The NBA Time Machine: 1974

Published May 19, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

No Roadblocks


Criticism of the divisional format adopted during this decade led to some significant changes. The league no longer tied playoff appearances to divisional placement, instead rewarding the top four teams from each Conference. This allowed teams in competitive divisions to have a better chance, while others could not coast their way through a weak group of rivals.

This most notably benefited the Detroit Pistons, who had been absent from the post-season for over half a decade. Having two regular season juggernauts like the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls in their way made affairs tough, but their fifty-two-win crusade paid off this time around.


Wilt Chamberlain got involved in controversy with the Los Angeles Lakers due to contract miscommunications. The front office failed to contact him in a reasonable timeframe, which upset the center and prompted him to sign with the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA instead. He had intentions to be a player-coach in the rival league, awaiting six-hundred-thousand dollars – it was expected be the largest salary in professional basketball history.

The Lakers sued Chamberlain, as he still owed them another year of play due to specifications in his contract. He was still permitted to coach the Conquistadors, but could not suit up by any means – the idea of only doing the former bored him, and he left coaching duties to assistant Stan Albeck as a result. Dissatisfaction with the ABA’s poor attendance numbers and the overall frustration of the situation brought Chamberlain to a personal ultimatum – he would retire from basketball, after just experiencing back-to-back Finals appearances and a championship.

Rewarding Defense

The NBA began to officially recognize two new statistics – steals and blocks. The former was achieved by taking the ball from the opponent, thus forcing a turnover – the latter’s registration stemmed from altering a player’s shot, therefore preventing it from entering the basket.

Many analysts had recorded these categories unofficially for years, but it took the league much longer to embrace the trend. The rival ABA may have influenced this choice, as it begun acknowledging the two figures a year prior.

Larry Steele of the Portland Trail Blazers became the first official steals leader, registering 2.7 per game. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting center – Elmore Smith – led his contemporaries with a whopping 4.9 blocks a match.

Offensive rebounds were also officially recognized as a subset of rebounds. These were obtained by rebounding the ball on your team’s own offensive possession, therefore extending your opportunity to score. Defensive rebounds were gained through acquiring the ball on the opponent’s offensive possession. Washington’s Elvin Hayes dominated both categories.

The Fall-Off

The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks had been carrying the NBA’s reputation, as two large-market teams that had formed a traceable rivalry. However, their dominance suddenly seemed a lot less insurable – the loss of Wilt Chamberlain was significant for Los Angeles, and Jerry West only totaled thirty-one games.

New York was also littered with injuries – Earl Monroe missed the first couple months of the season, and Willis Reed went out for nearly the entire year. Gail Goodrich and Walt Frazier each kept their clubs afloat, but championship aspirations seemed a tad optimistic for both sides.

Claiming the Capital

The Baltimore Bullets relocated to Landover, Maryland in the off-season. Such a shift led to them claiming a new moniker, the Capital Bullets.

Standout Players

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

While the Bucks did not reach sixty wins like the previous few seasons, they were still convincingly the best team in the NBA. Their leader, Abdul-Jabbar, finished top four in scoring, rebounding, and blocks, which encouraged the gifting of his third M.V.P. award.

Bob McAdoo

The sophomore became the first true superstar to represent one of the ’71 expansion teams. Not only did McAdoo lead the league in scoring, but he finished top three in both rebounds and blocks. The Braves saw their first playoff berth behind his developments.

Bob Lanier

Detroit had not seen a winning record for a few years, but Lanier had an answer for that. His leadership and prowess on both ends of the ball resulted in a fifty-two-win campaign and the first Pistons playoff appearance since the late-60’s.

Elvin Hayes

Not only did Hayes lead the league in rebounds, but he helped the newly-relocated Capital Bullets claim forty-seven victories. With teammate Wes Unseld dealing with nagging injury issues, Hayes provided a defensive continuity that saved the franchise’s year.

John Havlicek

This was Havlicek’s worst statistical season of the decade, but he was still integral to Boston’s success. He led the squad in both scoring and assists, and hardly missed any games as per usual. It’s also worth mentioning that when he was out, they struggled.

Ernie DiGregorio

The eventual Rookie of the Year had one of the league’s most impressive first-year runs in a long time. He led all players in assists, and it would be unwise to deny that his presence didn’t help the Buffalo Braves improve from the previous year.

Around the League

Team Standings

An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.

