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Opinion: 4 remaining NBA playoff teams a breath of fresh air

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Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is seen before tipoff of overtime of a game between the Cavs and the San Antonio Spurs. The Cavs beat the Spurs, 128-125, in overtime. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is seen before tipoff of overtime of a game between the Cavs and the San Antonio Spurs. The Cavs beat the Spurs, 128-125.
Credit: Courtesy of TNS

In the last 30 NBA Finals, eight teams have hoisted the trophy.

Just think about that for a second. Eight teams in 30 Finals.

Eighteen teams have won the World Series in that span (and there wasn’t even a Series played in 1994). Sixteen squads have won the Super Bowl since 1984, as well.

But in the NBA, if you’re not the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat or Dallas Mavericks, you have not felt the thrill of victory since the season before Michael Jordan entered the league.

This year, thankfully, it seems as though a ninth member will join this exclusive club.

Of the four teams remaining — the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Rockets — only Houston has won it in the last 30 years. The Rockets appear to be the most unlikely team to make it to the Finals, having to face a lethal Warriors squad. In an ESPN.com poll, each of the 14 experts surveyed picked the Warriors to advance to the Finals.

Of course, if the Los Angeles Clippers hadn’t collapsed and blown a 3-1 lead against Houston, we would already be guaranteed a fresh champion.

But, nonetheless, if the Rockets fall to Golden State as expected, we will finally see someone new celebrating.

It’s hard to call LeBron James in the Finals “new” — after appearing in the previous four Finals with the Heat, winning twice — but the Cavs, one of 13 teams to never win a championship, winning it all would certainly be something we haven’t seen before.

The Warriors, meanwhile, won their last title in 1975, while the Hawks have the second-longest drought of any team — last winning in 1958 when they played in St. Louis. In fact, the Hawks have not even been back to the Finals since 1961, and never in Atlanta.

So, with three of the 22 teams shut out from the last 30 years of parades still alive, you really couldn’t ask for more from a competitive standpoint.

It truly is stunning when you look at that 22-of-30 figure. The simple explanation is the NBA is a league driven by the greats, and there are only so many of those to go around. Each of the last 30 champions, except for the 2003-04 Pistons, featured at least one player who can easily be categorized as one of the greatest of all time.

With that in mind, LeBron and the Cavs would have to be considered the favorite as the only team to feature a true legend of the game.

That’s not to mean any disrespect to the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, the league’s Most Valuable Player. While a strong case can already be made for him being the greatest shooter ever, he has a long way to go after really emerging this season before being classified as great.

It’s also not to remove hope from the Hawks. As the Pistons showed in the 2004 Finals, you can win it all with a team full of good players, but no greats. It’s just really, really difficult.

So, looking at the overall picture, it seems like, from a historical standpoint, the Cavs are the most likely team to win it all. LeBron winning his third title in five years also happens to be the least adventurous result — which seems to be the NBA way.

Though, knowing the nearly impossible climb to becoming a championship team in the NBA, maybe the Rockets will find a way to add their third title since 1984 after all.

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