The Western Conference Will Make History In The NBA Playoffs Regardless of What Happens on the Court

Regardless of which of the eight remaining teams in the NBA Playoffs gets the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it will be a significant event for that franchise. Of the clubs remaining in the conference semifinals, only three have won previous championships. Exactly none of those titles have come since the turn of the millennium. In the Western Conference, there is a whole new cast of characters.

The remaining playoff field in the West is a grouping that had happened just once before in the NBA since it realigned into Eastern and Western conferences in 1970. When you throw in the combined number of seasons these teams have been around, it becomes even more noteworthy.

What exactly have those Western Conference teams done? It’s more a question of what they haven’t done in the NBA Playoffs.

NBA Playoffs have some new, or at least unfamiliar, frontiers out West

The Western Conference has long been recognized as the stronger of the NBA’s two subgroups, even if teams from the East have won four of the last 10 championships. Whoever comes out of the West this year will either be doing something rare for their franchise, or it will be unprecedented.

Of the four teams left in the Western Conference — the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz — none has won an NBA championship. These are not new clubs either. Two have been in the NBA for more than half a century; the other two are nearing that milestone in their respective histories.

The only other time all four conference semifinalists had yet to win a title was in the 1994 NBA Playoffs. It was also the Western Conference that turned the trick in that instance. Three of the teams on this year’s list were there (Denver, Phoenix, and Utah). The fourth, the Houston Rockets, went on to win the franchise’s first championship that year. After beating the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, the Rockets topped the Suns and Jazz before besting the New York Knicks in seven games.

The Suns and Jazz have at least reached the NBA Finals before

NBA Playoffs
Clockwise from top left, the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 Western Conference Finals, the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals, the LA Clippers in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, and the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals. None of the four Western Conference semifinalists has won an NBA title. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images | Focus on Sport/Getty Images | Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images | Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Two of the four remaining contestants in the Western Conference have NBA Finals experience. It’s just not a recent experience. One player on the Utah Jazz roster, center Udoka Azubuike, had not been born the last time Utah played in the NBA Finals. Another, two-way player Trent Forrest, was two days old when the Chicago Bulls wrapped up their six-game victory over the Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals.

Looking through the same lens is even more startling for the Phoenix Suns. Future Hall of Famer Chris Paul was 8 years old when the Suns fell in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to the Bulls. Only five others on the current roster — E’Twaun Moore, Jae Crowder, Torrey Craig, Langston Galloway, and Frank Kaminsky — were already here, and Kaminsky was a little more than 2 months old.

Fair to say it’s been a long wait for both fan bases.

The NBA Playoffs have not been kind to the Nuggets; they’ve been plain brutal to the Clippers

The Denver Nuggets have 27 playoff appearances in their 45 seasons since joining the NBA in 1976. In that time, the Nuggets have never gone to the NBA Finals. They are 0–4 in the Western Conference Finals, including a five-game loss to the LA Lakers in the Orlando bubble last year. They also never won a championship in the ABA, though they did reach that league’s championship series in 1976.

The LA Clippers? The franchise is in its 51st season and third home city. In 2021, the Clippers qualified for the playoffs for just the 16th time, and they have never advanced beyond the conference semifinals.

Not in Buffalo. Not in San Diego. And not since moving to LA in 1984. The franchise has been knocked out in the conference semifinals nine times. That includes two times in Buffalo (1974 and 1975) when they advanced directly to that round. There were eight teams in the NBA Playoffs in 1974, and 10 teams qualified the following year.

Between the four teams in the Western Conference semifinals this year, the tally is 196 combined seasons and zero titles. And the group is only guaranteed a berth in the NBA Finals, nothing more. But as these franchises have learned the hard way, it’s one step at a time in the NBA Playoffs.

Historical data courtesy of Basketball Reference.