Eastern Conference
Atlantic DivisionWLCentral DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*5626Capital Bullets*4735
New York Knicks*4933Atlanta Hawks3547
Buffalo Braves*4240Houston Rockets3250
Philadelphia 76ers2557Cleveland Cavaliers2953
Western Conference
Midwest DivisionWLPacific DivisionWL
Milwaukee Bucks*5923Los Angeles Lakers*4735
Chicago Bulls*5428Golden State Warriors4438
Detroit Pistons*5230Seattle SuperSonics3646
Kansas City-Omaha Kings3349Phoenix Suns3052
Portland Trail Blazers2755

Fun Facts

  • Parity was this season’s theme – for the first time since 1969, no team won sixty or more games.
    • This was also the first instance since 1970 where no team finished below twenty wins.
  • Partially thanks to the new divisional system, certain teams were no longer penalized for being among tough company.
    • The Detroit Pistons made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, and the Buffalo Braves experienced their first trip to the post-season as well.
  • This was the Milwaukee Bucks‘ fifth consecutive season of over fifty wins.
    • This streak had been alive since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s drafting in 1969.
  • The Boston Celtics’ defensive identity saw a minor decline – this was their first placement outside the top five defenses since 1970.
  • With Jerry West absent for most of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers‘ offense unsurprisingly collapsed. They dropped by nine places in the NBA’s offensive ranks.

Notable Movement


The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season.

p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists
s – steals
b – blocks

Top Draft Picks

Philadelphia 76ers
Cleveland Cavaliers

Buffalo Braves
Seattle SuperSonics
Los Angeles Lakers
Houston Rockets
Kansas City-Omaha Kings
Phoenix Suns
Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Hawks
Doug Collins
Jim Brewer
Ernie DiGregorio
Mike Green+
Kermit Washington
Ed Ratleff
Ron Behagen
Mike Bantom
Dwight Jones
John Brown


October 30, 1973Connie HawkinsPhoenix SunsTradedLos Angeles Lakers(11.3p/5.4r/3.5a)

Other Personnel

May 11, 1973Coach Bill RussellSeattle SuperSonicsHiredRecord: n/a
June 15, 1973Coach K.C. JonesCapital BulletsHiredRecord: n/a
November 22, 1973Coach Bob CousyKansas City-Omaha KingsResignedRecord: 6-14
November 22, 1973Coach Draff YoungKansas City-Omaha KingsAppointed (Interim)Record: 0-4
November 29, 1973Coach Phil JohnsonKansas City-Omaha KingsHiredRecord: 27-31


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Wilt ChamberlainSan Francisco Warriors
Philadelphia 76ers
Los Angeles Lakers
2x Champion
1x Finals MVP
4x MVP
10x All-NBA
13x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
2x All-Defensive
1960 Rookie of the Year
7x Scoring Leader
11x Rebounds Leader
Terry DischingerBaltimore Bullets
Detroit Pistons
Portland Trail Blazers
3x All-Star
1963 Rookie of the Year
1963 All-Rookie Team
Johnny GreenNew York Knicks
Baltimore Bullets
San Diego Rockets
Philadelphia 76ers
Kansas City-Omaha Kings
4x All-Star
Hal GreerPhiladelphia 76ers1x Champion
7x All-NBA
10x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
Gus JohnsonBaltimore Bullets
Phoenix Suns
4x All-NBA
5x All-Star
2x All-Defensive
1964 All-Rookie Team

League Leaders


PPG – points per game
RPG – rebounds per game
APG – assists per game
SPG – steals per game
BPG – blocks per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)

PPGBob McAdoo (30.6)
Pete Maravich (27.7)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27)
Gail Goodrich (25.3)
Rick Barry (25.1)
RPGElvin Hayes (18.1)
Dave Cowens (15.7)
Bob McAdoo (15.1)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14.5)
Happy Hairston (13.5)
APGErnie DiGregorio (8.2)
Calvin Murphy (7.4)
Lenny Wilkens (7.1)
Walt Frazier (6.9)
Dave Bing (6.9)
SPGLarry Steele (2.7)
Steve Mix (2.6)
Randy Smith (2.5)
Jerry Sloan (2.4)
Rick Barry (2.1)
BPGElmore Smith (4.9)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5)
Bob McAdoo (3.3)
Bob Lanier (3)
Elvin Hayes (3)
FG%Bob McAdoo (54%)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (53%)
Rudy Tomjanovich (53%)
Calvin Murphy (52%)
Butch Beard (51%)
FT%Ernie DiGregorio (90%)
Rick Barry (89%)
Jeff Mullins (87%)
Chet Walker (87%)
Bill Bradley (87%)



East / Boston Celtics beat Buffalo Braves, 4-2
For the first time since the Bill Russell era, the Boston Celtics were facing an opponent other than Atlanta in the first round. Their typical rivals had a down year, which allowed the comparatively young Buffalo Braves to sneak their way into the playoffs. Playing the number-one team in the Eastern Conference would be a tough task, but nothing M.V.P. runner-up Bob McAdoo was afraid of.

