It appears the Cleveland Cavs and Golden State Warriors are on a collision course to face each other for the third consecutive year in the NBA Finals. Through games of Friday, May 19, both teams hold a 2-0 lead in their respective conference finals, and both teams are undefeated (10-0) in the playoffs this year.
If both teams should sweep their conference finals and go 12-0 before the beginning of the 2017 finals, we could see a couple of records shattered in the process:
- The 2001 L.A. Lakers have the best playoff winning percentage in a season, .938. The Lakers that year went 15-1 on their way to the championship. Second on the list are the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers who went 12-1 in the playoffs that year, a .923 winning percentage. They are the only teams to have a winning percentage over .900 in an NBA playoff season. If the Cavs or Warriors should end the 2017 playoffs at 16-1, that would be a winning percentage of .941 for the playoffs, a new record.
- Four teams previously entered the NBA Finals undefeated (minimum of seven wins to qualify). The aforementioned 2001 Lakers were 11-0 before the start of the 2001 Finals. The 1982 Lakers were 8-0 prior to the ’82 Finals. Another Lakers team, this time the 1952 Minneapolis Lakers, went 7-0 in the first two rounds before the ’52 Finals; and, the 1989 Lakers entered their finals series that year against the Detroit Pistons 11-0. The ’89 Lakers, however, were swept by the Pistons that year.
The ’89 Lakers and the 2005 Miami Heat have the highest winning percentage in the playoffs without winning a title that year. The 1989 Lakers finished the playoffs that year 11-4, a .733 winning percentage. The 2005 Heat were also 11-4 in the ’05 playoffs.
Here’s a look at the eight teams that had a winning percentage of .700 in a playoff season yet did not win the title that year.
1989 L.A. Lakers, 11-4, .733: Went undefeated in the first three games (going 11-0) before they were swept by the Detroit Pistons in the finals.
2005 Miami Heat, 11-4, .733: Beat the Nets and Wizards 4-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but then lost 4-3 to the Detroit in the conference finals.
2009 Cleveland Cavs, 10-4, .714: Won their first two rounds of the playoffs that year by sweeping Detroit and Atlanta, but lost 4-2 to Orlando in the conference finals.
2010 Orland Magic, 10-4, .714: A pair of 4-0 sweeps over Atlanta and Charlotte preceded a 4-2 loss to Boston in the conference finals.
2010 San Antonio Spurs, 10-4, .714: Swept both Utah and the L.A. Clippers 4-0 and then lost to Oklahoma City 4-2 in the conference title series.
2013 San Antonio Spurs, 15-6, .714: Went 12-2 in the first three rounds of the playoffs before facing off with Miami in the finals. They lost to the Heat in seven games in the finals.
2003 New Jersey Nets, 14-6, .700: Lost to the Spurs 4-2 in the NBA Finals that year after going 12-2 in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
2015 Cleveland Cavs, 14-6, .700: They went 12-2 in the first three rounds of the playoffs before losing in six games to the Warriors in the finals.
The .733 winning percentage by the 1989 Lakers and 2005 Heat (highest winning percentage in the playoffs of a team that did not win the championship) could be broken if the Cavs and Warriors reach the finals. We’ll keep a watch on those numbers as the playoffs come to a conclusion.
The second round of the NBA playoffs will get started this week. Of the four teams that made it to the conference finals last year (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and Toronto), it looks like only two might return this year… OKC was eliminated in the first round this year by Houston, and Cleveland and Toronto will face each other in the second round this season, with one of them advancing to the conference finals again. Golden State would be the second team if they can advance past the winner of the Utah-L.A. Clippers series winner.
Of the 30 NBA franchises, 14 have played in a conference finals at least once this decade (2010-16). Three current franchises have never played in an NBA conference finals: Charlotte, the L.A. Clippers and New Orleans. Of the teams that have at least one conference finals in their history, the longest wait is from the Washington Bullets. The last time they appeared in a conference finals was in 1979. They could erase that mark this season if they can beat the Boston Celtics in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and advance to the conference finals.
Here’s a look at the 30 NBA franchises and the last year they appeared in a conference finals series. (Current franchise city is listed.)
Never: Charlotte, L.A. Clippers, New Orleans
2000: New York Knicks, Portland
2001: Milwaukee, Philadelphia
2010: L.A. Lakers, Orlando, Phoenix
2011: Chicago, Dallas
2014: Indiana, Miami, San Antonio
2015: Atlanta, Houston
2016: Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City, Toronto