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NBA / Sep 30, 2010 / 5:30 pm

10 Best NBA Teams That Didn’t Win a Championship

With the beginning of every new NBA season, there are a few teams whom we consider to be favorites to win the championship. But as we all know, only one can be crowned NBA champions. And the teams that fall short go home forgotten and pretty much empty-handed.

Some people ask whether it’s worse to make it to the Finals and lose — to come so close to glory and not achieve your goal — or to get eliminated earlier on before the stakes get too high.

If you weren’t under a rock in the ’90s you know that Michael Jordan alone ruined the chances a lot of great players and teams to get a ring. With all due respect to the other superstars who competed against him, it got to the point where you really couldn’t picture anyone else winning besides Jordan and the Bulls. Still, making it to the Finals is no easy feat. Some of the greatest teams, led by some of the greatest players, have only made it once or twice and came up empty-handed with no recognition. Here are the 10 best teams that didn’t win a championship:

Portland Trail Blazers, 1992
After losing to the Lakers in the playoffs the previous season and making it to the Finals the season before that, the Blazers knew they were among the League’s elite. Led by Clyde Drexler and head coach Rick Adelman, the Blazers were among the favorites to come out of the West, finishing the regular season with 57 wins. They beat the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz on their path to the Finals, however Jordan, Phil Jackson and Chicago would be too much for the Blazers to handle in the Finals. This would be the first of many times Adelman would fall to Phil Jackson in the playoffs, starting what would become one of the best coaching rivalries in the NBA.

Phoenix Suns, 1993
Before the ’92-93 season, you could see that Phoenix was a team with loads of potential, but they weren’t quite ready to make noise in the playoffs. It wasn’t until the Suns traded for Charles Barkley that they would become legit championship contenders. Barkley was in his superstar prime, winning league MVP that year. Accompanied by a well-rounded supporting cast of Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and Tom Chambers, the Suns would achieve a season-best record of 62-20.

Seven Suns averaged double-figure scoring, while Barkley (25.6 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 5.1 apg) became just the third player to ever win MVP in his first season with a team. Phoenix advanced to the Finals for the first time since 1976, unfortunately, all roads led through Jordan and the Bulls, who won the series in six games.

New York Knicks, 1994
With Jordan getting bored and leaving the Bulls for the Birmingham Barons, the ’94 Knicks felt their time had finally come. They shared the best record in the East under coach Pat Riley, and sent three players to the All-Star Game. Patrick Ewing averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds during the season, and the Knicks played a suffocating defense led by John Starks and Derek Harper on the perimeter and Charles Oakley and Ewing in the paint.

After taking down the Bulls in the conference semis, they outlasted nemesis Reggie Miller and the Pacers to make it to the Finals. There they faced Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets. Aside from the O.J. Simpson low-speed police chase, this series became known for Starks crumbling on the big stage: He missed a potential series-winning shot in Game Six, and in Game Seven shot an infamous 2-for-18 in a loss.

Orlando Magic, 1995
The ’95 Magic were the leaders of the new school. They had Shaquille O’Neal (29.4 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg) and Penny Hardaway (21 ppg, 7.1 apg) as young superstars, plus championship experience in vet Horace Grant. Knocking out the just-returning Jordan’s Bulls and Reggie’s Pacers on their way to the Finals, their final test would be against Hakeem, Clyde and the Rockets. Despite losing in a sweep, the Magic were expected to compete for the chip for years to come, but Shaq would leave in free agency in ’96, and Penny would become an injury-prone mystery of potential.

Seattle Supersonics, 1996
The Sonics were the ’96 version of the modern-day Denver Nuggets. Led by George Karl on the bench, they were the team that was always among the best in the West but could never quite make it to the Finals, twice falling in surprising first-round exits and one time losing in the conference finals. The Sonics won 64 games in ’96, boasting tremendous talent with the flashy dynamic duo of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, who made alley-oops a work of art and leaving people to wonder if they were connected telepathically.

The Sonics would squeeze by Utah in the Western Conference Finals in seven games, but then had to deal with the 72-win Bulls. After losing the first three games in the Finals, Seattle fought back to force a Game Six, but couldn’t overcome Jordan’s greatness.

Utah Jazz, 1997-98
After the Jazz lost to the Bulls in the 1997 Finals, they felt the next season would be the year they would finally overcome the dynasty. John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek were considered the NBA’s best backcourt yet again, and Karl Malone was an undeniable force in the paint. After winning 62 games in the regular season, Utah hey would squeeze by the Rockets, and breeze past the Spurs and Lakers en route to a Finals rematch with Chicago. Battling back from a 3-1 series deficit, Utah fell in Game Six when Jordan hit “The Shot” following “The Push-Off.”

