|Let's Look at Recent NBA History.
||[Jun. 1st, 2005|06:15 pm]
1999-2000 NBA Regular Season Standings
Best Records: Los Angeles Lakers (67) from West, Indiana (52) from East.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers over Indiana Pacers, 4-2.
Note that Los Angeles almost lost to Portland, who had 59 wins. Most significant near-upset . . . Sacramento. The Kings nabbed two wins at home in a best of 5 to bring it to that 5th game at Staples. The Kings won 44 games in the regular season.
Also note that Los Angeles shared a considerable regular season win advantage (8) over all other teams. They also failed to make it far in the playoffs from the previous year. This was the first year after the shortened 1998-1999 season, which featured a San Antonio Finals victory after a long period of Bulls championships.
2000-2001 NBA Regular Season Standings
Best Records: San Antonio Spurs (58) from West, Philadelphia (56) from East.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers over Philadelphia Sixers, 4-1.
Note that Los Angeles only had 2 less wins than San Antonio, and they swept the Spurs 4-0 in the WCF. San Antonio knows what it's like to get punked. This was a good season to take note because most of the playoff teams were within distance of each other in regular season standings, especially at the latest rounds.
2001-2002 NBA Regular Season Standings
Best Records: Sacramento (61) from West, New Jersey (52) from East.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers over New Jersey Nets, 4-0.
Note that in the West, Sacramento, Dallas, San Antonio, and Los Angeles Lakers were all within 4 wins of each other. Sacramento, known for a high-powered offense without much defense, actually took LA to 7 games. Also note that in the East, the relative equals were considered to be New Jersey, Detroit, and Boston.
Also note that all 3 top East dogs in the 2002 playoffs had finished with losing records in 2001 and failed to make the playoffs. All three were fresh entries into the 2002 2nd season, and all 3 went to 5 games in the first round. New Jersey and Boston faced teams from previous Finals runs, while Detroit faced . . . Toronto. Naturally, Detroit got rolled in the next round by Boston. Naturally, New Jersey and Boston shared similar paths, and they went to six in the ECF. Naturally, neither of them were prepared for LA, and the Lakers swept New Jersey right and proper.
2002-2003 NBA Regular Season Standings
Best Records: San Antonio and Dallas (60) from West, Detroit (50) from East.
Winner: San Antonio Spurs over New Jersey Nets, 4-2.
Note that San Antonio finally earned their recognition for tough defense and team play in a conference that was considered to be the more dominant of the two. Dallas was right there in record with San Antonio, but San Antonio was right there against a seasoned LA team in 2002 and received a punking from last year's champs.
Also note that New Jersey had made it to the previous Finals, while Detroit got punked yet again by late-round inexperience. New Jersey's team swept Detroit on their way to making a respectable run against San Antonio. Both teams were seasoned enough in previous playoffs with similar rosters from the previous year.
2003-2004 NBA Regular Season Standings
Best Records: Indiana (61) from East, Minnesota (58) from West.
Winner: Detroit Pistons over Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1.
Note that Detroit finally earned their recognition for tough defense and team play in a conference that was considered to be the weaker of the two. Indiana, who won the most games in the NBA, had also been punked in the first round by Boston in 2003. Indiana fans don't have to explain how they lost the ECF . . . Detroit went farther with a similar team in 2nd season 2003 and didn't make it to the Finals.
Also note that Los Angeles's Finals defeat was one of the first major surprises in this decade. The consensus was Lakers in 4 or 5, not Detroit. One looks closer and finds that Los Angeles and Detroit had similar paths in the 2004 run. Both faced the previous year's Finals representatives, and both won the series. Both of their conference semis were tough battles. Detroit went to seven against New Jersey. Los Angeles went to six against San Antonio. Both then faced their conference leaders. Detroit and Los Angeles beat their conference leaders in six games. Both CFs were tough series wins. Los Angeles was the favorite because their conference featured 6 contenders with over 50 wins.
2004-2005 NBA Regular Season Standings
Best Records: Phoenix (62) from West, Miami (59) from East.
Can you see the pattern?
Teams with 50 or more wins in the regular season with deep playoff experience from the starting 5 tend to be championship contenders.
Late-round playoff experience tends to be a plus, especially if it was made in the previous year.
Teams who did not make the playoffs the previous year tend to face the 2nd season with a learning curve.
As in everything, there are always exceptions, despite the tendencies.