The teams split wins initially, with McAdoo putting up an absurd twenty-three points and twenty rebounds to help Buffalo win Game 2. Forty-three points from John Havlicek overshadowed a dominant McAdoo outing in Game 3, but the Braves responded afterwards in the fourth match. McAdoo went on a scoring barrage, and a buzzer beater tip-in shot from Jim McMillian tied the series two apiece.

With an understanding that this may be a harder-fought series than expected, the Celtics ramped up their intensity. They managed to close up with consecutive wins – thirty-four bench points saved them in Game 6, considering McAdoo could not be contained.
East / New York Knicks beat Capital Bullets, 4-3
Moved to Landover? Doesn’t matter. Three things are guaranteed in life – death, taxes, and an early-70’s Knicks vs. Bullets series.

New York had thoroughly owned this matchup over the past half a decade, only falling short in ’71. Considering they were the defending champions, it would be foolish to doubt their capabilities – however, the Bullets’ roster only continued improving annually. They could also take advantage of a hobbled and unconditioned Willis Reed, who missed the majority of the season to reoccurring injuries.

The Knicks largely failed to contain Elvin Hayes, but still ended up taking a 3-2 lead behind well-rounded team efforts. The Bullets forced a tiebreaker thanks to big Hayes and Archie Clark performances, but ended up bowing out in Game 7 after a cold second half. Hayes scored only twelve points on five-for-fifteen shooting, and was no help to his team’s pre-existing turnover problem.
West / Chicago Bulls beat Detroit Pistons, 4-3
This version of the Pistons were a new face in the post-season. Want a better understanding of how long it had been? The last time Detroit made the playoffs, Dave DeBusschere was their secondary star. Dave Bing led the league in total points. It was THAT long ago.

Facing a stiff Bulls defense, they could not let their guard down by any means. The two teams saw an immediate 1-1 outcome, with the two Bobs – Love and Lanier – amidst some fierce duels. They both cooled off afterwards, but the interdivisional rivals entered Game 5 tied once more.

Love finally outplayed Lanier, a breakthrough that helped Chicago win by four points. Roles were reversed in the sixth contest, which resulted in a scheduled Game 7. The Bulls opened up matters with a strong lead at halftime, and staved off a hungry Pistons comeback attempt. Such efforts made history for the franchise – this was their first time winning a playoff series since their conception in 1967.
West / Milwaukee Bucks beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1
Bucks-Lakers was a classic rivalry at this point, but it was perhaps less exciting this time around – the lack of a great center like Wilt Chamberlain to duel with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar resulted in a somewhat lop-sided dynamic. To make matters even worse, Jerry West was still expected to be out with his persistent groin injury.

The Bucks expectedly took both games at home, reveling in Abdul-Jabbar’s unstoppable scoring. Upset with his team’s shortcomings, Jerry West attempted to play in Game 3 – he could only log in fourteen minutes and four points, but his presence was great for morale. The Lakers won by two thanks to a big-time outing from Elmore Smith.

Frustrated that they gave away such a winnable match, Milwaukee proceeded to close the series out and write a gentleman’s sweep in the history books. Such composure earned them their fourth Conference Finals appearance in the past five seasons.

Conference Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat New York Knicks, 4-1
If the Celtics had one painful adversary, it was the Knicks. They had lost to them in the Eastern Conference Finals for the past two years, even after their historic sixty-eight-win run. They once again looked like the better team on paper, but history had a tendency to repeat itself.

Boston’s depth was on full display in the opening two blowout wins, as they cruised to success while containing New York’s offense. Thanks to Walt Frazier’s thirty-eight points, the Knicks managed a road win to avoid going down 3-0 – however, John Havlicek responded with two huge scoring nights to wrap up the series. The Celtics finally had the upper edge in roster construction and star power – they let out a sigh of relief after a relatively low-intensity matchup, now focused on their first Finals appearance since 1969.
West / Milwaukee Bucks beat Chicago Bulls, 4-0
The Bucks and Bulls were the two top dogs of the Midwest Division, but had never met in the playoffs before. The most enticing narrative was how Chicago would contain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – the undersized Clifford Ray was a subpar one-on-one matchup, but the Bulls owned the highest-quality defense in the league.

