Coaches Pat Riley of the Los Angeles Lakers and Billy Cunningham of the Philadelphia 76ers are in agreement on virtually every aspect of the National Basketball Association championship series that begins Thursday night at the Spectrum (WDVM-TV, Channel 9 at 9 p.m.).
Both say this best-of-seven series, a rematch of the 1980 finals won by the Lakers in six games, will encompass a fun-to-watch, open style of play.
"These are the two best running teams in the league," Cunningham said today, before sending his team through a two-hour closed workout. "This should be a great series for the fans because both teams make their living running the break."
"It's going to be a fast-paced game with a great deal happening in the open court," Riley said before his team's closed pratice this afternoon. "The game breaks down to what I call skirmishes and there are four or five of those a game. This isn't going to be a 48-minute track meet like some people think."
Riley, whose Lakers swept both Phoenix and San Antonio in four straight to reach the finals but haven't played a game since May 15, said today that his team is "solid, prepared and ready to roll."
Cunningham said the timing is "perfect. We're ready now. We wouldn't have been had we started Tuesday, but we are now." The Sixers won the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals against the defending champion Boston Celtics Sunday in Boston. Cunningham said they needed a couple of days "to come back to reality."
Cunningham said he wouldn't decide who would guard whom until just before game time, while Riley said he was pretty well set.
He said Magic Johnson would start on Andrew Toney, who scored 30 points or more more in three of the victories over the Celtics, including 34 Sunday: Toney had 46 against the Lakers in a regular-season game. Riley said that Jamaal Wilkes would start on Julius Erving.
Reserve Michael Cooper, a 6-foot-6 Laker defensive specialist, will split his time guarding Toney and Erving.
Because of the 76ers' quickness, the Lakers are expected to go with Cooper at guard a lot and move Johnson to defensive forward and match him against Bobby Jones.
The Lakers, a favorite to repeat as champions last year before losing to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, want the title back and the Sixers, the team with the best record in the NBA the last five years, but titleless, still owe their fans the title they promised them four years ago.