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NBA - Bad Boys Kickstart a New Decade
BAD BOYS kickstart a new decade (1988-1990)
For the 1988-89 season, the NBA introduced two new expansion teams – the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat. Behind one of the best team defense in the history of the game, the ’Bad Boys’ Detroit Pistons (63-19) continued their emergence by posting the best record in the East. They had gambled mid-season by trading their F-Adrian Dantley, who was a prolific, but sometimes selfish, scorer to the Dallas Mavericks for another prolific scorer in F-Mark Aguire, which boosted team chemistry. Detroit cruised through the playoffs beating Boston (42-40), Milwaukee (49-33), and the quietly emerging Chicago Bulls (47-35), who had added rookie F-Scottie Pippen to its roster, to make it to the NBA Finals.
In the West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announced that he would retire after the season, his 20th. The Lakers were determined to three-peat and send Kareem out in glory. The Lakers (57-25) had the best record in the Western Conference and went through the playoffs sweeping Portland (39-43), Seattle (47-35), and Phoenix (55-27) to meet the Pistons in a rematch of last year’s championship. This would be the Laker’s third consecutive appearance in the Finals, and their 8th in the last 10 seasons. Magic Johnson was awared his second league MVP.
After steamrolling through their playoff opponents, the Lakers were confident that they could dispose of the Pistons. However the Laker’s G-Byron Scott had injured his hamstring prior to Game 1, and Magic had suffered a hamstring injury in Game 2. Unable to penetrate the Piston’s tough defense or match their tenacity, the Lakers were swept in the Finals, and the Piston’s won their first NBA championship. Unassuming G-Joe Dumars, along with Isiah Thomas, was the engine behind the Piston’s championship run. With his solid defense and clutch offensive contributions, Dumars was named Finals MVP.
The 1989-90 season saw the entrance of two more expansion teams – the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic. Despite losing starting F-Rick Mahorn to the expansion draft, the defending champions, Detroit Pistons continued on their winning ways leading the Eastern Conference with a 59-23 record. In the playoffs, the Pistons easily beat Indiana (42-40) and New York (45-37) before facing a challenge with the ever-improving Chicago Bulls (55-27), and their new head coach, Phil Jackson. It took seven games for the Pistons to beat the troublesome Bulls to advance to their third consecutive NBA Finals.
With Kareem gone, Los Angeles (63-19) were now more reliant on Magic, and he delivered by leading the Lakers to the league’s best record. Magic would receive his third league MVP award. In the playoffs however, the Lakers were stunned in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Phoenix Suns (54-28) in five games. After the loss, coach Pat Riley had resigned to return to broadcasting. Meanwhile the young Portland Trailblazers (59-23) were making some noise beating the tough San Antonio Spurs (56-26) in the Western Semi-Finals. The Blazers were led by high-flying G-Clyde ’the Glide’ Drexler. Despite having a better record, the Blazers were underdogs against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals. But the Blazers silenced many doubters by beating Phoenix in six games to meet the Pistons in the NBA Finals.
When the heavy underdogs, Portland won Game 2 in Detroit by one point in overtime to tie the Finals at 1-1, the young Blazers seemed poised to make this series interesting. Isiah Thomas would have nothing to do with that though, as the Pistons took the next three games to win back-to-back NBA Championships, behind Isiah Thomas’ 27.6 ppg average. Thomas was named the Finals MVP.