The Los Angeles Lakers have had many influential role players to help guide them on their different championship runs, as an integral part of any successful team. While stars like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar usually led the charge, Norm Nixon was the catalyst on this day in Lakers history.
On Jan. 6, 1981, the Lakers were at The Forum, facing off against the then-Washington Bullets. Coming off of their 1979-80 championship, Los Angeles had an opportunity to be the first team since 1969 to repeat as champions.
However, this team would receive an unfortunate blow, as Johnson went down with a knee injury and missed 45 games before returning.
Without their point guard and franchise player, head coach Paul Westhead had to improvise and look to other Lakers to deliver in his absence. It was during this time that players like Jamaal Wilkes and Nixon that would step up.
The Bullets entered the game with a 16-24 record, not in immediate playoff contention in a difficult Eastern Conference. Washington was led by former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, with Elvin Hayes also providing a scoring punch from the paint.
After the first quarter, the Lakers held just a 28-25 lead. However, they would extend that by outscoring the Bullets by 10 points in the second quarter, taking a 60-47 lead into halftime.
Kupchak, Hayes, and the Bullets returned from halftime and cut the deficit down to six after three quarters, entering the fourth within striking distance. Without Johnson, the Lakers had trouble adjusting their offense in late-game scenarios, having to run their offense through Abdul-Jabbar on a regular basis.
However, Nixon was the one to help guide the Lakers on this night, scoring a season-high 30 points. He attacked the basket on a consistent basis, helping the Lakers secure the 107-98 victory. Wilkes also helped with 23 points, while Abdul-Jabbar contributed 25 points.
Nixon earned an All-Star selection and two NBA championships during his time with the Lakers, having a terrific 10-year career. In fact, Nixon played for both Los Angeles franchises, including a six-year stint with the Clippers that began during their final season in San Diego.
Wilkes would earn his first All-Star selection in 1981, providing consistent scoring throughout the season (22.6 points per game).
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