Throughout NBA history, many great teams have graced the basketball court. Whether it was the Bulls of the 90s, the Showtime Lakers, or even the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs, and many have left their mark. However, there have been truly great teams who, as dominant as they were, could never win the big one when it mattered the most. Here are the top ten best teams to have never won an NBA championship.
After losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals, the Magic came out stronger in 2010, finishing with a 59-23 record and going 41-8 in the last 49 games to close out the season. The 2010 Magic finished in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with the best average margin of victory in the NBA. Dwight Howard was his usual dominant self, averaging 18.3 points and 13.2 rebounds per game in addition to winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. Meanwhile, the Magic’s offseason additions – Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson – contributed to the team leading the league in three-pointers made. Having made a deep run in the playoffs, the 2010 Magic would lose to the Celtics in six games.
The 1991 Trail Blazers were, for the most part, a very strong offensive team. The team, led by All-Star Clyde Drexler, boasted a rotation consisting of seven players who scored in double figures. They also led the league in assists, three-pointers made, and three-point percentage, which contributed to their offensive rating of 112.8 – second in the league. The Blazers weren’t that shabby in defensive efficiency either, as they finished in the top 3 in that category. Despite the prowess of the 1991 Blazers, they were unable to defeat the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
8. 1993-94 Seattle Super Sonics
The Super Sonics of the 90s were somewhat of an enigma – a chaotic basketball team that feuded with each other as often as they did with their opponents. Arguably the best iteration of the Super Sonics came in the 1993-94 season, which saw the Sonics finish in the top 3 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
All-Star point guard Gary Payton was named to first-team all-defense that year while emerging star Shawn Kemp led the team in points per game with 18.1. Other notable players on the Sonics included Sam Perkins, who led the team with 99 three-pointers, and Kendall Gill, who along with Payton and Nate McMillan set a team record for steals – 1,053, second-most in NBA history. Rather than being renowned for their sheer dominance, the ’94 Sonics are perhaps well-known for being on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in the NBA playoffs, losing in five to and the eighth-seed Denver Nuggets.
Having finished the previous season with a 29-53 record, the Suns turned things around in the 2004-05 season with a 62-20 record – the third-best turnaround in NBA history. Leading the charge was Steve Nash, who led the league with 11.5 assists per game as he ushered in the Seven Seconds or Less era for the Suns. The 2005 Suns had a pretty lethal starting lineup, as all five of their starters (Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, and Quentin Richardson) averaged around fifteen points or more. The team also led the league in a variety of offensive categories – field goals made, three-pointers made, and three-point percentage – all while scoring 110.4 points per game and having a league-high offensive rating of 114.5. However, the Spurs made easy work of the Suns, beating them in five in the Western Conference Finals.
Despite trading James Harden to the Rockets, the 2013 Thunder became an even stronger team than the squad that reached the NBA Finals the previous year. This team had the highest offensive rating and fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA and also led the league in point differential. Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were exceptional players that year – scoring 28.1 and 23.1 points per game, respectively – while the floor-spacing provided by sharpshooters Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha gave Durant and Westbrook enough room to operate OKC’s offense. A costly injury to Westbrook in the playoffs would doom the Thunder in the playoffs, as the team was upset by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Sadly, many basketball fans may remember the 2002 Kings for their Conference Finals loss to the Lakers, which was marred by the questionable calls from the referees. Still, there’s no mistaking that this team was very exciting to watch. Known as the “Greatest Show On Court”, the 2002 Kings’ starting five included a shoot-first point guard in Mike Bibby, an elite defender in Doug Christie, an adept three-point shooter in Peja Stojakovic, and passing big men in Chris Webber and Vlade Divac – making for a very well-rounded lineup. The bench, which consisted of players such as double-figure scorers Hedo Turkoglu and Bobby Jackson, kept Sacramento’s offense flowing. But what has been the trademark of the 2002 Kings was the team’s motion-based offense and fast-break ability, which exhibited the team’s strengths at passing, shooting, and floor spacing.
Thirteen years after his Phoenix Suns made their mark in 2005, Mike D’Antoni would coach the Rockets, who would make a mark of their own. In D’Antoni’s second season at the helm, the Rockets shot more three-pointers than two-pointers – a first in NBA history – and set a new record for most three-pointers made by a team in a season. James Harden had an absolutely superb season, averaging 30.4 points and 8.8 assists per game en route to winning his first scoring title MVP award while Chris Paul – whom the Rockets traded for in the summer of 2017 – ran the point for Houston. Sadly, a costly injury to Paul and shooting woes would doom the Rockets in the postseason as the team fell to the Warriors in seven games after having a 3-2 lead in the series.
The Utah Jazz fielded many great teams throughout the 90s, and the 1997 squad is arguably the best Jazz team during the decade. This team, led by the dynamic duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton, finished the regular season with a league-best 64-18 record while being second in scoring and offensive efficiency. Karl Malone scored 27.4 points per game, while Stockton dished out 11.8 assists per game; the Jazz’s third option, Jeff Hornacek, proved to be a reliable scorer scoring 14.5 points per game while shooting .369 from three. While the ’97 Jazz made it very far in the playoffs, they were unable to pull out a victory over the Bulls in the 1997 NBA Finals.
The 2009 Cavaliers were the best team in LeBron James‘ first stint in Cleveland, having the league’s best record that year with 66-16 while finishing in the top 5 in offensive and defensive efficiency. What made that team particularly great was the number of role players around LeBron, such as Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, and Anthony Parker, among others. Most of these players were either great shooters or defenders, and they were great at spacing the floor as well. Having a defensive-minded coach in Mike Brown also helped, giving LeBron a strong enough defense to work around with. Despite their dominance, the 2009 Cavs were unable to make it out of the Eastern Conference, losing to the Orlando Magic in the conference finals.
Of course, no discussion about the greatest teams to never win a ring would be complete without mentioning the 2016 Warriors, who fell short to the Cavaliers after blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Having eclipsed the 1996 Bulls for the most wins in an NBA season, the 2016 Warriors led the league in a myriad of categories – points, assists, defensive rebounds, field goals made, three-pointers made, you name it!
Reigning league MVP Stephen Curry had a historic shooting season, averaging 30.1 points and knocking down more than 400 three-pointers while also joining the exclusive 50/40/90 club (averaging more than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free-throw line). The team’s second option, Klay Thompson, averaged 22.1 points per game while the team’s best defender, Draymond Green, achieved a career-high 14 points per game.
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