Ranking the Top 50 NBA Teams of All Time

Which team is the greatest of all time? To answer that question with more rigor than it’s typically debated in sports bars, in 2015 I ranked every team since minutes played were first tracked in 1951-52 (sorry to the 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers) based on their performance in both the regular season and playoffs.

Three years later, it’s time for an update with a new No. 1, plus several other newcomers to the list thanks to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors dominating the competition in their respective conferences.

The method

For champions, I took the average of their point differential during the regular season and their point differential in the playoffs plus the point differential of their opponents. That tells us how many points per game better than an average team each champion was, giving equal weight to the postseason as the regular season to reward the most important games.

For non-champions, the starting point is the same, but their playoff differential was also adjusted by effectively giving them a five-point loss for each game they came up short of the title. That has little impact on teams like the 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs, who lost in Game 7 of the Finals, but it harshly penalizes teams that rolled up big victory margins early in the playoffs before falling short in the conference finals.

The last adjustment deals with leaguewide quality of play. It’s no surprise that some of the greatest single-season team performances in NBA history came in the early 1970s, when the league had expanded quickly and also battled the ABA for incoming draft picks. The redistribution of talent allowed stars to shine even more brightly. For each season, I measured how players saw their minutes per game increase or decrease the following season as compared to what we’d expect given their age. More minutes suggests a weaker league, while fewer minutes suggests one that’s gotten stronger.

Each season is rated relative to 2017-18, from a high of 21 percent stronger in 1965-66, the last year the NBA had just nine teams, to a low of 10 percent weaker in 2004-05, the last time the league expanded. That adjustment is multiplied by the team’s average regular-season and playoff scores to give a final rating better than an average team this season.

1. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors

Regular-season record: 67-15
Postseason record: 16-1
Defeated Cavs 4-1 in Finals

After failing to translate an NBA-record 73 wins into a title the previous season, the Warriors slacked — relatively — after adding Kevin Durant to the core of the 2015 champions, winning only 67 games. Come playoff time, Golden State lived up to its potential, coming within a game of completing the first unbeaten postseason in NBA history. The Warriors settled for 16-1, and their adjusted playoff differential ranks second all time behind the 2001 Lakers.

However, as I noted in using this rating to evaluate Golden State’s title run, that does come with an asterisk because the Warriors faced a weakened San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals after Kawhi Leonard’s injury.

2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls

Regular-season record: 72-10
Postseason record: 15-3
Defeated Sonics 4-2 in Finals

Still likely the consensus greatest team in NBA history, having followed up their then-record 72 wins with a championship, the Bulls come out ahead when you adjust for the actual quality of competition they faced. Chicago has the best combination of both regular-season and playoff dominance, ranking third in both regular-season and playoff adjusted differential.

The only quibble is that 1995-96 was an expansion year. Nonetheless, leaguewide quality of play still rated 4.6 percent better than this season.

3. 1985-86 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 67-15
Postseason record: 15-3
Defeated Rockets 4-2 in Finals

With four Hall of Famers (Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish) in their starting lineup and a fifth (Bill Walton) coming off the bench, the 1985-86 Celtics were more talented than anyone they faced. The problem was they knew it. So at times, Boston coasted through a 67-15 regular season, posting a pedestrian plus-9.4 point differential.

The Celtics turned it up in the playoffs, and while they lost three games, their plus-10.3 playoff margin of victory ranks seventh all time. Boston dominated against a league that was nearly at its peak in terms of level of play.

4. 1986-87 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 65-17
Postseason record: 15-3
Defeated Celtics 4-2 in Finals

The Lakers responded to their rivals’ championship and their own upset in the 1986 Western Conference finals with an all-time season of their own, nearly matching the 1985-86 Celtics. John Hollinger’s rankings came up with the 1986-87 Lakers second and the 1985-86 Celtics third. They’re flip-flopped here because the Lakers’ impressive-looking plus-11.4 margin of victory in the playoffs was compiled against one of the weakest slates of opponents for any champion.

The Lakers didn’t beat a single team that won more than 42 games in the regular season en route to the Finals, and even Boston was weakened from its previous heights by injury. The Celtics needed seven games to get past both Milwaukee and Detroit in the East, so it was no surprise when the Lakers finished off the defending champions in six games.

