Thunder: New order in Western Conference
The Western Conference Finals will be the third-seeded Mavericks against either the fourth-seeded Thunder or the eighth-seeded Grizzlies. Either way will be historic.
No Lakers, no Spurs, for one thing. Since 1998, Los Angeles or San Antonio has won the West every year, except for Dallas’ 2006 title. So we’ve been a fundamental shift of power. The Spurs went down to Memphis in six first-round games, and the Lakers went meekly to Dallas in the Western semifinals.
But also, the Dallas-OKC or Dallas-Memphis is historic for its lack of a top-one or top-two seed.
Since the NBA went to traditional seeding 40 years ago, only three conference finals have matched teams not seeded first or second:
2007: Third-seeded San Antonio beat fourth-seeded Utah; the Spurs went on to the NBA title.
1990: Third-seeded Portland beat fifth-seeded Phoenix; the Blazers lost to the Pistons in the NBA Finals.
1981: Sixth-seeded Houston beat fifth-seeded Kansas City (Kings); the Rockets lost to Boston in the NBA Finals.
The Rockets-Kings series did not signal a new order. After 1981, the Lakers resumed the Western supremacy they had established in 1980. Los Angeles reached the NBA Finals eight times in the ’80s.
But that Portland-Phoenix series in 1990 proved to be the start of a decade of parity in the West. The succeeding years produced the following West finals: Lakers over Portland, Portland over Utah, Phoenix over Seattle, Houston over Utah, Houston over San Antonio, Seattle over Utah, Utah over Houston, Utah over LA, San Antonio over Portland. That’s seven franchises that reached the Western finals during the ’90s, and all but one of the seven made it at least twice.
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