Greatest NBA Teams by Franchise
Wanna start a good bar debate before too many brain cells have been destroyed? Then toss this one out there — who are the best teams in NBA history?
By our count, six deserve to be in the conversation. Who are they, you ask? Sorry, we ain’t sayin’. Read the story, Junior.
Here’s our list of the best NBA teams ever ranked by franchise. Roll 'em.
Full disclosure: I never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, but I have covered more than 2,000 NBA games in person. Preference was given to league champions, and rankings are based on a combination of regular-season/postseason statistics and metrics as well as the eye test.
30. 1994-95 Charlotte Hornets
Record: 50-32 (2nd in Central Division)
Finish: Lost Eastern Conference first round (3-1) to Chicago Bulls
Points scored/game: 100.6 (15th of 27)
Points allowed/game: 97.3 (6th)
Points differential: 3.3
Key stat: .397 3-point field goal percentage (1st)
Head coach: Alan Bristol
Notable players: Guard Hersey Hawkins, forward Larry Johnson, center Alonzo Mourning
Bottom line: While not particularly deep, the first 50-win team in franchise history buzzed opponents like hornets around a hive.
Its reward was a horrible matchup against a Bulls team that benefited from the return of a core player only weeks earlier. Some guy named Jordan.
29. 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 56-26 (2nd in Southwest Division)
Finish: Lost Western Conference finals (4-0) to San Antonio Spurs
Points scored/game: 93.4 (27th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 89.3 (1st)
Points differential: 4.1
Key stat: 100.3 defensive rating (2nd)
Head coach: Lionel Hollins
Notable players: Guard Mike Conley, center Marc Gasol, forward Zach Randolph
Bottom line: This grizzled bunch was as much fun to play against as five hungry hippos.
No team grinded at a slower pace and had more Defensive Win Share leaders (five of the top 17) in the league.
It wasn’t until the conference finals that the San Antonio Spurs finally turned out the lights.
28. 1977-78 Washington Bullets (Wizards)
Record: 44-38 (2nd in Central Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-3) against Seattle SuperSonics
Points scored/game: 110.3 (7th of 22)
Points allowed/game: 109.4 (12th)
Points differential: 0.9
Key stat: .707 defensive rebound percentage (3rd)
Head coach: Dick Motta
Notable players: Guard Phil Chenier, forward Elvin Hayes, center Wes Unseld
Bottom line: Talk about a team that peaked at the right time. "Les Boulez' didn’t clinch a playoff berth until the final week of a humdrum regular season.
Then they promptly won three series without the home-court advantage to shed their reputation as chokers.
Turned out all they needed was a hard-butt coach to get the best out of them.
27. 2012-13 Denver Nuggets
Record: 57-25 (2nd in Northwest Division)
Finish: Lost Western Conference first round (4-2) to Golden State Warriors
Points scored/game: 106.1 (1st of 30)
Points allowed/game: 101.1 (23rd)
Points differential: 5.0
Key stat: .314 offensive rebound percentage (1st)
Head coach: George Karl
Notable players: Guard Ty Lawson, forwards Danilo Gallinari and Andre Iguodala
Bottom line: For fun, fun, fun, the 1984-85 Nuggets had no match in franchise history. That was coach Doug Moe’s run-and-gun bunch, who outscored a pair of 41-41 opponents en route to the Western Conference finals.
Overall, I prefer the 2012-13 edition that had younger legs, greater depth (six double-figure scorers) and played a bit more defense. It got a bad draw in round one of the playoffs, where the Golden State Warriors (51-31) were fast on the come in a loaded conference.
26. 2007-08 New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans)
Record: 56-26 (1st in Southwest Division)
Finish: Lost to San Antonio Spurs (4-3) in Western Conference semifinals
Points scored/game: 100.9 (5th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 95.6 (7th)
Points differential: 5.3
Key stat: .389 3-point field goal percentage (3rd)
Head coach: Byron Scott
Notable players: Center Tyson Chandler, guard Chris Paul, forward David West
Bottom line: Chris Paul was never better. The Most Valuable Player runner-up practically willed this surprise team to the first 50-win season and best-of-seven playoff series success in franchise history.
It wasn’t until the San Antonio Spurs fell behind 2-0 in the conference semis that the defending champs realized these guys were serious, after all.
