What if the Golden State Warriors lose? Eight great teams destiny left behind

Editor’s Note: For updates, stories, video and features about the NBA playoffs, go to cnn.com/nba

Story highlights

Warriors finished 73-9 as greatest regular season ever in NBA

Stephen Curry knee and ankle problems could derail dreams

Chasing Michael Jordan's 6-time champs, among others, as 'greatest all time'

'07 Patriots, '01 Mariners among biggest disappointments

CNN  — 

Following their Game 1 domination of the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, the Golden State Warriors look set to cruise into the NBA Western Conference Finals – even without the injured Stephen Curry.

Should Curry not return at full strength, however, the record-breaking Warriors will face a mountainous task in the next two rounds of their title defense.

Curry is sidelined for at least one more game, having played only 38 minutes in the Warriors first round series against the Houston Rockets. He sustained a right ankle injury in Game 1 that preceded a knee sprain in Game 4.

As and when the league’s MVP does return, it’s unclear how his time off the court will affect his precise shooting rhythm, or whether he’ll be operating at full strength.

A looming showdown against streaking San Antonio or Oklahoma City without his 30.1 points, 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game could be one challenge too many for the Dubs.

One thing that is certain: Should the Warriors overcome adversity and repeat as NBA champions, their legacy as one of the greatest teams in history will be cemented. But how will they be remembered if they falter?

CNN looks back on eight examples where a ‘Greatest Team Ever’ didn’t quite live up to its billing, and what happened next.

Team 1: 2007 New England Patriots

The ’07 Pats squad is the poster child for a dominant team that underperformed at crunch time.

Breezing through the regular season with a 16-0 record while brutally crushing opponents – their 52-7 win over the Redskins featured fourth-down conversions while up 38-0 and 45-0 – New England was anointed by many as the best team in NFL history before delivering the goods.

The Patriots won their two playoff games before facing the overachieving New York Giants (who snuck into the playoffs with a 10-6 record) in Super Bowl XLII.

That contest will forever be remembered for the how-did-that-happen Eli Manning to David Tyre helmet catch, but it was New York’s defensive line, led by Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck, that held Tom Brady to just two touchdowns.

Final score: Giants 17 Patriots 14.

Legacy: The Patriots had already won three Super Bowls in the Brady – Bill Belichick era and would lose another Super Bowl to the Giants four years later. But New England recovered to win one more title in 2015, beating the Seattle Seahawks on a last-minute Malcolm Butler interception to cement its place as one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.

Team 2: 1982 Brazilian World Cup squad

Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Eder, Junior, Leandro. Thirty-four years after their disappointment in Spain, their exotic names still roll off the tongue.

Brazil’s ’82 squad arrived as the tournament’s overwhelming favorites, despite the inclusion of powerhouses West Germany, Argentina and Italy.

In the group stage, Brazil won its three games by a combined score of 10-2. It was matched up with arch-rival Argentina along with Italy in the next group stage, dominating the former 3-1 before being stunned 3-2 by the latter on the back of a Paulo Rossi hat trick.

“Football as we know it died that day,” Socrates would lament years later.

The Azzurri would go on to win the tournament with six goals from Rossi, who had just been admitted to the team after serving a match-fixing ban.

Legacy: The most famous World Cup team to lose a tournament. Brazil would recover, however, by winning the 1994 and 2002 World Cups to notch five in total – one more than the Germans and Italians.

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Team 3: 2004 USA Olympic Basketball team

No one remembers that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson once played on the same team – and there’s a reason why.

Entering the 2004 Olympics, the U.S. had only lost two basketball games in total over the history of the Games, a record dating back to 1936. (The first being the highly contentious 1972 gold medal game.)

The team of NBA All-Stars was so celebrated that it was housed on the Queen Mary 2 in an Athens port instead of the Olympic Village.

Since the formation of the Dream Team in 1992, when American pros were finally given the green light to take part in the Olympics, the U.S. had gone undefeated … until it ran into lowly Puerto Rico in its opening game in Athens.

The shell-shock of that 19-point loss never wore off, and coach Larry Brown’s team faltered to Lithuania and Argentina as it limped towards a bronze medal behind the ball-stopping backcourt of Iverson and Stephon Marbury. At some point, the conservative Brown should have considered starting LeBron James.

Legacy: Worst U.S. men’s basketball team in history. The “Redeem Team” would go on to win the gold in China and again in London (both times facing Spain in the finals), with LeBron, Carmelo and Olympic newcomer Kobe Bryant featuring heavily on coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team.