5. 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers

Regular-season record: 68-13
Postseason record: 11-4
Defeated Warriors 4-2 in Finals

When the NBA celebrated its 35th anniversary in 1980, the Professional Basketball Writers Association chose the 1966-67 76ers as the best team in league history, and this method agrees that Philadelphia posted the best season before the ABA-NBA merger and arrival of the 3-point line.

After winning a then-record 68 games in the regular season, the Sixers dominated in the playoffs, knocking off the Celtics 4-1 in the Eastern Division finals to snap Boston’s streak of eight consecutive championships. And Philadelphia did it in the last season before the arrival of the ABA and rapid NBA expansion.

6. 1990-91 Chicago Bulls

Regular-season record: 61-21
Postseason record: 15-2
Beat Lakers 4-1 in Finals

For an all-time great team, Chicago’s 61-21 record in Michael Jordan’s first title season was relatively poor. But the Bulls’ point differential ranks 15th in NBA history, and they were even better in the playoffs. Chicago went 15-2 in the postseason with both losses by two points. After factoring in level of opposition, the Bulls’ postseason run was the sixth best ever.

7. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks

Regular-season record: 66-16
Postseason record: 12-2
Defeated Bullets 4-0 in Finals

On paper, the 1970-71 Bucks stand with the 1995-96 Bulls as one of the most dominant teams ever. While Milwaukee won just 66 games, the Bucks’ plus-12.3 point differential was the second best in NBA history, just ahead of the 1995-96 Bulls. And Milwaukee’s plus-14.5 margin of victory in the playoffs is the best on record.

Alas, the league quality adjustment takes some of the air out of the Bucks’ gaudy stats. Because the NBA had added eight teams in a five-year span while competing for talent with the ABA, my model shows league quality declining by more than 20 percent between 1966-67, when the Sixers went 68-13, and 1970-71. As a result, Milwaukee drops from second in unadjusted rating to fifth.

8. 1984-85 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 62-20
Postseason record: 15-4
Defeated Celtics 4-2 in Finals

While their 62 wins were their most to date in the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Magic Johnson era, the Lakers didn’t reveal their true quality until the postseason. They dominated the Western Conference before upsetting a 63-win Boston team in the Finals to finish with a plus-10.2 playoff margin of victory. Adjusting for the strength of the league — at its post-merger peak in terms of level of play — the Lakers’ 1985 playoff run edges the 1995-96 Bulls for the second best ever.

9. 1960-61 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 57-22
Postseason record: 8-2
Defeated Hawks 4-1 in Finals

By this measure, the 1960-61 Celtics come out as the best team during Boston’s dynastic run with Bill Russell and Red Auerbach because of their postseason romp. While the Celtics lost a game in each of their two series, they also earned three of their eight wins by 20-plus points, and their plus-11.6 margin of victory was the fourth best in NBA playoff history.

10. 1963-64 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 59-21
Postseason record: 8-2
Defeated Warriors 4-1 in Finals

The Celtics, by then five-time defending champions, were pushed by a Syracuse Nationals team that won 55 games — the most ever by anyone besides Boston in NBA history to that point. The Celtics demonstrated their superiority in the Eastern Division finals by knocking off Syracuse 4-1 with four wins by double figures, and then taking care of Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors in the NBA Finals.

11. 1991-92 Chicago Bulls

Regular-season record: 67-15
Postseason record: 15-7
Defeated Blazers 4-2 in Finals

The middle team in Chicago’s first three-peat had the best regular season, winning 67 games and becoming the first team in two decades to outscore opponents by double figures. The Bulls weren’t nearly as dominant in the playoffs, going 15-7 and needing the full seven games to outlast a 51-win New York Knicks team in the conference semifinals.

12. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls

Regular-season record: 69-13
Postseason record: 15-4
Defeated Jazz 4-2 in Finals

While the 1996-97 Bulls only saw their record drop by three games from the record-setting 1995-96 campaign, they weren’t nearly as dominant, particularly in the postseason. Chicago’s plus-5.5 playoff margin of victory ranks just 36th all time among NBA champions.

