It doesn’t happen often, given the scarcity of true franchise players in the NBA, but once in a while, a legitimate championship contender lurks in the shadows
. There are few real contenders every season, and most of those teams held that distinction over the previous seasons. The conference finalists that sneak up on us — the 2011 Mavericks, 2011 Thunder, 2009 Magic, 2006 Heat, 2004 Pistons1
— do so because, for whatever reason, we were not prepared to think of them as real contenders. Some are young teams on the upswing, ahead of their preconceived schedule. Some are older teams with strange new pieces and uninspiring postseason résumés.
Most of them carry indicators that shout, “Hey! There’s a real contender here!”
The 2011 Mavs had a killer record and point differential when their core players were healthy, but a solid percentage of experts picked Portland to upset them in the first round, and almost everyone was shocked they got by the imploding Lakers in the next.2 Teams earn reputations, and the perceptions that come with them, through their historical accomplishments, but that same history can blind us to a truth that doesn’t line up with it.
Which brings me to a question that has been nagging me, and I suspect lots of other hard-core NBA types, over the last couple of weeks: Why not the Warriors? Why can’t Golden State make the Finals and even win the championship this season? Is there a legitimate answer that isn’t some version of, “Because they’re the Warriors, and the Warriors always lose”?