Not since the Utah Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls in the 1998 NBA Finals has the Western Conference Champion been a team outside the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks.
For those of you with mathematical deficiencies, that means that most of the careers of ’98 draftees like Mike Bibby, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, these guys have seen nothing but a Western Conference dominated by three teams.
All three teams remain near the top of the conference, but for how long? The resurgence of the Seattle
Super Sonics after their move to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder (and taking an awesome
name and uniform from their original home and making it even cooler with their move), along with the
now relevant Los Angeles Clippers — who, if they can stay healthy next year — may look to make a lot of noise as they were expected to this year.
The most impressive aspect of this changing of the guard in the Western Conference is the way in which
it was done.
Teams at the top of a conference rotating is nothing new, the ebb and flow of the game and its top
teams moves throughout the years in every sport (Pistons fans, remember, it was less than 10 years
ago, you were the top team, and my Bulls where in the toilet).
What makes the Thunder’s breaking through the dominance of the Western Conference and making it to the NBA Finals is not in the fact that the team is among the youngest in the league.
It comes in the fact that they had to go through the three teams that dominated their conference since guys like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook where still in elementary school. It is not the case that the teams that had dominated had simply fallen apart over the years and they all just lost their star players to retirement. The Spurs were tied with the Bulls for the most wins in the league, the Lakers finished in 3rd in the conference and the Mavericks had a “down”
year, finishing 7th in the conference, albeit only five games out of 3rd.
In order to make it to the NBA finals, the Thunder we not only paired up against the conferences elite,
but they handled them all. A four-game sweep of the Mavericks, a 4-1 win over the Lakers, who still have this guy named Kobe, you have probably heard of him.
And in the Conference Finals they had to take on a Spurs team that was undefeated in the playoffs and had not lost a game
since they lost to the Lakers, ON APRIL 11TH! To make matters worse, the Spurs started the series with a 2-0 lead, leaving the Thunder with, statistically, only a 5% chance of winning the series.
Well, odds and history be damned, the Thunder are heading to the finals, after winning games three, four, five and six. Paired with a Clippers squad that features Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and an underrated Chauncey Billups, Caron
Butler and DeAndre Jordan, the future of the Western Conference looks like it is going to be a lot of fun
It’s going to have deep competition, and it’s going to look A LOT different than what we grew