Wilkens had been serving as Seattle’s director of player personnel since May 1977, and had reshaped the Sonics’ roster, drafting center Jack Sikma, signing free agent guard Gus Williams, and acquiring John Johnson, Paul Silas, Marvin Webster (1952-2009), and future team general manager Wally Walker in a series of trades. Prior to his return to Seattle, Wilkens had been player-coach of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The team turned itself around under the guidance of its new coach, winning 18 of the next 21 games. By the time the regular season ended, the SuperSonics had gone 42-18 to finish with a 47-35 record and qualify for the playoffs.
After defeating Los Angeles in a best-of-three series, Seattle beat the defending NBA (National Basketball Association) champion Trail Blazers in the conference semifinals to set up a conference finals showdown vs. Denver. In the decisive sixth game of the series, at the Seattle Coliseum, the Sonics beat the Nuggets 123-108 to win the Western Conference crown and the right to face the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals.
Despite taking a 3-2 series lead, the SuperSonics lost the last two games, including Game 7 at home, to give the Bullets the trophy.