25. 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
The 2004 Pistons weren’t expected to hoist the NBA title that season. The Spurs were coming off their second championship, and the Lakers had retooled with Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton after their four-peat efforts were ended the year prior. In the East, Detroit battled through the two-time Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets in a tightly-contested seven-game series. In the Eastern Conference Finals, a crucial Tayshaun Prince chase-down block powered the Pistons over Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers.
Waiting for Detroit in the Finals were the juggernaut Lakers, led by four all-time talents and one of the most decorated coaches in league history. In a historic five-game effort, the Pistons crushed the heavily-favored Lakers in dominant fashion. After holding 11 opponents under 70 points during the regular season (including a five-game streak), the Pistons held the Lakers to just 81.8 PPG in the series. It stamped their claim as one of the great defenses of the modern era.
24. 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers
Following an embarrassing Finals defeat to their bitter rivals, the Lakers came back with something to prove in 2009. Prove they did, winning 65 games in the regular season — tied for the third-most wins in franchise history. In his first full year with the team, Pau Gasol shined as he earned his second All-Star nod and first All-NBA team selection. While reigning MVP Kobe Bryant remained the star of the show, the story of the 2009 Lakers lies within its depth and role players. This included players like Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza (who gave Phil Jackson’s group size, length, and playmaking).
LA hit a snag in the second round against a scrappy Houston team, but were able to come out on top in a decisive Game 7 win. In the Western Conference Finals, Bryant proved to be too much for Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets to handle as the Lakers won the series in six games. Bryant continued his strong play en route to arguably the best NBA Finals performance of his career. Against the Orlando Magic, Bryant notched 32.4 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 5.6 RPG en route to capturing his fourth NBA Championship (first without Shaq) and first Finals MVP.
23. 1970 New York Knicks
One of two Knicks title-winning clubs, the ’70 group narrowly edges out the ’73 team as the best team in Knickerbocker history. Led by four eventual Hall of Famers — Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and Bill Bradley — the Knicks won a league-high 60 games and boasted the league’s No. 1 ranked defense. After dispatching the Bullets and Bucks in the Eastern Conference, New York took on the Los Angeles Lakers in what would become an epic Finals showdown.
The most memorable moment of the Knicks season came in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, when an injured Willis Reed limped onto the floor and proceeded to score the first two baskets of the contest. The Knicks would go on to win the game, and secure the franchise’s first title.
22. 2007-08 Boston Celtics
The league was put on notice prior to the 2007-08 season. Following an embarrassing 24-win campaign the year prior, the Celtics went all-in during the summer by acquiring former league MVP Kevin Garnett and three-point marksman Ray Allen. The pair joined Paul Pierce to form one of the most formidable “Big 3’s” in league history. Unlike other first-year groups, the Celtics hit the ground running and raced to a 29-3 record.
Boston would go on to win 66 regular season games (third-most in franchise history). All three stars were named All-Stars, and Garnett was named Defensive Player of the Year. It wasn’t the easiest path to the Finals, as the Celtics needed to win two Game 7’s to advance past the Eastern Conference. Waiting for them on the other side of the bracket was the bitter rival Los Angeles Lakers. After a historic 20-point comeback in Game 4, the Celtics sealed a series win with a 39-point blowout victory on their home floor. It was the franchise’s first title since ’86.
21. 2012-13 Miami Heat
Year 1 didn’t go quite as planned for the James-Wade-Bosh trio. Though the group was able to power through the Eastern Conference en route to a Finals appearance, it would be Dirk Nowitzki and a red-hot Dallas Mavericks team that would extinguish the heavily-favored Heat. Miami would put it all together the very next year in the lockout-shortened 2012 campaign. However, they weren’t at their absolute best until ’13.
This was LeBron at his physical peak, Wade still playing at an All-NBA level, and Bosh coming into his own as the perfect third-wing. Additionally, Miami’s group of sharpshooting role players included Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller, and (all-time three-point leader at the time) Ray Allen. Miami won 66 games while James collected his fourth regular season MVP trophy. The Finals featured an epic showdown between the Heat and Spurs, highlighted by Allen’s clutch three-pointer to keep the series alive in Game 6.
20. 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs
The team on the wrong-end of the 2013 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs, came so close to capturing the franchise’s fifth championship, but it would only take them a year to add to their ring collection. San Antonio was even better in 2014, winning 62 games while posting the league’s best net-rating. The group was still led by the steady trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. However, a young wing named Kawhi Leonard was beginning to blossom into a star.
After a couple of scares out West, the Finals rematch was finally set — Spurs vs. Heat. In the second go-around, the Spurs left no doubt who the better club was. San Antonio blitzed Miami from the very start of the series. The average margin of victory for the Spurs was 18 points as they cruised to a win. Pure domination from start to finish.
