2001-02 New Jersey Nets (52-30)
2002-03 New Jersey Nets (49-33)
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10. 1998-99 NEW YORK KNICKS (27-23)
The ’98-99 Knicks make the list due to being an eighth seed and making it all the way to the NBA Finals. They lose some points for doing it in a lockout-shortened season, where a few more wins could have improved their seeding greatly and for having a very good roster, including the likes of Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and a very young Marcus Camby. It should be noted, however, that New York made the latter half of their championship push without Patrick Ewing, who tore his Achilles during the run.
9. 1956-57 ST. LOUIS HAWKS (34-38)
The under-.500 St Louis Hawks took a start-of-a-dynasty Boston Celtics team the full seven games before finally faltering. Something that has been lost in translation over the course of NBA history? This same Hawks team traded Bill Russell to the Celtics on draft day in 1956. They lost to him and the Cs less than a year later. In a sense, the Hawks are as much responsible for the Celtics’ success as a franchise as Bill Russell is.
8. 1970-71 BALTIMORE BULLETS (42-40)
With the recent draft selections of Wes Unseld and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, the young, high-scoring Baltimore Bullets reached the NBA Finals far sooner than fans at the time expected them too. Their youth was demonstrated when they met Lew Alcindor‘s Milwaukee Bucks in the 1971 NBA Finals and failed to shoot over 40 percent in all but one of the four games they played.
7. 1975-76 PHOENIX SUNS (42-40)
After trading for Paul Westphal, the ’76 Suns, with two rookie starters (John Shumate and Alvan Adams), fought their way to the NBA Finals (with six and seven-game series to get there) and stretched the much better Boston Celtics to six games, including the only three-overtime game in NBA Finals History (Game 5) before the Suns and Bulls played one in 1993.
6. 1951-52 NEW YORK KNICKS (37-29)
5. 1950-51 NEW YORK KNICKS (36-30)
Our only pre-shot clock era team(s) to make the list. The 1950-51 squad gets the nod for getting there first, and for unexpectedly pushing the heavily-favored Rochester Royals to seven games, this after starting the series down 3-0; still the only team in NBA history to force a Game 7 in the NBA Finals when facing that deficit.