The Bulls did face an unusually difficult slate of opponents, including two 60-win teams (the Jazz in the Finals and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals), but leaguewide quality of play was still down somewhat the year after expansion.

13. 1971-72 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 69-13
Postseason record: 12-3
Defeated Knicks 4-1 in Finals

For more than two decades, the 1971-72 Lakers held the single-season record for wins, and their point differential is still the best ever in the regular season. So why do they drop out of the top 10? First, the Lakers weren’t quite as good in the postseason.

Despite beating a very good Milwaukee team in the Western Conference finals 4-2, they were outscored in the series, and their margin of victory in the Finals was just 4.4 points per game. More than that, though, the Lakers were done in by the weak level of post-expansion play in 1971-72. Without the league adjustment, the 1971-72 Lakers would rank fourth on the list.

14. 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers

Regular-season record: 65-17
Postseason record: 12-1
Defeated Lakers 4-0 in Finals

The famed fo’ fi’ fo’ Sixers — who couldn’t quite live up to Moses Malone’s pre-playoffs promise that their series would go fo’ fo’ fo’ — look a lot better by wins and losses than point differential.

Philadelphia’s regular-season margin of victory ranks 23rd among champions, and even in the playoffs the 76ers defeated their opponents consistently but by relatively narrow margins. Philadelphia benefits from the quality of the league in the early 1980s but still isn’t quite the all-time great team its record would suggest.

15. 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs

Regular-season record: 62-20
Postseason record: 16-7
Defeated Heat 4-1 in Finals

The best team by this measure since the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty, the Spurs lost seven games in the playoffs — three to a 49-win Dallas Mavericks team in an opening-round matchup that went the distance — but still had the seventh-best adjusted playoff differential on record.

Twelve of San Antonio’s 16 playoff wins were by 15-plus points (the most ever, per Basketball-Reference.com), including all four in an obliteration of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

16. 2014-15 Golden State Warriors

Regular-season record: 67-15
Postseason record: 16-5
Defeated Cavs 4-2 in Finals

After a historic regular season that saw them become just the eighth team in NBA history to outscore their opponents by double digits, the Warriors weren’t quite as dominant en route to the title. While their adjusted playoff differential was slightly better than their regular-season mark, most title teams tend to play better in the playoffs, so Golden State ranks just 20th among champions in adjusted playoff differential. Still, the Warriors demonstrated their ability to win using a variety of different styles during a postseason run that never saw them pushed to a Game 7.

17. 2000-01 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 56-26
Postseason record: 15-1
Defeated 76ers 4-1 in Finals

The all-time Jekyll-and-Hyde team, the Lakers sleepwalked their way through the regular season, posting the league’s eighth-best point differential. The return of point guard Derek Fisher and urgency of playoff basketball awakened the defending champs, who came within an overtime loss in Game 1 of the Finals from becoming the first team ever to sweep the postseason.

Their adjusted playoff point differential is three points per game better than any other team in NBA history. Consider this ranking a compromise between the Lakers’ forgettable regular season and their unforgettable playoff run.

18. 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers

Regular-season record: 57-25
Postseason record: 16-5
Defeated Warriors 4-3 in Finals

After blowing through the Eastern Conference 12-2 en route to the Finals, the Cavaliers found themselves down 3-1 to a Warriors team that had won a record 73 games. That seemingly insurmountable obstacle proved the setup for perhaps the greatest comeback in NBA history, as Cleveland won the last three games — two of them at Golden State, including Game 7 — to bring a championship back to Northeast Ohio for the first time in any major pro sport since 1964. Though the Cavaliers had an up-and-down regular season that cost coach David Blatt his job in January, their adjusted playoff differential ranks seventh all time.

19. 2017-18 Golden State Warriors

Regular-season record: 58-24
Postseason record: 16-5
Defeated Cavs 4-0 in Finals

Golden State’s third title run in four years wasn’t as impressive during the regular season, when the Warriors won nine fewer games than the previous year and finished second in the West behind Houston.

Tested by the Rockets, who pushed them the distance, the Warriors won Game 7 on the road (albeit with Chris Paul on the sidelines) and then capped an impressive playoff run by sweeping Cleveland in their fourth consecutive Finals meeting.

