What Norm Nixon likes most about playing for the Los Angeles Lakers is the freedom it gives him to create situations and express himself without limitation, to roam unharnessed like a wild stallion.
"If ever there was a team made expressly for me, this is it," said the 6-foot-2 guard. "My skills are its skills. What I do, it does. It's an extension of me and I'm an extension of it."
Coach Pat Riley wouldn't go so far as to say, "as Nixon goes, so go the Lakers," but he did say that it's "hard for us to win when Norman doesn't play well."
Nixon played very well Tuesday night and the result was a 129-108 Los Angeles victory that gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead in the NBA best-of-seven championship series. Game 4 will be Thursday night at the Forum (WDVM-TV-9 at 9 p.m.)
The Lakers have won 10 of 11 playoff games and Nixon has outscored his man in all 10 of the victories. When his man outscored him, the Lakers lost, Sunday in Philadelphia.
Nixon, the smallest Laker, is tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the tallest Laker, in scoring for the playoffs with a 21.7 average.
Tuesday's game was typical Nixon and vintage Lakers. Los Angeles ran, ran and ran some more and Nixon usually was leading the footrace. He scored 29 points, 21 of them in a sizzling eight-minute stretch at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth when the Lakers were securing the game.
As he sat in his cubicle after practice today, an ice pack on his swollen right knee injured in a fall in the first quarter Tuesday, Nixon said he was "a scavenger, living off the play of my teammates. When they rebound and play defense, I can get off. When they don't I'm limited."
All through the playoffs Riley has stressed the importance of rebounding. "No boards, no rings," is his battle cry.
The Lakers had a rebounding edge (48-43) in Game 3 and scored 42 fast-break points, compared to 21 the previous game when they were outrebounded, 52-39.
Riley put his best rebounder, Magic Johnson, on Julius Erving Tuesday "to get him closer to the boards" and Jamaal Wilkes outside on Andrew Toney "so he could get out on the break quicker."
Johnson outscored and outrebounded Erving, and, although Toney scored 36 points, the 76ers never were in the game.
"It was my kind of game," said Nixon. "For the first time in this series we played a complete game like we are capable of."
Nixon has come full cycle as a Laker and his emergence as a key coincided with Riley's taking over from Paul Westhead 11 games into the season.
"I was getting lost in the other offense," Nixon said. "I seemed to always be on the baseline taking jump shots over 6-8 people instead of out running where I'm at my best."
Riley corrected that situation immediately and Nixon has gone on to establish himself as perhaps the premier point guard in the game. He embodies all the qualities of the classic playmaker. He is probably the fastest and quickest player in the league and is a rare player who can penetrate as well as shoot the 17- to 29-foot jumper.
"When he has it all going like he did Tuesday, it's next to impossible to stop him," said Philadelphia's Maurice Cheeks, the Sixer designated to try and stop him.
Nixon complained after a three-for-14 shooting day in Philadelphia that Cheeks was hitting his elbow as he shot.
Nixon didn't get to the free throw line Sunday, but went there eight times Tuesday and made five.
"I made my point," he said.
"The pressure is still on us," Nixon continued, talking about Thursday's game. "If we lose, we have to go back to Philadelphia tied, 2-2, and they'll have the home-court advantage in a best-of-three series."
In this, a series of adjustments, it's the Sixers' move.
"It's too late to make any drastic adjustments, but we'll make some little ones," said Coach Billy Cunningham. "We're optimistic. We've been blown out a number of times in the playoffs and come back and won the next game. I don't expect anything different Thursday."