25. 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 58-24 (1st in Midwest Division)
Finish: Lost to Los Angeles Lakers (4-2) in Western Conference finals
Points scored/game: 94.5 (10th of 29)
Points allowed/game: 89.1 (7th)
Points differential: 5.4
Key stat: .462 field-goal percentage (2nd)
Head coach: Flip Saunders
Notable players: Guard Sam Cassell, forwards Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell
Bottom line: The Midwest Division champs went as far was Kevin Garnett could take them.
That would be the conference finals, where the star power of the Los Angeles Lakers prevailed in a competitive six-game series.
24. 1997-98 Indiana Pacers
Record: 58-24 (2nd in Central Division)
Finish: Lost to Chicago Bulls (4-3) in Eastern Conference finals
Points scored/game: 96.0 (12th of 29)
Points allowed/game: 89.9 (5th)
Points differential: 6.1
Key stat: .316 opponents 3-point percentage (1st)
Head coach: Larry Bird
Notable players: Forward Dale Davis, guard Reggie Miller, center Rik Smits
Bottom line: The Pacers had the Chicago Bulls on the ropes in Game 7 on the road, then Michael Jordan and his striped friends took over.
I can still see the pained look on Larry Bird while a 12-point lead vanished in thin air.
Poor guy looked like he had eaten a bad burrito.
23. 2002-03 New Jersey Nets
Record: 49-33 (1st in Atlantic Division)
Finish: Lost to San Antonio Spurs (4-2) in NBA Finals
Points scored/game: 95.4 (14th of 29)
Points allowed/game: 90.1 (2nd)
Points differential: 5.3
Key Stat: .427 opponents field-goal percentage (2nd)
Head coach: Byron Scott
Notable players: Guard Jason Kidd, forward Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin
Bottom line: This veteran group awoke from their post-All-Star break nap in time for the playoffs.
They rolled through three rounds before Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs exploited their fatal flaw in the middle.
22. 1950-51 Rochester Royals (Sacramento Kings)
Record: 41-27 (2nd in Western Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-3) against New York Knicks
Points scored/game: 84.6 (5th of 11)
Points allowed/game: 81.7 (3rd)
Points differential: 2.9
Key stat: 89.3 Offensive Rating (1st)
Head coach: Les Harrison
Notable players: Center Arnie Risen, guards Bob Davies and Bobby Wanzer
Bottom line: The Royals almost didn’t recover from five overtime games (13 extra periods) in January alone.
They dethroned mighty George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers in round two of the postseasons.
Then Arnie Risen (21.7/14.3/2.7) took over as the would-be Most Valuable Player against the New York Knicks in a seven-game championship thriller.
21. 1957-58 St. Louis Hawks (Atlanta Hawks)
Record: 41-31 (1st in Western Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-2) against Boston Celtics
Points scored/game: 107.5 (3rd of 8)
Points allowed/game: 106.2 (5th)
Points differential: 1.3
Key stat: .388 field-goal percentage (2nd)
Head coach: Alex Hannum
Notable players: Guard Slater Martin, forwards Cliff Hagan and Bob Pettit
Bottom line: The West Division leaders coasted through the regular season. Then the Hagan-Pettit duo carried them to the finish line.
Pettit served up a super delicious 50 burger against the Celtics in the final game, which center Bill Russell sat out because of a gimpy ankle.
Entitled Celtics fans can keep their asterisks, though. The champs won three of the four games that he played in the series.
20. 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Record: 52-30 (1st in Pacific Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-1) against Seattle SuperSonics
Points scored/game: 106.6 (19th of 22)
Points allowed/game: 103.9 (1st)
Points differential: 2.7
Key stat: .463 opponents field-goal percentage (1st)
Head coach: Lenny Wilkens
Notable players: Center Jack Sikma, guards Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams
Bottom line: The most physical and efficient defense in the league carried these super Sonics to the No. 1 seed in the conference.
Then, Johnson (20.9/6.1/4.1) and Williams (26.7/4.1/3.7) took over with brilliant playoff performances.
They made short work of the Washington Bullets to avenge a seven-game loss in the NBA Finals one year earlier.
19. 2009-10 Orlando Magic
Record: 59-23 (1st in Southeast Division)
Finish: Lost Eastern Conference finals (4-2) to Boston Celtics
Points scored/game: 102.8 (6th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 95.3 (4th)
Points differential: 7.5
Key stat: .438 opponents field-goal percentage (1st)
Head coach: Stan Van Gundy
Notable players: Forward Vince Carter, center Dwight Howard, guard Jameer Nelson
Bottom line: The No. 2 seed in the conference roared into the postseason with six consecutive wins and swept its first two series.
But one bad matchup can wreck a dream season, and Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics fit the description in the conference finals.