20. 1959-60 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 59-16
Postseason record: 8-5
Defeated Hawks 4-3 in Finals

Despite setting an NBA record for wins, the Celtics had a bumpy run to their second of eight consecutive championships. They needed six games to get past Chamberlain’s Warriors in the Eastern Division finals, then went the distance against the rival St. Louis Hawks in their third Finals matchup in four years. The series wasn’t quite that close, however; all four Boston wins came by at least 16 points.

21. 1964-65 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 62-18
Postseason record: 8-4
Defeated Lakers 4-1 in Finals

Boston’s 62 wins in the 1964-65 regular season were the high-water mark for the Bill Russell-Red Auerbach dynasty, though the team’s winning percentage was slightly better in 1959-60, when the Celtics went 59-16 in a 75-game schedule.

Yet Boston found itself sweating out Game 7 against the Chamberlain-led 76ers in the Eastern Division finals. With the Celtics up one in the closing second, famously “Havlicek stole the ball!” and Boston easily defeated the L.A. Lakers in the NBA Finals.

22. 1988-89 Detroit Pistons

Regular-season record: 63-19
Postseason record: 15-2
Defeated Lakers 4-0 in Finals

By reputation, the Pistons’ first of back-to-back championship teams would rank much higher: Detroit’s plus-5.8 point differential was more typical of a 56-win team than the 63 the Pistons actually won. Detroit increased its margin of victory to 7.7 points per game in the playoffs.

The postseason rating does slightly overstate how well the Pistons played because it doesn’t account for injuries to Lakers guards Magic Johnson and Byron Scott, which turned a Finals rematch into a walkover.

23. 1992-93 Chicago Bulls

Regular-season record: 57-25
Postseason record: 15-4
Defeated Suns 4-2 in Finals

By the third year of their first three-peat, the Bulls were starting to wear down. Their record declined by 10 games from the previous season, and Chicago had to defeat both the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals and the Suns in the Finals without the benefit of home-court advantage.

The Bulls managed to dig deep to knock out both teams in six games, becoming the first team since the 1960s Celtics to win three consecutive championships.

24. 1958-59 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 52-20
Postseason record: 8-3
Defeated Lakers 4-0 in Finals

After an upset loss to the St. Louis Hawks in the 1958 NBA Finals, the Celtics bounced back to set an NBA record with 52 wins. Boston went the distance to knock out the Syracuse Nationals in the Eastern Division finals, then swept a 33-39 Minneapolis team that had upset St. Louis in the West.

25. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors

Regular-season record: 73-9
Postseason record: 15-9
Lost to Cavs 4-3 in Finals

Naturally, the 73-win Warriors are the highest-rated non-champions of all time. Actually, whether Golden State won or lost Game 7 of the Finals didn’t affect the team’s rating much, which seems fair given that few teams have gotten closer to a championship without winning it. Even before Cleveland’s comeback from being down 3-1, however, the Warriors weren’t nearly as dominant in the playoffs — with Stephen Curry limited by an MCL sprain — as they were during their historic regular season.

26. 1997-98 Chicago Bulls

Regular-season record: 62-20
Postseason record: 15-6
Defeated Jazz 4-2 in Finals

After five championships in seven years, the Bulls were on fumes for their final year together. Scottie Pippen missed the season’s first 35 games after offseason foot surgery, yet Chicago still won 62 games to finish first in the East.

The Bulls outlasted a 58-win Indiana Pacers team in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals, then knocked off the 62-win Jazz in the NBA Finals without home-court advantage to secure their sixth and last title.

27. 1972-73 New York Knicks

Regular-season record: 57-25
Postseason record: 12-5
Defeated Lakers 4-1 in Finals

The Knicks finished with the league’s fourth-best record at 57-25, but they ran an incredible playoff gauntlet to win their second championship in four years. In the Eastern Conference finals, New York took down a 68-win Boston Celtics team in seven games, winning Game 7 by 16 on the road.

The Knicks continued their success in hostile environments with a pair of road wins in the Finals to upset the defending champion Lakers.

28. 1961-62 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 60-20
Postseason record: 8-6
Defeated Lakers 4-3 in Finals

In a season in which Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points per game and Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double, the Celtics posted their best margin of victory of the Bill Russell-Red Auerbach era.

