Top-10 Best Teams to Not Win the NBA Championship
In recent years, we have witnessed some amazing teams that have won it all. The teams who get to hang the banners are in our minds forever, but who are some of the best teams that did not win the NBA Championship? Here are my top-10 teams to haven fallen short of winning the NBA Finals in ‘recent’ memory.
10. 1997-98 Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz posted a record of 62-20 and were the top seed in the West. Not only that, but they had two all-time greats, and members of the famous 1992 Dream Team; John Stockton and Karl Malone. They faced both the Robinson/Duncan Spurs and Bryant/O’Neal Lakers and won eight out of nine games to reach the NBA Finals. Through no fault of the Jazz, they happened to play against the Jordan/Pippen/Rodman-led Chicago Bulls, who won the series 4-2. Every game was competitive, and of course, who could forget the end of game 6?
9. 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers
This Los Angeles Lakers team featured two stars in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’ Neal, but also had some very good role players, such as Derek Fisher, Horace Grant, and even Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Despite the 56-26 regular season record, Malone was 40 years old and Payton was 35 years old, and it showed as the playoffs began to loom. This team ultimately lost 4-1 in the NBA Finals to, albeit, one of the most dominant defensive teams in NBA history in the Detroit Pistons. Kobe Bryant has said that this is the championship series he would want back (over the loss to the Boston Celtics in 2007-08). With a roster like that of the 2003-04 Lakers, I can’t blame him.
8. 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder
Today, it is hard to imagine a roster consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka NOT winning the NBA championship, but 2011-12 was a long time ago. This team went 47-19 in the lockout shortened season and was the second seed heading into the playoffs. In the Western Conference Finals, they even beat the San Antonio Spurs 4-2. However, the “Big 3” of the Miami Heat was simply too much for a team that had little experience playing in such a high- pressure environment.
7. 2001-02 Sacramento Kings
Many people forget about the Sacramento Kings and how, at one point, they were the biggest threats to Kobe and Shaq in the early 2000s. The Kings featured a roster of newly acquired Mike Bibby at the point and future Hall of Famer Chris Webber as the team’s big names, but the team itself had seven different players average double figures during the season. The Kings made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals and were up 3-2 on the Lakers, who had swept them in the previous year’s playoffs. However, referee Tim Donaghy fixed Game 6 and gave the Lakers 18 more free throws in JUST the fourth quarter alone. The Lakers stole Game 6 and won Game 7 in overtime.
6. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James led this team to be in conversation with the Chicago Bulls’ NBA regular season record of 72-10 (the Cavaliers went 66-16). While the grind of earning a record this great is tough work, the Cavaliers showed no signs of wear and tear throughout the regular season. The Cavaliers swept both the Pistons and Hawks, then looked to roll through all the way to a championship. However, an encounter with the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals proved to be too much for Cleveland, as they fell relatively easily (2-4).
5. 2008-09 Boston Celtics
This is another great team from 2008-09 that failed to win it all. The Celtics went into the season as defending world champions and retained the same core pieces of the championship winning roster (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House, Tony Allen, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis). They started the year 27-2, were the two seed with a 62-20 record, but lost Kevin Garnett to a season-ending injury after just 57 games. They played the Chicago Bulls in the greatest playoff series I have ever witnessed. Games 1 and 3 went to overtime, Game 4 went to double overtime, Game 5 went to overtime, and Game 6 went to TRIPLE OVERTIME. There were fights, clutch shots, and insane crowds at every game. The Celtics won the series in seven games and took the Orlando Magic to seven games in the next round. One can only wonder what might have been if Kevin Garnett hadn’t been injured.
4. 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs
The 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs featured the best roster in Spurs history and maybe of any roster in NBA history; Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Danny Green, and Patty Mills. This roster played a very simple, fundamental, and beautiful style of basketball on both ends of the floor. The one critique is that they were too old. During this season, Duncan was 39, Ginobili was 38, and Parker was 33. In the semifinal round, the Spurs played a Thunder team who were playing their best basketball since 2011-12. Ultimately, the youth and star power of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and company proved to be too much for the Spurs, who lost the series 2-4. It was Tim Duncan’s last season in the NBA.
3. 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers
Before the season started, people assumed that this team was going to win it all. You can’t blame them, considering this team was made up of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. Even the bench was strong, with players like Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison, and Jordan Hill. However, there was trouble in paradise for Kobe Bryant, who ended up feuding with Dwight Howard in a way that almost rivaled his beef with Shaq. In addition, injuries took a huge toll on this team, and players missed a combined 176 games due to injuries. Due to a lack of playing together and gelling as teammates, this team was swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
2. 2010-11 Miami Heat
This may not have been the best Miami Heat team LeBron James had been a part of (I would argue that 2013-14 was the best Miami Heat team). However, this team still had James, Wade and Bosh at its core, was the first seed in the East, and only lost three games in the playoffs going into the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, who were the third seed in the West and a dark horse (pun intended) to actually get to the Finals. To put it nicely, the Miami Heat choked this finals away. LeBron James didn’t average 18 points per game in the series and was third in scoring behind his “Big 3” counterparts. The Heat ultimately fell to the Mavericks 4-2, with Dirk Nowitzki winning Finals MVP in what will most likely be his only championship. While this may not have been the best version of James’ Heat, this team was, on paper, better than the Mavericks in almost every way and really should have won it all.
1. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors
I would be surprised if anyone has an argument against my number one team on this list. This team broke the Bulls’ best regular season record by going 73-9 and won its first 24 games of the season. Even without Kevin Durant, this team was still stacked with the likes of Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green. They also had a solid center in Andrew Bogut and great depth outside of their stars, with Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston in the rotation. This team saw good times in the regular season and tough times in the playoffs, when they were down 1-3 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors prevailed and met up with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a rematch of the previous year’s Finals. The Warriors looked like they were going to repeat as champions and were up 3-1, but infamously choked in games 5, 6 and 7, and lost to the Cavaliers on their home court. Things seemed to still workout for Steph Curry and company when Kevin Durant joined the team the following offseason.