19. 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers
A group with four Hall of Famers, the ’67 76ers were the team that dethroned the Boston Celtics at the height of their powers. After watching Boston win eight titles in a row, the 76ers finally put together a group they thought could contend with the Eastern Conference juggernaut. And contend they did, as the team won a then-record 68 regular season games.
The Eastern Conference Finals saw a showdown between the 76ers and eight-time defending champion Celtics. Philadelphia needed just five games to finish off their rival, and Game 5 saw the 76ers score 140 points (including a 29-point, 36-rebound, 13-assist performance from Wilt Chamberlain). The NBA Finals proved to be a bit more difficult as the 76ers took on Chamberlain’s former team the San Francisco Warriors. Despite Rick Barry’s best efforts, Philadelphia won the series in six games, cementing themselves as one of the greatest teams of all-time.
18. 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
Wouldn’t be an accurate list of the NBA’s greatest teams without a “Showtime” sighting. Earvin “Magic” Johnson was drafted in 1979, joining multiple-time league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to create the league’s most dynamic duo. The pair won titles in ’80 and ’82, but had come up short in back-to-back Finals appearances in ’83 and ’84.
1985 was a different story. A pair of 23-year-olds in James Worthy and Byron Scott had come into their own. The offense was humming with Johnson at arguably his peak, as the Lakers cruised through the Western Conference playoffs with a 11-2 record over the Nuggets, Blazers, and Suns. In the Finals, the Lakers took out their biggest rival Celtics in six games, clinching the series in the Boston Garden.
17. 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs
The best Spurs team of all-time is the 2005 squad. With Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili all around their peaks, this trio worked in perfect cohesion to give opponents fits. Perhaps the most impressive facet of this particular Spurs group was their defensive effort. The ’05 Spurs held teams to just 88.4 PPG while led by two All-Defensive team standouts in Duncan and Bruce Bowen.
With Shaquille O’Neal jettisoned to Miami, the Spurs were not able to faceoff against their biggest Western Conference rival in the postseason. With the Lakers out of the way, the Spurs easily took care of the Nuggets, Sonics, and Suns in the Western bracket. It set up a matchup between the two most recent NBA Champions: The Spurs (who had won the title in ’03) against the defending champion Detroit Pistons. It was a defensive slugfest between the two clubs, with the Spurs ultimately coming out on top in Game 7 by a score of 81-74.
16. 1997-98 Chicago Bulls
1998 was truly ‘The Last Dance’ for the Bulls. With word that the team would be broken up following the conclusion of the ’98 campaign, the Jordan-led Bulls put together one last historic run to cap off their dynasty. Of course, it wasn’t a one-man show by this point. Scottie Pippen had blossomed into a legitimate star, Dennis Rodman remained the league’s best rebounder, and head coach Phil Jackson was beginning to etch himself as the greatest coach in league history.
That being said, MJ was on a mission to prove he was still the league’s marquee player. Jordan took home the regular season MVP (his fifth and final time winning the award) and the Bulls won 62 games — tied for the league-high. Reggie Miller and the Pacers gave the Bulls a run for its money, but Game 7 saw a signature defensive performance from Chicago to close out the series. The Finals saw a rematch from the previous year with the Bulls vs. Jazz. Once again, Chicago won the series in six games with Jordan nailing the final dagger in the closing seconds of Game 6.
15. 1964-65 Boston Celtics
The ’60’s belonged to the Celtics. In the greatest stretch of dominance the league has ever seen, Boston won nine of ten titles from ’60-’69. This run cemented Bill Russell and head coach Red Auerbach as two of the greatest winners in sports history. Though, it wasn’t just Russell who got it done on the floor for the C’s. The all-time great center was surrounded by four other eventual Hall of Famers in John Havlichek, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones.
After narrowly defeating the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals (thanks to a key steal in Game 7 by Havlichek), an NBA Finals matchup was set between the Celtics and Lakers. Boston demolished their bitter rivals, averaging 123.0 PPG in the five-game set.
14. 1991-92 Chicago Bulls
Get used to seeing the Chicago Bulls on this list. While we already discussed the team’s latest title-winning squad, ’98 doesn’t even scratch the surface of their improbable run. 1992 signified a big year for the Bulls. They had just come off their first title, and were on a mission to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Chicago raced to a 37-5 record in ’92. Though Michael Jordan was playing at usual MVP-caliber level, Scottie Pippen had really begun coming into his own averaging a career-high in points, rebounds and assists.
Chicago’s Eastern Conference run was highlighted by a seven-game set with a tough New York Knicks squad. Battered and bruised, the Bulls persevered and ultimately blew out the Knicks in a 30-point Game 7 series clincher. The Finals saw a matchup between the league’s two premier shooting guards, Jordan versus Portland’s Clyde Drexler. Just like everything else in his life, Jordan seemed to take the matchup personally as he averaged 35.8 PPG en route to a second title.
13. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors
The only team featured on this list that didn’t win a championship, it’s hard to talk about the greatest teams of all-time without mentioning the team with the most regular season wins of all-time. Golden State had taken the league by storm at this time. After winning the title the previous year against an ailing Cavs squad, the Warriors came out firing in 2016. The Warriors started the season with 24 straight wins, and won the final four games of the regular season to clinch the all-time record.
No team had a formula to slow down the three-point barrage, but what really separated these Warriors was their ability to play lockdown defense at any given time. It seemed like they were destined for another title after mounting a furious comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the WCF after trailing 3-1 in the series. However, we all know how the story ends — and that’s with another team hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy…
12. 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers
And, that team was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just a year after LeBron James returned to Cleveland with the promise of delivering a championship for his hometown team, the King delivered on that promise. The Cavs came up short in ’15 after both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sustained injuries in the postseason. With everybody fully healthy, the Cavaliers were ready to win the first title in the franchise’s history.
Cleveland swept its first two Eastern Conference opponents before needing six games to dispatch the upstart Raptors. It set up a Finals rematch, but this time the Cavaliers were healthy and prepared for battle. After falling in the series 3-1, the Cavaliers looked outmatched by a Warriors team that had won 85 out of a possible 100 games throughout the 2016 campaign (incl. playoffs). Then, it all turned around. James and Irving went nuclear over the next two matchups, setting up an epic Game 7 for all the marbles. In a defensive slugfest, Cleveland eventually pulled through thanks to a memorable James chase-down block and an ice-cold Irving three-pointer.
11. 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers
‘Showtime’ saved its best act for 1987. That year, it seemed like nothing would stand in LA’s way of a fourth title in eight years. The Lakers won 65 regular season — second-most in franchise history at the time — Magic Johnson won his first regular season MVP and defensive ace Michael Cooper was named Defensive Player of the Year.
For the second time in three years, the Finals was a matchup between the Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics. And, for the second time, Magic got the best of Bird in the epic showdown. Magic was electric in the Finals (26 PPG, 13 APG, 8 RPG) but it was ‘Big Game’ James Worthy who led the Lakers in scoring throughout the postseason.
10. 1988-89 Detroit Pistons
The ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons weren’t expected to rise to the top of the NBA. In the post-Magic/Bird era and right before Michael Jordan hit his stride, the Pistons led by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer laid waste to the rest of the league. Detroit’s signature style was characterized by hard-nosed defense and an all-time great backcourt of Thomas and Joe Dumars.
Detroit won 63 games in ’89 (besting the previous franchise record by nine wins) and comfortably finished with the best record in the league. The postseason was a culmination of their efforts. Thomas, Laimbeer, Dumars, Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre, Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson, and John Salley ran roughshod through their playoff opponents. Detroit finished the playoffs 15-2 — including a decisive sweep of the defending champion Lakers in the NBA Finals.
9. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls
By 1997, Chicago’s dominance over the rest of the league had become a bit ho-hum. Following their record-breaking campaign from the year prior, the Bulls only won 69 games in ’97 — tied for the second-most at the time. Even the NBA voters had grown tired of Jordan and the Bulls’ dominance, awarding Karl Malone the MVP trophy in the regular season.
Chicago took out the Bullets, Hawks and Heat in the Eastern Conference Playoffs while dropping just two games to their opponents. The Finals set up the Bulls versus the Jazz — which meant we got Jordan squaring up against league MVP Malone. MJ set the tone for the series by sinking a game-winning buzzer beater in Game 1. The Bulls would end up winning the series in six, adding their fifth title in seven years.
8. 2017-18 Golden State Warriors
It had almost become boring for the Warriors in Year 2 of the Durant-era. With a title already under their belt, the Warriors seemed to coast during the regular season. Golden State won 58 games, ceding the top-seed in the Western Conference to an explosive 65-win Houston team. The most notable slippage in this season for the Warriors was on the defensive end. Durant, Curry, and Thompson were still good enough offensively to lead the league’s no. 1 scoring attack, but the Warriors ranked 11th in defensive rating — their lowest ranking to that point under Steve Kerr’s watch.
The Rockets — led by league MVP James Harden and All-NBA guard Chris Paul — gave the Warriors all they could handle in the Western Conference Finals. It would end up being the only time during Durant’s tenure that a team forced a Game 7 versus the Warriors. With Paul sidelined due to injury, the Warriors would win Game 7 in Houston after the Rockets missed 27 straight three-pointers. The Finals would come a bit easier for this group, as they swept a Kyrie-less Cavaliers team despite LeBron’s best efforts.
7. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks
After going 27-55 in their first year as a franchise, the Bucks took Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the No. 1 overall selection in the 1970 NBA Draft. The dominant center was an instant superstar, leading the team to 56 wins in just his rookie season. Following the 1970 campaign, the Bucks added another premier player to the roster, trading for former MVP and nine-time All-NBA selection Oscar Robertson.
The pair were virtually unstoppable from the jump. Milwaukee won 66 games which included a 20-game winning streak (the longest at the time). Abdul-Jabbar swept the major awards — scoring title, regular season MVP, and Finals MVP.
6. 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers
Though the ’80’s belonged to the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, 1983 saw a different team rise to the top. The ’83 Sixers were a juggernaut who absolutely destroyed the NBA at the height of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. After losing in the ’82 Finals to the Lakers, the 76ers went out and acquired reigning league MVP Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets. Malone joined another league MVP in Julius Erving to create a dynamic duo. The pair of stars had additional help from microwave scorer Andrew Toney and pass-first point Mo Cheeks.
The 76ers were a great regular season team, finishing with 65 wins and the league’s best net rating. However, the postseason exhibited their true dominance. Philadelphia went 12-1 in the playoffs, which included a sweep of their rival Los Angeles Lakers in a Finals rematch.
5. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
The best team of the ’70’s were the streaking 1972 Lakers. This group is best known for winning a record 33-straight games — a record which still holds today. Los Angeles’ 69 regular season wins were also a record at the time, and is still tied for the third-most ever. Looking at the Lakers roster from 1972 season, it’s not all that hard to see why it was so successful.
Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Wilt Chamberlain led an offense which averaged 121.0 PPG. The team was so stacked that a seven-time scoring champion in Chamberlain was fourth in PPG for the ’72 team. Elgin Baylor was also on the team, but only played nine games before announcing his retirement. LA would go onto win the title — West’s first and Chamberlain’s second — in convincing fashion over the Knicks.
4. 1985-86 Boston Celtics
Ask a basketball fan in the Northeast and they’d probably tell you the 1986 Boston Celtics are the best basketball team of all-time. They aren’t too far off. The ’86 Celtics were the most stacked group from that era. Of course, the team was led by the all-time great forward tandem of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. However, the depth of the roster is what really set this team apart.
Hall of Famers Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish, in addition to Danny Ainge, made up the league’s most balanced starting lineup. Off the bench, former league MVP Bill Walton provided excellent minutes despite being at the end of his career. Boston had the best regular season record that year (67-15), buoyed by a jaw-dropping 40-1 mark at home. The Celtics would go on to take out the Rockets in the NBA Finals, ending Hakeem Olajuwon’s hopes of winning an NBA title.
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3. 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers
The league’s premier dynamic duo, the ’01 Lakers were a two-man show led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The inside-out combination was too much to handle. The Lakers would feed the dominant big man over and over again for easy baskets. Once it got to crunch time, Bryant had blossomed into one of the league’s top clutch players with his ability to create any shot he wanted. Sharpshooters like Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, and Robert Horry crowded the perimeter just in case teams wanted to double team LA’s top two stars.
O’Neal and Bryant saved their best for the postseason, going 16-1 in the playoffs. The lone loss coming in an overtime battle against Allen Iverson and Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the Finals. LA would take the next four games against Iverson’s Sixers, capturing their second title in as many years.
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2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
The ’96 Bulls were the stuff of legend. While Michael Jordan was no longer at his physical prime, he had all but mastered the game of basketball. He seemed to have somehow gotten even better after taking a year-plus off from the game to try out a baseball career. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were ideal secondary stars and both elite defensive players. The Bulls suffocated teams defensively with their athleticism and length.
Chicago won 72 games in the 1996 regular season — a record that stood for 20 years until the ’16 Warriors surpassed it. Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman were named First-team All-Defensive selections. Jordan won the league MVP in a landslide. Reserve Toni Kukoc was named Sixth Man of the Year. The Finals saw a matchup between the Bulls and the upstart Seattle Supersonics. Though Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were valiant opponents, the Bulls put a bow on their historic campaign by winning the title in six games.
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1. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors
With all due respect to all of the other teams that came before them, there was no team in NBA history stopping the 2017 Golden State Warriors. The Warriors stacked the deck in their favor by signing former league MVP and scoring savant Kevin Durant following the 2016 season. Durant joined a team of three All-Stars that had just won 73 games a year prior.
What separated this group from the rest lies in the the abilities of its stars. Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green was flanked by a 7-foot Durant and a premier perimeter defender in Klay Thompson. Offensively, there was no stopping the Durant-Curry-Thompson trio once they got going. No team — past or present — could matchup with that firepower. Golden State may have come short of their 73-win total from the year prior, but they demolished the competition in the postseason en route to an NBA-best 16-1 playoff run.
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