The playoffs were a different story. Boston went the full seven games in both the Eastern Division finals — beating Chamberlain’s Warriors — and the NBA Finals. And the Lakers’ Frank Selvy had a shot at the buzzer that could have won Game 7 and the series.

29. 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs

Regular-season record: 37-13 (lockout-shortened season)
Postseason record: 15-2
Defeated Knicks 4-1 in Finals

At 15-2, the Spurs are tied for the third-best playoff record since the postseason expanded to 16 teams in 1984 — the biggest reason they finished eighth in former Insider John Hollinger’s rankings of the best Finals teams since the ABA-NBA merger. Besides the addition of pre-merger teams, San Antonio scores lower here because that record overstates how easily the team defeated its playoff opposition.

The Spurs went 7-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer, including the “Memorial Day Miracle” (Sean Elliott’s game-winning 3 in the closing seconds of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals sweep of the Blazers) and a one-point win in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden to close out the Knicks.

30. 1989-90 Detroit Pistons

Regular-season record: 59-23
Postseason record: 15-5
Defeated Blazers 4-1 in Finals

The second Bad Boys championship was more workmanlike than dominant. The Pistons won 59 games in the regular season, down four from the year before, and benefited when the 63-win L.A. Lakers were upset by the Suns in the conference semifinals.

Detroit was still busy fighting off the pre-championship Bulls, who took the Eastern Conference finals the distance. While the Pistons dispatched the Blazers in five games, the series was closer than that suggests — four of the five games were decided by six points or fewer.

31. 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks

Regular-season record: 63-19
Postseason record: 6-5
Lost to Lakers 4-2 in West finals

The best non-champions in NBA history before the 2015-16 Warriors, the 1971-72 Bucks had been the only team to post a double-digit point differential and not win a title. That’s because Milwaukee ran into the Lakers, who posted an even better plus-12.3 differential and won six more games in the regular season to hold home-court advantage in the Western Conference finals.

Though the Lakers prevailed in six games, the Bucks actually outscored them by 14 points in the series. As a result, their playoff rating without any penalty for losing early would actually rank eighth all time.

32. 1980-81 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 62-20
Postseason record: 12-5
Defeated Rockets 4-2 in Finals

Once upon a time, the Eastern Conference was as dominant as the West has been in recent seasons. During 1980-81, all three 60-win teams — the Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers (who also won 62 games) and Milwaukee Bucks — were in the East.

The real Finals were the Eastern Conference finals, and Boston used home-court advantage to outlast a Philadelphia team, which had a plus-7.9 margin of victory in the regular season, in seven games. The Celtics then coasted against a Houston team that made the Finals with a 40-42 record, winning in six games.

33. 2008-09 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 65-17
Postseason record: 16-7
Defeated Magic 4-1 in Finals

After losing to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals the previous year, the Lakers claimed their first title since trading Shaquille O’Neal with a strong playoff run.

While the Lakers went the distance against the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals, they beat a solid group of opponents by 7.3 points per game and finished off the Magic in five games in the NBA Finals. The Lakers would rank much higher if not for the league quality adjustment.

34. 1981-82 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 57-25
Postseason record: 12-2
Defeated 76ers 4-2 in Finals

During their second championship season of the Showtime era, the Lakers were at their best in the Western Conference playoffs. They went 8-0 en route to the Finals, including sweeping a 46-win Phoenix Suns team by an average of 12.7 points per game.

The Lakers had more trouble with Philadelphia in a rematch of the 1980 NBA Finals — the 76ers outscored them in the series — but still won in six games.

35. 2007-08 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 66-16
Postseason record: 16-10
Defeated Lakers 4-2 in Finals

The Celtics posted the best regular-season point differential since the Jordan Bulls en route to a 66-16 record in the first season of Boston’s Big Three (Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce). The playoffs were bumpier. The Celtics went the distance in the first two rounds against the Atlanta Hawks (minus-1.8) and Cleveland Cavaliers (minus-0.4) — teams that were outscored in the regular season.

Boston got back on track with an impressive Finals performance against the Lakers, but the poor start to the postseason and a low score for leaguewide quality of play drop the Celtics — 10th among post-merger Finals teams by Hollinger’s method — in these rankings.

