NORMAN — AP National Writer
ATLANTA — If the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks were in any other sport, they might have a glimmer of hope for winning a championship.
More than the NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball, the cream of the regular season in the NBA always seems to rise to the top of the rim come playoff time.
In the last two decades, all but three titles have been claimed by teams that had at least the fourth-best overall record in the league. So maybe the two-time defending champion Miami Heat have some reason to worry: They were No. 5 this season.
“For the most part,” Atlanta’s Kyle Korver said Friday, “the best team wins.”
The Hawks, therefore, have no chance. Not with the worst record (38-44) among the playoff qualifiers. Not in this league, which tends to weed out the sort of surprises you see in the one-and-done NCAA tournament — where a No. 7 seed (Connecticut) beats a No. 8 seed (Kentucky) for the championship. Or in the NFL, where a team getting hot at the right time can spring a major surprise on the right day.
Then NBA is best-of-seven through four grueling rounds; but, then again, so is the NHL, which also requires 16 playoff wins to take the championship. Baseball, for that matter, has the same format for its league championship series and World Series. Why, then, do those leagues produce far more surprise champions than the NBA?
“There’s not a hockey goalie who can get hot or a pitcher who can be dominating and change a series,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer theorized. “In the NBA, it’s hard to go against the numbers. It just doesn’t happen as often.”
If you’re going by the numbers, top overall seed San Antonio (62-20) or Oklahoma City (the next-best record at 59-23) are the most likely teams to be celebrating after the final game.