As a general rule, I feel like I have to preface every NBA article this season with a disclaimer about the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. You know that those two teams are almost certainly going to square off in the NBA Finals once more. I know it. Everyone knows it.
But so what? There are 28 other teams in the league, and 14 of them are going to make the playoffs this season. One or two of those squads might even play spoiler. Who knows? In the playoffs, anything can happen -- just ask the Warriors.
With an eye on the future of the NBA, then, here are three teams with two combined postseason appearances in the past five years that will storm back into the playoff picture in 2016-17. Championship contenders, you've been warned.
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Utah Jazz (2015-16: 40-42, 9th in the West)
Picking the Jazz to make their way back to the postseason this year almost feels like cheating. Utah missed the 2015-16 playoffs by just one game, and that was before getting significantly better with the additions of George Hill and Boris Diaw. The Gordon Hayward injury to start the season isn't great, but he'll be back with the team sooner than later. Assuming the Jazz can stay healthy otherwise, this team will be vying for homecourt advantage in the first round. And that's good news for the Golden State Warriors, who should want to avoid Rudy Gobert's incredible defense and Quin Synder's elite coaching for as long as possible in the playoffs.
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Minnesota Timberwolves (2015-16: 29-53, 13th in the West)
Take a leap of faith with me, friends, into the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka (and the other 9,999 lakes in Minnesota). Maybe this is a year early for the Wolves, who have one of the NBA's best young cores. They might need another season of experience before they take the next step into the playoffs. I genuinely don't believe that's the case, however. Karl-Anthony Towns is already one of the game's top 25 players, and Andrew Wiggins looks more comfortable every day as a slashing offensive option who shuts down opponents on defense. Ricky Rubio, meanwhile, remains one of the game's truly overlooked point guards (mostly because he can't shoot, of course). Add coach Tom Thibodeau to the mix, and this team will take advantage of whichever Western Conference teams slide out of playoff contention this season.
New York Knicks (2015-16: 32-50, 13th in the East)
The Knicks' resurgence depends on one condition: New York needs to realize that Derrick Rose isn't the answer at point guard. Brandon Jennings is the one floor general who can lift this team to its true potential. The Joakim Noah injuries so far this preseason are definitely a concern, but if Noah can be healthy for 60-70 games, this Knicks team has too much talent to miss the playoffs once again. Carmelo Anthony should be hungry to prove his skills as a leader are equal to his ability as a scorer, Kristaps Porzingis will take a big step forward, and Courtney Lee's tendency to fade into the background belies his status as one of the game's most underrated shooting guards. The bench is thin, admittedly -- which is why you bring Rose off the pine and let him feast against opposing backups.