36. 2012-13 Miami Heat

Regular-season record: 66-16
Postseason record: 16-7
Defeated Spurs 4-3 in Finals

Miami’s second championship team with the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Boshfamously won 27 consecutive games during the regular season, the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.

But the Heat actually had the second-best point differential in the league behind the Oklahoma City Thunder (plus-9.2), and they were forced to go the distance both in the Eastern Conference finals (to beat the Indiana Pacers) and then in the Finals. Miami was a shot away from losing Game 6 and the series before pulling off the most improbable comeback to win a title the league has ever seen.

37. 1991-92 Portland Trail Blazers

Regular-season record: 57-25
Postseason record: 13-8
Lost to Bulls 4-2 in Finals

Making their second Finals appearance in three years, the Blazers faced a juggernaut Bulls team in the midst of their first three-peat. The Blazers still managed to steal a game in Chicago and were even 2-2 midway through the series, but a Bulls comeback in Game 6 prevented Portland from becoming the only team to take Chicago the distance in the Finals.

38. 1965-66 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 54-26
Postseason record: 11-6
Defeated Lakers 4-3 in Finals

Red Auerbach’s final team as head coach — and the last of seven Auerbach-Bill Russell teams to crack the top 50 in these rankings — saw its record dip by six games from the season before. The Philadelphia 76ers overtook Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the Celtics dominated the Eastern Division finals, winning in five games by an average margin of 9.6 points per game.

The NBA Finals were much closer, but Boston survived a seven-game series against the rival Lakers for its eighth consecutive championship.

39. 2012-13 San Antonio Spurs

Regular-season record: 58-24
Postseason record: 15-6
Lost to Heat 4-3 in Finals

Given how close the NBA Finals were, it’s only fitting that the Spurs rank just three spots below the Heat. Over the seven-game series, San Antonio held a five-point advantage. And the Spurs were much more impressive in reaching the Finals, going 12-2 to tie the best pre-Finals record since the first round expanded to seven games in 2003.

But that’s cold consolation after San Antonio lost a five-point lead with 28.2 seconds remaining in a potential closeout Game 6.

40. 1996-97 Utah Jazz

Regular-season record: 64-18
Postseason record: 13-7
Lost to Bulls 4-2 in Finals

The 1996-97 Jazz put together the best season in team history, winning a franchise-record 64 games and going 11-3 en route to the Finals. Alas, they ran into a historically great Chicago team.

Utah made the series competitive, but three Chicago wins by four points or fewer — including Michael Jordan’s buzzer-beating jumper to win Game 1 and Steve Kerr’s tiebreaking jumper off a Jordan feed late in the deciding Game 6 — gave the Bulls the title.

41. 2011-12 Miami Heat

Regular-season record: 46-20
Postseason record: 16-7
Defeated Thunder 4-1 in Finals

Throughout the regular season and playoffs, the Heat faced questions about whether their Big Three could win it all. With Chris Bosh missing the first four games of the series, Miami fell behind the rival Boston Celtics 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals entering Game 6 in Boston.

James responded with 45 points and 15 rebounds and the Heat won the series at home. After losing Game 1 of the Finals at Oklahoma City, Miami ripped off four wins in a row for James’ first title.

42. 1983-84 Boston Celtics

Regular-season record: 62-20
Postseason record: 15-8
Defeated Lakers 4-3 in Finals

Boston’s plus-4.2 playoff margin of victory ranks 48th among NBA champions. The Celtics needed seven games to dispatch a 47-win New York Knicks team in the conference semifinals and went the distance again in the NBA Finals against a relatively weak Lakers squad that had gone 54-28 in the regular season. Boston ranks this high by virtue of leaguewide quality of play; 1983-84 rates as the most competitive season since the NBA expanded beyond eight teams.

43. 1979-80 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 60-22
Postseason record: 12-4
Defeated 76ers 4-2 in Finals

With No. 1 overall pick Magic Johnson joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers won a league-high 62 games and cruised to a matchup with the 59-win 76ers in the Finals. Abdul-Jabbar’s injury forced Johnson to the center, figuratively and literally, for a closeout Game 6 win at Philadelphia that made the Lakers champions for just the second time since moving from Minnesota to L.A.

