Even casual NBA fans will never forget Magic‘s Lakers, Bird‘s Celtics, Jordan‘s Bulls, Shaq‘s Lakers or even (gulp) LeBron‘s Heat. How can you? They’ve all won multiple championships, and as players, are five of the greatest who ever laced up. They’re historic. What we do forget, though, are the teams that didn’t make it easy for them to reach that plateau. Without further ado, here are the worst teams to ever make the NBA Finals.
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.
4. 1955-56 FORT WAYNE PISTONS (37-35)
The Pistons used the NBA’s best seen defense to date to carry them through the playoffs and to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t enough, though, as Paul Arizin and the Philadelphia Warriors sent them to their summer jobs after just five games.
3. 1958-59 MINNEAPOLIS LAKERS (33-39)
The under-.500 Lakers, lead by a young Elgin Baylor, made it back to the NBA Finals just two years removed from George Mikan‘s retirement. Their Cinderella season would end there, however, at the hands of a sweep by none other than Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics.
2. 2006-07 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (50-32)
Everyone knew of LeBron James‘ potential after being drafted first overall, out of high school in 2003, but it wasn’t until the 2006-07 NBA Playoffs that we fully saw what he had on display. He carried an extremely undermanned Cavs team through the playoffs, and left an exclamation point on the entire league with his performance in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. Any team that makes the NBA Finals whose highest paid player is Larry Hughes has to make it into my top two.
Quick tangent: I actually had this team fourth until I typed that last sentence. That’s truly a remarkable feat by James and this Cavs team.
1. 2000-01 PHILADELPHIA 76ers (56-26)
Aside from my nostalgia with the 2000-01 76ers is the fact that this team had every deck stacked against them heading into the season. Their superstar (Allen Iverson) had just spent the summer engulfed in trade rumors, he was repeatedly butting heads with his old school, no-nonsense head coach (Larry Brown), and even when all of that was finally put behind them, they lacked any other player on the roster capable of scoring more then 12 points on any given night. So, naturally, they start the season 10-0 (franchise record), their undersized center (Theo Ratliff) turns into an All-Star and one of the most fierce defensive presences in the league, and they go into the All-Star break with the looks of the best team in the NBA. It’s all too good to be true, right? Precisely. Theo would suffer an injury right before the break, done for the season. The team would trade Theo and others for an aging Dikembe Mutombo and figure it out on the fly.
By the time they reached the NBA Finals, the Sixers took home every award like Silence of the Lambs. Allen won the MVP, Larry Brown won Coach of the Year, Aaron McKie Sixth Man and Dikembe won what should have been Theo’s Defensive Player of the Year award. It all culminated in one NBA Finals win, with Iverson turning in one of the best Finals games in history and handing the Lakers their only loss of the ’01 Playoffs. As Larry Brown stated in the huddle before the start of that game’s overtime period: “We ain’t even supposed to be here.”
And he was right, they weren’t.
What’s the worst team you’ve ever seen in the NBA Finals?
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