different personnel, our offensive concept had to change.
"What we're running now is basically a transition offense. We look for the break and take it if it's there. If it's not, we set up and work halfcourt. We don't force things.
"A lot of people thought we should have won a championship by now, but I believe that this team is more capable of winning the championship than the other Sixers' teams I've been on."