44. 1995-96 Utah Jazz

Regular-season record: 55-27
Postseason record: 10-8
Lost to Sonics 4-3 in West finals

Without the adjustment for losing in the Western Conference finals, Utah’s playoff run would rank 10th in NBA history. Six of the Jazz’s 10 playoff wins came by at least 20 points (tied with the 2013-14 Spurs for most in a single postseason, according to Basketball-Reference.com), including a 35-point smackdown of the Sonics in a must-win Game 6 of the conference finals.

Utah outscored Seattle by 18 points in the series, but the Sonics’ 100-96 win at home in the deciding Game 7 still eliminated the Jazz on the doorstep of the NBA Finals.

45. 1999-00 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 67-15
Postseason record: 15-8
Defeated Pacers 4-2 in Finals

Under new head coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers were terrific in running up 67 regular-season wins. Their run to a title wasn’t nearly as impressive. The Lakers were outscored by 13 points in the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, and they needed to rally from being down 13 entering the fourth quarter of Game 7 to reach the NBA Finals.

The Pacers outscored the Lakers, too, and their final playoff point differential of plus-2.3 points per game was the third lowest for a champion in NBA history. But the Lakers still claimed their first title in 12 years.

46. 2001-02 L.A. Lakers

Regular-season record: 58-24
Postseason record: 15-4
Defeated Nets 4-0 in Finals

En route to their third consecutive championship, the Lakers went 11-1 over three of their four playoff series. The fourth was the most difficult, the most memorable and the most controversial. With the help of a mammoth edge at the foul line, the Lakers rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the Western Conference finals and won Game 7 at Sacramento in overtime. That was their real championship, and they swept an overmatched Nets team in the Finals.

47. 1973-74 Milwaukee Bucks

Regular-season record: 59-23
Postseason record: 11-5
Lost to Celtics 4-3 in Finals

The Bucks entered the 1974 NBA Finals as heavy favorites, having just swept a 54-win Bulls team in the Western Conference finals (yes, both Chicago and Milwaukee were in the West back then) by an average of 14.2 points per game.

The Celtics proved a trickier opponent, taking advantage of an injury to Bucks guard Lucius Allen to pile up 58 steals to Milwaukee’s 25, and won the series in seven games. Because the Finals were close, and the Bucks were so dominant in the regular season, 1973-74 is one of two years when the champion doesn’t rate as the best team by this ranking.

48. 1969-70 New York Knicks

Regular-season record: 60-22
Postseason record: 12-7
Defeated Lakers 4-3 in Finals

Among NBA champions, only the 1962-63 Boston Celtics (who rank 66th by this measure) experienced a greater drop-off from their regular-season point differential to their adjusted playoff point differential. In fairness, that’s partially because of two injuries.

The Lakers were more dangerous opponents than their 46-win regular season indicated because Wilt Chamberlain was healthy for the Finals after missing 70 games with a knee injury. And, of course, the Knicks lost their own center (Willis Reed) for a 22-point Game 6 loss at L.A. before Reed heroically returned to lead New York to victory in the deciding game.

49. 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs

Regular-season record: 58-24
Postseason record: 16-4
Defeated Cavs 4-0 in Finals

Of the five San Antonio title teams in the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era, the 2006-07 incarnation had the best point differential during the regular season. The Spurs didn’t play quite as well in the postseason, but then they didn’t need to.

After the 67-win Dallas Mavericks were upset by the Golden State Warriors in the opening round, San Antonio faced only one team that won more than 51 games: the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals. The Spurs won that series in six games thanks in part to controversial suspensions of Boris Diawand Amar’e Stoudemire for leaving the bench late in Game 4.

50. 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers

Regular-season record: 49-33
Postseason record: 14-5
Defeated 76ers 4-2 in Finals

After the ABA-NBA merger the previous summer, the Blazers added ABA star Maurice Lucas and new head coach Jack Ramsay to a young core led by Bill Walton. It took some time for Portland to click; this is the only team on the list not to win at least 50 games in an 82-game schedule.

The Blazers found their stride in the playoffs, sweeping a 53-win Lakers team in the Western Conference finals and winning the last four games against Philadelphia in the Finals after falling behind 2-0. Portland was off to an even better start the following season before Walton’s foot injury brought the good times to an end.


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