Team 4: Team Serena Williams, U.S. Open, 2015

Serena was on pace for one of the greatest runs ever in professional tennis, having already claimed a so-called “Serena Slam,” winning the last four majors in a row going into Flushing Meadow.

After beating sister Venus in the quarterfinals, Williams was only two victories away from marking her first calendar Grand Slam. No female player had achieved the feat since Steffi Graf in 1988.

Williams’ dominance going into the tournament was magnified by the gap between her and world No. 2 Simona Halep in WTA point totals: Serena’s tally of 12,721 was more than double the Romanian’s 6,130.

World No. 43 Roberta Vinci, who had not beaten Serena in four career attempts, was presumed to be nothing more than semifinal roadkill.

But it was fifth time lucky for the Italian, who stunned the Los Angeles native in three sets. Calling it the greatest moment in her life, 32-year-old Vinci would stumble in the final to compatriot Flavia Pennetta the next day.

Legacy: Williams is celebrated as one of the greatest players ever in the women’s game, although a victory in New York would have also tied Graf’s total of 22 majors (second all-time), a mark she’s still chasing.

Team 5: David Beckham’s 2003-2006 Real Madrid sides

The “Galacticos” era engineered by Florentino Pérez in his first reign as Real Madrid president was defined by the signings of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane. It delivered two La Liga and one Champions League titles, but it was the recruitment of David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003 when things took a turn for the worse.

The Englishman’s arrival coincided with the departure of bellwether midfielder Claude Makelele, leaving a gaping hole that remained unplugged during the era.

Though Becks played alongside Madrid legend Raul, Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo and countryman Michael Owen (who lasted just one year), he overlapped with Figo’s position on the right flank and never really hit his stride. By the time Madrid had regained its form by winning La Liga in 2007, Beckham had already signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“He’s going to Hollywood to be half a film star,” said new club president Ramon Calderon, according to the New York Times.

Legacy: Though he proved to be a huge marketing success for Los Blancos, the Beckham years were considered a flop and led to the removal of Perez (though he’s now back in charge of Real). It would take the arrival of another former Manchester United player, Cristiano Ronaldo, to win the Champions League in 2014.

Team 6: 2001 Seattle Mariners

Led by rookie Ichiro Suzuki, who won American League MVP honors, and 20-game winner Jamie Moyer, the Mariners won a record-breaking 116 games during the Major League Baseball regular season.

It took five games for Seattle to beat the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the postseason. But the Mariners faced a dynastic New York team in the American League Championship Series and bounced out 4-1, missing out on competing in the franchise’s first World Series.

Legacy: Seattle who? The Mariners have been lost at sea for years, having failed to return to the post season since that series.

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Team 7: 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball team

Defending champion UNLV had a 34-0 record going into the NCAA Final Four against Duke – a team they pummeled by 30 points in the championship game the year before.

The Rebs looked more like a pro team, with physically imposing players Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon leading the front line. (Four of their starters would be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft.)

But Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski had a plan: star swingman Grant Hill would guard Johnson to a stalemate while teammates Christian Laettner (29 points, 7 rebounds) and Bobby Hurley (12 points, 7 assists) sliced through the the UNLV defense.

Duke overcame a 29-point performance by Reb’s guard Anderson Hunt and prevailed in a 79-77 win.

Legacy: One of the most dominant teams not to win the NCAA title. The game marked the peak of UNLV basketball, which faced a series of recruiting violation penalties shortly afterwards. Hall Of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian was forced out and the program has struggled to stay relevant since.

Duke, on the other hand, went on to beat Kansas in the final game, the first of five national championships under the helm of Krzyzewski – arguably the greatest coach in the modern era of college hoops.

Team 8: 1986 Los Angeles Lakers

Between 1985 and 1988, the “Showtime” Lakers won three out of four NBA titles. The one blip took place in the 1986 Western Conference Finals: A shocking 4-1 upset by the No. 4 seed Houston Rockets.

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The Rockets featured the Twin Towers combo of Hakeem Olajuwon (who averaged an eye-popping 31 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2.2 steals in the series), and seven-foot four-inch Ralph Sampson, who volleyed in a last-second prayer in Game 5 to knock out the champions in LA’s Great Western Forum.

NBA playoffs

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    Legacy: With Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading them to five rings, the “Showtime” Lakers are considered one of the NBA’s premier dynasties – but a sixth would have put them on a level playing field with Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

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