After a remarkable rookie campaign, Magic Johnson spent much of the 1980-81 season on the bench with injuries. The Los Angeles Lakers suffered slightly for it, finishing 54-28 and grabbing the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Even without Johnson, they should have been able to make some noise in the postseason. However, they were upset by the 40-42 Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, losing 2-1 in a three-game series.
The Rockets would proceed to go on a magical run as a below .500 six-seed. They defeated the San Antonio Spurs and Kansas City Kings in the following rounds and got to the NBA Finals.
The Eastern Conference saw three 60-win teams this season, with Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers, and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics and 76ers would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Bird getting to his first NBA Finals in seven games.
In the 1981 NBA Finals, the Celtics had no problems with the Rockets, and Bird won his first championship. It was the franchise’s 14th championship and first in seven seasons.