Moses Malone was so devastating today, despite his sore knees, that bad play by teammates Julius Erving and Andrew Toney was almost unnoticed.

Malone, with tendinitis in his right knee and swelling in his left one, scored 38 points and had 17 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 112-102 victory over the New York Knicks in the opening game of their best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series at the Spectrum.

Malone got most of his help from point guard Maurice Cheeks and reserve shooting guard Clint Richardson.

Toney was in foul trouble most of the game and played only 20 minutes and scored 11 points, three in the first three quarters.

Richardson made five of six shots in the first half and finished with 12 points in Toney's place.

Erving made only four of 16 shots, but contributed 10 rebounds and four assists.

"We needed a big game in the middle and we needed a big game off the bench," said Erving, "and we got them. I'm satisfied."

Game 2 will be here Wednesday.

The Knicks lost their leading scorer, Bernard King, with a sprained ankle in the second quarter and he is doubtful for Wednesday's game.

Malone sat out the last four games of the regular season with tendinitis and then, Thursday, experienced pain and swelling in his left knee. He said he wasn't sure he would play today until after practice Saturday.

Malone wore braces on both knees and moved a bit gingerly in the first quarter, but by the second period, looked like the same Malone that led the 76ers to the best regular-season record in the NBA and was the league's top rebounder and fifth-leading scorer.

"He dominated the game," said New York Coach Hubie Brown. "He did it by limiting us to one shot and by throwing those pinpoint outlet passes. It didn't hurt that he scored whenever he wanted to, also."

In one stretch of the period Malone scored 14 straight points and assisted on two baskets to account for 18 of 20 points, as the 76ers moved to a 12-point lead.

The Knicks double- and triple-teamed him most of the game, but using more brute strength than anything else, Malone still dominated.

"I feel okay," said Malone. "My knee isn't a concern when I'm playing. It's just a concern after the game. I don't think I was 100 percent, but I didn't think about it. I had a little pain, but I just blanked it out of my mind."

Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham said he had no idea how Malone was going to perform today.

"The things I was concerned about most were his timing and stamina," Cunningham said. "I have to admit I was a bit surprised at how well he did."

The Knicks fought back from the early deficit and trailed by only 61-55 at halftime and a three-point play by Paul Westphal got them within two points, 66-64, early in the third period. But then came the second 76ers charge and the Knicks never recovered from it. This one produced 13 unanswered points, four of them by Malone and four by Marc Iavaroni.

Malone had 11 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in the quarter as the 76ers took an 87-76 lead.

Without King, the Knicks didn't have the explosiveness to get back in the game and after Toney made two jumpers, the 76ers had a 17-point lead and coasted the rest of the way.

"We took their best shot today," said Brown. "We aren't discouraged. All we have to do is play better."