When the Phoenix Suns won 62 games in 2004-05, they finished only three games ahead of the Spurs. By the time they played San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, they were without one of their key players, Joe Johnson. Then, nobody was amazed when the Spurs, with the same core that had won the 2003 championship, eliminated a team that had the best record in the league.
If something truly amazing is to happen in this year's playoffs, as the NBA's promotions suggest about a dozen times each televised game, it will be a team other than the 66-win Cavaliers and the 65-win Lakers qualifying for the Finals.
Are those two so much better than the other 14 playoff teams that the first three rounds are mere prologue to an inevitable Finals chapter, to be written in L.A. and Cleveland?
"If you're saying all teams play the best they can, and they're all at full strength, then you have to say those two will probably be in (the Finals)," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said on the eve of Saturday's playoff openers. "But sometimes, some people fall off or somebody gets hurt. You never know."
D'Antoni coached the 2004-05 Suns, so he knows how fragile the margin can be when a great team loses a contributing player. If Johnson had been defending Tony Parker in 2005, would the outcome have been different?
Nobody will convince D'Antoni otherwise. He truly understands the role misfortune plays in the postseason.
The Cavaliers won 66 games this season, but their margin over the Celtics was relatively slim, a mere four games. Their path to the Finals is less pocked with sinkholes than that of the Lakers, though, because Boston's best player is likely out for the playoffs. Without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics may not make it to the Eastern finals.
The Lakers dominated the West's regular season, 11 games ahead of three teams that tied for second-best record. They had minimal slippage in April, when they were so far ahead, they gave in to occasional motivational malaise.
They had a historical imperative to keep the pedal down. The Showtime Lakers of the 1980s were No. 1 Western seed from 1984-89, better than the next-best Western team by nine, 10, 11, 10 and six games.
They emerged from the Western playoffs all but one year.
Byron Scott, a member of those great teams and the Hornets' head coach, recalled the Lakers' approach to dominating two decades ago.
"We wanted you to remember that you had no chance," Scott said.
Injuries, of course, change everything, as the Celtics and Spurs now understand fully, but remember to be amazed if the Finals don't begin in Cleveland with Cavs fans chanting "Beat L.A."