The NBA playoffs are underway and it has been quite the month of basketball: LeBron James going down in the first round after Anthony Davis got injured; Nikola Jokic leading the Nuggets to the second round without Jamal Murray; and the Nets “big 3” struggling to stay healthy. After watching Sunday night’s Suns vs. Nuggets game where the Suns completed the second round sweep, I looked at what the Suns have gone through. They played against an injured AD with the Lakers, a Nuggets team without their second option in Jamal Murray, and in game 4 without Nikola Jokic for a half when he was ejected. No disrespect to the Suns but, it makes me wonder, how much luck do you need to win the NBA Finals? Let’s take a look.
First, let me start off with the one common trait of championship teams. Good defense. Since the NBA/ABA merger 45 years ago, the championship team has averaged 5th in defensive rating. And in the past 20 years, only 2 champions have been outside the top 10 in defensive rating. So, before we get into the lucky side of things, let’s remember for a team to win a championship, they will have good defense. It’s as simple as that.
The biggest “luck” aspect of NBA champions however has to be their team staying healthy, and other teams not. Going down the list of previous champions, we have the 2020 Lakers. They were all healthy in the bubble other than Anthony Davis, who had an ankle injury but played through it just fine.
However, in the playoffs, they only had to see Dame in 2/5 games due to a finger injury. Then in the finals vs. the Miami Heat we saw Bam Adebayo & Goran Dragic both miss games in the finals. But, it doesn’t end in the bubble. In 2019, the Toronto Raptors won the championship. In the NBA finals against the Warriors, however, Kevin Durant & Klay Thompson both missed games with major injuries, and Stephen Curry was left to try to do things by himself.
But, the Warriors had some good luck of their own. In 2015 against the Cavs, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both missed games in the series due to injuries. Leaving LeBron to do all the heavy lifting, which he could not. In 2018, CP3 went down with an injury in the WCF, and the Warriors won that series en route to the title. Not to mention the year before where Kawhi Leonard went down and the Spurs were taken out of the race. And all this is just in the last 6 seasons. The list goes on and on and on.
As with any sport or anything in life really, you need a lot of luck, specifically in this instance with injuries, if you want to win an NBA title. Many NBA fans tend to take these injuries and try to put an asterisk or devalue the team’s championships. But that’s just wrong. Basketball is a game of adjustments and to win a championship it takes a full effort and high commitment level from all 15 guys on the roster. Every champion should be honored equally. But, just know, if you want your team to win the title, you better hope they stay healthier than the other contending teams.