18. 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 57-25 (1st in Pacific Division)
Finish: Lost Western Conference semifinals (4-2) to Oklahoma City Thunder
Points scored/game: 107.9 (1st of 30)
Points allowed/game: 101.0 (14th)
Points differential: 6.9
Key stat: .332 opponents 3-point field goal percentage (1st)
Head coach: Doc Rivers
Notable players: Forward Blake Griffin, center DeAndre Jordan, guard Chris Paul
Bottom line: Doc Rivers the coach did well to lead Lob City this far, but Rivers the GM failed to acquire the swingman that might have put the Clippers team over the top.
If not for a late meltdown by Chris Paul against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the semis, this team still might have advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in its sordid history.
17. 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks
Record: 57-25 (2nd in Southwest Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-2) against Miami Heat
Points scored/game: 102.0 (11th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 99.3 (15th)
Points differential: 2.7
Key stat: 23.8 assists per game (1st)
Head coach: Rick Carlisle
Notable players: Forward Dirk Nowitzki, guards Jason Kidd and Jason Terry
Bottom line: This team reminded me of Rick Barry and the 1974-75 Golden State Warriors — one superstar not far from his prime surrounded by role players who rose up at the right time.
Dirk Nowitzki was selected NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, but a case could be made for Jason Terry as well. The supersub took over the final two games.
16. 2006-07 Phoenix Suns
Record: 61-21 (1st in Pacific Division)
Finish: Lost Western Conference semifinals (4-2) to San Antonio Spurs
Points scored/game: 110.2 (1st of 30)
Points allowed/game: 102.9 (23rd)
Points differential: 7.3
Key stat: .399 three-point field goal percentage (1st)
Head coach: Mike D’Antoni
Notable players: Forward Shawn Marion, guard Steve Nash, center Amar’e Stoudemire
Bottom line: This was the year that a dumb rule decided the league champion.
Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Draw were suspended for their roles as peacemakers in Game 4 of the conference finals because they had left the bench. So was San Antonio Spurs reserve Robert Horry, who instigated the mess. Not a bad trade-off, huh?
The Spurs won the next game, the series and the league title, which has an asterisk in my record book.
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15. 1996-97 Utah Jazz
Record: 64-18 (1st in Midwest Division)
Finish: Lost NBA Finals (4-2) to Chicago Bulls
Points scored/game: 103.1 (2nd of 29)
Points allowed/game: 94.3 (8th)
Points differential: 8.8
Key stat: 31-4 record after All-Star break (1st)
Head coach: Jerry Sloan
Notable players: Forward Karl Malone, guards Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton
Bottom line: After a sensational regular season, the Jazzmen were rewarded with a matchup against the 69-13 Chicago Bulls in the championship round.
The moment of truth came in the second half of Game 5 in Salt Lake City, where Karl Malone and not Michael Jordan played like the one who had eaten tainted pizza the night before.
14. 1993-94 Houston Rockets
Record: 58-24 (first place)
Finish: Won NBA Finals
Points scored/game: 101.1 (13th)
Points allowed/game: 96.8 (fifth)
Points differential: 4.3
Key stat: .440 opponents field goal percentage (third)
Head coach: Rudy Tomjanovich
Notable players: Guard Vernon, center Hakeem Olajuwon, forward Otis Thorpe
Bottom line: This veteran bunch won 22 of 23 games to open the season, but the playoffs weren’t all sunshine and balloons.
First, Clutch City had to dig out of a 2-0 hole against the Phoenix Suns in the conference semis. Then, they overcame a 3-2 deficit versus the New York Knicks in the championship round.
As Rudy T. put it afterward, never underestimate the heart of a champion.
13. 2018-19 Toronto Raptors
Record: 58-24 (1st in Atlantic Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-2) against Golden State Warriors
Points scored/game: 114.4 (8th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 108.4 (9th)
Points differential: 6.0
Key stat: .611 win percentage (11-7) in games decided by three points or less (3rd)
Head coach: Nick Nurse
Notable players: Guard Kyle Lowry, forwards Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam
Bottom line: There have been better basketball teams, obviously, but few earned a Larry O’Brien Trophy more than this one.
"We The North" beat two No. 1 seeds and a No. 3 seed along the way.
Then, NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard was out the door before the last confetti fell.
