The only previous time Moses Malone has been in the National Basketball Association championship finals was in 1981, when the Houston Rockets, the team he carried virtually by himself, lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.
"There's a difference this time, though," Malone said. "I'm playing with the best team there is now."
There are many believers in both Malone and the Philadelphia 76ers, not only because of the way they breezed through the regular season with the best record in the NBA (65-17), but also for the way they have waltzed into the finals.
First, they swept the New York Knicks in four games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. On Wednesday night, they eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks at the Spectrum with a 115-103 victory to win the conference final series, four games to one.
Later, Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson called the 76ers the best team he had seen in the last 10 years and said they should beat whichever team they face in the finals.
If the Lakers win tonight, the first two games of the best-of-seven final series will be played Sunday and Thursday at the Spectrum.
Malone had 28 points and 17 rebounds Wednesday. In nine playoff games, he has averaged 26.1 points and 14.9 rebounds.
"I've got all the money I need," said Malone, who signed a six-year, $13.2 million contract with the 76ers before the start of the season. "The only thing I can't buy is a championship. I got to win that and that's what I want.
"I'm not predicting anything, but Houston was a 40-42 team. This team here is 65-17. We're the best and we aren't going to ease up."
The 76ers played their best game so far Wednesday as Andrew Toney scored 30 points and Julius Erving added 26.
"It was pivotal for us to win to give us as much time as possible to prepare for the next series," said Erving.
Although Malone and guard Maurice Cheeks have been the most outstanding 76ers throughout the playoffs, Erving and Toney have been inconsistent. Erving has been bothered by a knee injury and Toney has had a deep thigh bruise.
Wednesday, however, both were moving as well as they have in weeks.
Toney wears a heavy football thigh pad to protect the injury, and said he still experiences pain sometimes. "But I know what I can and can't do," he said. "It's getting better every day and with a few days rest, I might be 100 percent for the finals."
It was thought throughout the season that if the 76ers had a weakness, it was at power forward. Rookie Marc Iavaroni doesn't score much (4.9 points in the playoffs), but Clemon Johnson, acquired from Indiana during the season, is an effective backup and on occasion Coach Billy Cunningham plays Bobby Jones at the position. The 76ers have gotten just what they want from the spot--defense and rebounds.
Wednesday's game was the most lopsided of the series, mainly because the Bucks felt they had to run with the 76ers to win. Philadelphia made 61 percent of its shots in the first half and Toney had 20 points by then. He made his first five shots and 10 of 14 overall.
The 76ers were unable to pull away, however, until midway through the third period. A 13-2 spurt--with six points from Erving, all off the fast break--gave them a 12-point lead.
Charlie Criss, the hero of the Bucks' lone victory in the series, Junior Bridgeman and Marques Johnson sparked a late rally, but the Bucks got no closer than seven points in the fourth period. Toney scored four straight then, and the Bucks couldn't keep up.
One of the major disappointments for the Bucks in the series was all-star guard Sidney Moncrief. He averaged only 15.4 points and shot 38 percent.
"Their defense just made it tough on me," Moncrief said. "They did a pretty good job of keeping me outside and I guess that's the way to play me."