NBA Playoffs Produce Unlikely Championship Contenders

The 2015 NBA Playoffs have seen some historically great teams fall and some historically average teams rise to the top. With Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers ready to face Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals beginning June 4, it may be time for an unexpected champion to rise.

The Cavaliers have been this deep in the Playoffs once before. In the 2006-2007 season, during James’ first stint with the team, the Cavs made it to the NBA Finals but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The Cavs continued to be a fixture in the Playoffs for the next few seasons, but upon James’ departure to the Miami Heat after the 2010 season, they haven’t been back.

Golden State’s Playoffs history looks a little different but is still not rich with detail. The Warriors are in the Playoffs for the ninth time in their history, but this is the first time they’ve made it to the Finals since relocating from Philadelphia in 1962. They made it to the Playoffs each of the previous two seasons, but before that they only appeared once in the last 18 years.

The NBA Playoffs traditionally see some of the more notable or powerhouse teams rise to the top. Over the last 20 seasons, teams such as the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Chicago Bulls have dominated the Playoffs and won the Championship. Each of those teams has appeared in the NBA Finals five times or more, and each of them has been crowned champion at least three times. It’s rare for a team like the Wizards or Cavaliers to make it this deep in the Playoffs, let alone both appear in the Finals.

But this year’s Playoffs, and this year’s Cavaliers and Warriors, are different. With Lebron James, arguably the NBA’s best player, leading Cleveland, and with Stephen Curry (this year’s NBA MVP) running the court for Golden State, it’s no coincidence that these two teams are meeting at this stage of the NBA Playoffs.

The Cavaliers finished the season with the best record in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference at 53-29 (second-best overall behind the Atlanta Hawks, who they swept in the Eastern Conference Finals). The Warriors were easily the best team in the West, finishing with the league’s best record of 67-15 and simply brushing aside the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.

If this year’s NBA Playoffs is any indication, there could be a changing of the guard in the NBA. Lebron James came back to Cleveland to win championships, and now he’s in a position to do that. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined for an average of 45.5 points per game during the regular season, helped the Warriors finish with the league’s best record. With the Finals set to begin next week and teams like the Spurs, Bulls, and Celtics knocked out of the Playoffs early, the stage is set for a couple of new challengers to take over the spotlight.

[Image via Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images]

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