12. 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 49-33 (2nd in Pacific Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-2) against Philadelphia 76ers
Points scored/game: 111.7 (3rd of 22)
Points allowed/game: 106.2 (9th)
Points differential: 5.2
Key stat: 35-6 home record (3rd)
Head coach: Jack Ramsey
Notable players: Guard Lionel Hollins, forward Maurice Lucas, center Bill Walton
Bottom line: Hey, look — guess who was (mostly) healthy for a change! Playoffs included, Rip City had a 58-26 record with Bill Walton in the middle, 5-12 without him.
The second-most productive offense in the league funneled through him at one end, while he and Maurice Lucas set the tone for a physical defense that ranked fifth in efficiency at the other.
11. 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 57-25 (1st in Central Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-3) against Golden State Warriors
Points scored/game: 104.3 (8th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 98.3 (4th)
Points differential: 6.0
Key stat: 110.9 Offensive Rating (3rd)
Head coach: David Blatt, Tyronn Lue
Notable players: Guard Kyrie Irving, forward LeBron James, forward Kevin Love
Bottom line: The front office finally found someone to ride shotgun to LeBron James in this, his ninth season with the team.
Kyrie Irving (25.2/3.0/4.7) was huge in the postseason, most notably against the Golden State Warriors in the championship series, which his cold-blooded 3-pointer decided in the seventh game.
(Special mention to Warriors bad boy Draymond Green, who sat out the Game 5 momentum-changer because of a suspension.)
10. 1988-89 Detroit Pistons
Record: 63-19 (1st in Central Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-0) against Los Angeles Lakers
Points scored/game: 106.6 (16th of 25)
Points allowed/game: 100.8 (2nd)
Points differential: 5.8
Key stat: .447 opponents field-goal percentage (second)
Head coach: Chuck Daly
Notable players: Center Bill Laimbeer, guards Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas
Bottom line: The Motor City madmen were deep and physical and dirty as hell. How did a nice guy like Joe Dumars wind up here?
And to their everlasting credit, they refused to kiss the ring of Michael Jordan and his supporting cast, the only team to beat them in the playoffs.
I can still hear echoes at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Baaaaad Boooys.
9. 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs
Record: 62-20 (1st in Southwest Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-1) against Miami Heat
Points scored/game: 105.4 (6th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 97.6 (6th)
Points differential: 7.7
Key stat: .397 3-point field goal percentage (1st)
Head coach: Gregg Popovich
Notable players: Center Tim Duncan, forward Kawhi Leonard, guard Tony Parker
Bottom line: The 2006-07 team had more balance and a better postseason record, but it also required a controversial altercation to get past the weakened Phoenix Suns in the semis.
This Spurs version turned games into 3-for-alls — five players dropped two-plus bombs per contest.
They also had unusual depth, which allowed 30-somethings Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginoboli to be fresher for the playoffs.
8. 2012-13 Miami Heat
Record: 66-16 (1st in Southeast Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-3) against San Antonio Spurs
Points score/game: 102.9 (5th of 30)
Points allowed/game: 95.0 (5th)
Points differential: plus 7.9
Key stat: .496 field-goal percentage (1st)
Head coach: Erik Spoelstra
Notable players: Center Chris Bosh, forward LeBron James, guard Dwayne Wade
Bottom line: There was a time when LeBron James was widely known as the cowardly lion who couldn’t win The Big One.
Well, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player slam-dunked that reputation with a 37/2/4 slash line against the San Antonio Spurs in the seventh game.
Along the way, "The King" and his court won 27 games in a row, the longest streak that the league had witnessed in four decades.
7. 1969-70 New York Knicks
Record: 60-22 (1st in Eastern Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-3) against Los Angeles Lakers
Points score/game: 115.0 (9th of 14)
Points allowed/game: 105.9 (1st)
Points differential: 9.1
Key stat: 27-10 road record (1st)
Head coach: Red Holzman
Notable players: Forward Dave DeBusschere, guard Walt Frazier, center Willis Reed
Bottom line: The Knickerbockers didn’t beat teams as much as they methodically sucked the life out of them.
They shot out to a 23-1 start, but the regular season proved to be almost too easy, and dropped five of their last six games.
Then, they survived a pair of Game 7s in the playoffs, the second with Willis Reed famously on one leg.
6. 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 66-16 (1st in Midwest Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-0) against Baltimore Bullets
Points scored/game: 118.4 (1st of 17)
Points allowed/game: 106.2 (3rd)
Points differential: 12.3
Key stat: .085 field-goal percentage differential (1st)
Head coach: Larry Costello
Notable players: Center Lew Alcindor, forward Bob Dandridge, guard Oscar Robertson
Bottom line: I have some reservations about the lack of depth on this team and around the league after three recent expansions. Yet so great was the ability of Big Lew (31.7/16.0/3.3) to raise the floor in his athletic prime, a seven-man rotation was plenty good enough.
