14. 1977-78 season (55-27, lost in conf. finals)
In retrospect, one might view the 1977-78 season as a letdown. The Sixers were coming off a Finals appearance in 1977– a loss to Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets. The motto “We owe you one” was subsequently coined as Philadelphia’s rallying cry.
It didn’t work out. The Sixers exited a round earlier, losing in the conference finals to the Washington Bullets. While regression stings and fans tend to look at underachieving and failure in the same light, it’s tough to knock Philadelphia’s success.
A 55-27 record is nothing to scoff at. The Sixers were a really good team — Julius Erving anchoring the wing, World B. Free getting buckets on the perimeter and Darry Dawkins pounding home dunks inside.
It was Dr. J’s second season with the team, just the fledging state of a fruitful 11-year partnership. It was Free’s third and final season in Philadelphia, marking a partnership cut short. It was Dawkins’ first season in an extended role — averaging 11.7 points and 1.8 blocks in 24.7 minutes per contest.
There were several dynamics at play and the end result was lesser than fans anticipated. Lesser than fans expected. But wins are wins, and the Sixers were building a competitive roster that would finally get over the hump in 1983.
It’s just as important to recognize the beginning of an ascent as it is to recognize the top. Not all growth is linear. The Sixers went to the Finals, lost, and didn’t get right back the next season. But that’s as fine as it is natural. Teams ebb and flow, and 1978 should still be viewed through a positive lens.