The 76ers are confident that if the expected Milwaukee- Philadelphia semifinal showdown does occur, they will brush the Bucks aside. "With that club as it is now," says Julius Erving, referring to the Bucks' loss of Buckner and Bridgeman, "we can beat them in a seven-game series no matter who has the home-court advantage. Those people are very important to their team. I don't think they can go all the way without them." It promises to be a brutal struggle, and as happened last year—when the 76ers blew a 3-1 advantage in the conference final with the Celtics after seven tough games with the Bucks—whoever emerges from the semis may not have anything left for Boston. "The winner would come out scarred," says Utah Coach Frank Layden.
If the 76ers are to beat Boston, they will almost surely have to have Center Darryl Dawkins back at full strength, and Dawkins, who came back March 24 after missing two months with a broken leg, has just begun to show signs of coming around. Though not a great center, Dawkins could usually be counted on to have a couple of 20-point games in the playoffs and add some muscle to Philadelphia's anemic rebounding. He's unlikely to do that well this time. The Sixers were 21-7 with Dawkins out of action, but, as Erving points out, "It doesn't matter how we played without him. It matters how he fits back in."
A few dissenters feel that, at long last, this could be the 76ers' year. "This time they might slip up on Boston," says Harris, especially if Celtic Coach Bill Fitch insists on perpetuating the myth that Bird can play guard for more than short stretches. "It's possible that the Celtics have gone along too well, and that might set things up psychologically for the Sixers." It is hard to imagine Philadelphia beating either Milwaukee or Boston with Dawkins in little more than a spot role, so give the edge to the Bucks in the semis because they're a better rebounding team and because they're due. Scissors cut paper. Then bet the ranch on the Celtics to romp to the conference title. Rock breaks scissors. Then, when the NBA finals are over, look for the Celtics to be riding down Boston's Commonwealth Avenue in their second straight ticker-tape parade. Paper covers rock.