While defenses collapsed on the big guy in the middle, each of the other four starters shot 50 percent or better in the field.
Mind you, this is the only team to lead the league in field-goal percentage (.509) and opponents field-goal percentage (.424) since both numbers have been recorded. That’s sick, expansion or not.
5. 1985-86 Boston Celtics
Record: 67-15 (1st in Atlantic Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-2) against Houston Rockets
Points score/game: 114.1 (8th of 23)
Points allowed/game: 104.7 (3rd)
Points differential: 9.4
Key stat: 40-1 home record (1st)
Head coach: K.C. Jones
Notable players: Center Robert Parish, forwards Larry Bird and Kevin McHale
Bottom line: Metrics suggest the 2007-08 C’s were a tad better, but uh-uh, my eyes don’t buy it. Unlike that team, which struggled down the stretch, this one sprinted to the finish line with a 15-3 postseason record.
Larry Bird was at the height of his career, while Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and a healthy (what!) Bill Walton comprised perhaps the deepest group of bigs on one team in hoops history.
4. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors
Record: 67-15 (1st in Pacific Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-1) against Cleveland Cavaliers
Points score/game: 115.9 (1st of 30)
Points allowed/game: 104.3 (11th)
Points differential: 11.6
Key stat: 115.6 Offensive Rating (1st)
Head coach: Steve Kerr
Notable players: Forward Kevin Durant, guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson
Bottom line: This is the best team of the modern 3-ball era by a long shot. Could it dominate without a consistent low-post game back in the day? We’ll never know.
But any league champion that boasts at least three future Hall of Famers in their primes and owns the best postseason record (16-1) in league history has to be included in any debate about the greatest teams ever.
3. 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 68-13 (1st in Eastern Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-2) against San Francisco Warriors
Points score/game: 125.2 (1st of 10)
Points allowed/game: 115.8 (3rd)
Points differential: 9.4
Key stat: 28-2 home record (1st)
Head coach: Alex Hannum
Notable players: Center Wilt Chamberlain, guard Hal Greer, forward Chet Walker
Bottom line: In 1980, the league selected this uber-talented team as the greatest of its first 35 years. Decades later, I’m unconvinced that it’s not the greatest ever still.
For the first time in his career, Wilt Chamberlain (24.1/24.2/7.8) showed the kind of all-around dominance that he was capable of with a real NBA coach and real NBA talent around him.
The group that featured four future Hall of Famers won 46 of their first 50 games, led the league in points, field goals, field-goal percentage, free throws and fewest fouls.
Then, they dethroned the Boston Celtics in five games. And they did all of this in a deep 10-team league that was overdue for expansion.
2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls
Record: 72-10 (1st in Central Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-2) against Seattle SuperSonics
Points scored/game: 105.2 (1st of 29)
Points allowed/game: 92.9 (3rd)
Points differential: 12.2
Key stat: 39-2 home record (1st)
Head coach: Phil Jackson
Notable players: Guard Michael Jordan, forwards Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman
Bottom line: Never has pro basketball witnessed this kind of singular ownage in one season.
His Airness returned from a two-year hiatus to dominate the roundball universe — a watered-down league, executives, referees, media, even the sneaker industry.
Not even Dennis Rodman’s head-butt of a referee or Scottie Pippen’s bum back could stop him.
1. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 69-13 (1st in Pacific Division)
Finish: Won NBA Finals (4-1) against New York Knicks
Points score/game: 121.0 (1st of 17)
Points allowed/game: 108.7 (6th)
Points differential: 12.3
Key stat: 103.1 Offensive Rating (1st)
Head coach: Bill Sharman
Notable players: Center Wilt Chamberlain, guards Gail Goodrich and Jerry West
Bottom line: This team went 69 days without a loss in the regular season. Sixty-nine. Days. My gosh, Charles Barkley couldn’t untie his tongue in 69 days.
The Lakers' roster featured the league logo (Jerry West) among four Hall of Famers plus another (Elgin Baylor) who was forced to retire nine games into the season. The next night, the Lake Show began their epic 33-game win streak that has yet to be seriously threatened.
They didn’t dominate the postseason nearly as much, but in the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks, the last two league champs, they were required to beat tough competition.
So, yeah, I would take my chances with this Lakers team against any opponent, any place, any time.
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