Abdul-Jabbar faced little resistance throughout the series, averaging thirty-four points on great efficiency. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Bob Love struggled mightily on offense – he only shot thirty-five-percent from the field, a large drop-off from his regular season efficiency. The only game that was even remotely close was the second, where Chicago nearly pulled off a comeback win – however, they simply lacked the personnel to limit the best player in the NBA.

Thanks to these triumphant performances, Milwaukee joined Los Angeles as the only franchise to pull off multiple series sweeps in the 70’s. Their first was in the 1971 Finals, against the Baltimore Bullets.


Boston Celtics beat Milwaukee Bucks, 4-3
With the Lakers and Knicks dethroned, the stage was set for a brand new Finals matchup. The Bucks were looking for their second title of the decade, and the Celtics coveted their first championship in the post-Bill Russell era. The outcome was quite unpredictable – the two were 7-6 (in Milwaukee’s favor) over the past three seasons.

The teams split games on the Bucks’ turf – Boston had no clear answer for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but the Celtics were a much more well-rounded and deep team. Game 2 ended up going to overtime, in which Milwaukee pulled away by nine points to win.

Through four matches, Abdul-Jabbar was averaging thirty-two points. After a Game 5 win on the road from Boston, the Bucks were in serious trouble – they had to head to the Garden, one of the most hostile environments in basketball, to force a tiebreaker. They had a solid lead for the majority of the game, but a game-tying shot from Dave Cowens led to an overtime period.

The overtime was a grueling, tense stretch where the two teams only scored eight points combined – Milwaukee looked ready to pull away, but John Havlicek made a game-tying goal with five seconds left to force a double overtime. This was the first instance of such since the 1957 Finals, in which the Celtics experienced two separate double overtimes against the St. Louis Hawks.

The second overtime was far more electric, with the teams – most notably John Havlicek on Boston’s end – trading baskets until the very end. Down one point, Abdul-Jabbar hit a running hook shot – which extended to thirteen feet in the air – to bring the Bucks up one point. This moment was the mainstream breakthrough of his signature “skyhook”, which just saved his franchise’s season.

With homecourt advantage, Milwaukee had a bit of momentum heading into the final game of the season. Despite this, Boston broke through with a powerful eleven-point lead by halftime and never quite looked back. Cowens won the center battle between him and Abdul-Jabbar – he tied or exceeded the three-time M.V.P. in all statistical categories, and such heroics grabbed the Celtics their twelfth world title.
The Boston Celtics win the 1974 NBA championship!
John Havlicek was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.


Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.

Major Awards

Rookie of the YearMVPFinals MVPCoach of the Year
Ernie DiGregorioKareem Abdul-JabbarJohn HavlicekRay Scott


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Walt Frazier
Gail Goodrich
John Havlicek
Rick Barry
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Norm Van Lier
Dave Bing
Spencer Haywood

Elvin Hayes
Bob McAdoo


All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Walt Frazier
Norm Van Lier
Jerry Sloan
John Havlicek
Dave DeBusschere
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Jim Price
Dick Van Arsdale
Don Chaney
Bob Love
Elvin Hayes
Nate Thurmond


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Austin Carr
Phil Chenier

Dave Cowens
Dave DeBusschere
Walt Frazier
John Havlicek
Elvin Hayes
Lou Hudson
Pete Maravich
Bob McAdoo
Rudy Tomjanovich
Jo Jo White
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Rick Barry
Dave Bing
Gail Goodrich
Spencer Haywood

Bob Lanier*
Geoff Petrie
Charlie Scott
Nate Thurmond
Norm Van Lier
Chet Walker
Jerry West
Sidney Wicks
West beats East, 134-123


All-Rookie Team
Mike Bantom
Ron Behagen
John Brown
Ernie DiGregorio
Nick Weatherspoon

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

The Baltimore Bullets (1947-1954) won the championship in 1948, but are defunct. As a result, they are not listed.

Celtics121957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
1966, 1967
1969, 1974
Lakers61949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954, 1972
Warriors21947, 1956
76ers21955, 1967
Knicks21970, 1973

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