Portland Trail Blazers, 2000
The 2000 Blazers were arguably the best Portland team of all-time, even more talented than the ’77 championship team. The starting lineup of Damon Stoudemire, Steve Smith, Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis (the best passing center the game has ever seen) produced a very balanced attack, while Greg Anthony, Bonzi Wells, Detlef Schrempf, Brian Grant an Jermaine O’Neal held down a deep bench. Under head coach Mike Dunleavy, Portland advanced to the Western Conference Finals, defeating the Timberwolves and the Jazz in their first two series.

Awaiting them were the 67-win Lakers, armed with an MVP Shaq and young star Kobe. As colossal as the Lakers seemed, the Blazers weren’t scared at all, forcing the series to a Game Seven showdown in L.A. The Blazers were famously up by 15 late in the game before the Lakers waged a furious comeback and went on to the first of their three-peat titles.

Phoenix Suns, 2005
Expectations were low for this team after going 29-53 the previous season. But after adding Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson to join returners Amar’e, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson, the Suns would become one of the highest scoring teams the NBA has ever seen. Their fast-paced offense was too much for anyone to keep up with, putting up 110 points a night on their way to 62 regular season wins. Defense wasn’t top priority, however, an Achilles heel that would come back to hurt the Suns throughout the Nash era.

Sacramento Kings, 2002
The Kings had made the playoffs for two years straight with Jason Williams as their point guard, but the team really took off once “White Chocolate” was traded and Mike Bibby took over at the one. The Kings could always pass and play together, but with Bibby the offense continued to run smoothly, the defense improved, and they had a guard who would take and make clutch shots.

In ’02, the Kings won 62 games in the regular season and wound up facing the powerhouse Lakers in the conference finals with Kobe and Shaq. In a series remembered for Robert Horry‘s buzzer-beater, a controversial Game Six refereeing job, and a some colossal Game Seven choking by the likes of Peja Stojakovic and Doug Christie, the Kings were one of the most talented teams to fail to even reach the Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers, 2008-09
The Cavs were the closest thing to the ’96 Bulls. They won 66 games in the regular season, finishing with the best record in the NBA. Their average margin of victory was 9 points per game, dominant by NBA standards. The team also had overflowing swagger, posing for fake team pictures before tip-off and putting together choreographed dance and comedy routines sometimes in the middle of blowing teams out.

Not to mention they had the best player in the League in 23-year-old LeBron James. Cleveland would be up by so many points so often that for a good month or so it seemed as if Lebron barely played in 4th fourth quarters. The Cavs would go on to sweep their first two series with ease, and entered the Eastern Conference Finals at 8-0 for the playoffs. The Cavs would end up losing to the Magic, though, as coach Mike Brown had no answer for Dwight Howard in the paint, and Orlando’s three-point shooters were on-fire all series.

This was supposed to be LeBron’s year, as his game finally reached official MVP status. However, as good as he was in the Orlando series, Cleveland’s supporting cast was simply outplayed. The hype for this team was greater than any other team that failed to win a ring, and their swagger said they expected to win as much as everyone else did. Unfortunately Cleveland would be left without a championship, and King James would later high-tail it out of town in disappointment.

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  • superfreak

    Don’t agree with Orlando 95 and Seattle 96. Somehow I think the Trailblazers of 03′ (i think) and Dallas of 06′ should be on there. Those were two stacked teams that should of gone all the way.

  • Darius

    How bout the 01 Sixers who should’ve won game 2 & 3 of the 01 finals?

  • ricky ross

    dont agree with all. yea the jazz is a big one also the kings and wheres dallas?

  • jrav

    73 celtics who lost to New York in 7 after Hondo messed up his hand
    86 Rockets, read Simmon’s book which details how this team could have been the team to take over the end of the 80s

  • truth

    Defense had nothing to do with Phoenix not winning in 2005. It had to do with Jerry Stackhouse’s flagrant foul on Joe Johnson that broke his orbital bone, forcing him to miss several games against the Spurs.

    I actually think that the 2007 Suns were a better team (because they were deeper, and Joe Johnson in 2005 wasn’t the Joe Johnson we know of today) and the only reason they didn’t get win was the dirty Horry bodycheck, and subsequent BS suspensions of Diaw and Amare for one game apiece.

    On another note, what about the Mavs team that lost in the finals to the Heat or the 67 win Mavs team that lost in the first round to G-State. Had they faced any other team that year I think they would have won the championship.

  • LMNOP

    The 06 or the 07 Mavs. The 06 team were robbed of the chip by some ridiculous calls and then the 07 team won like 67 games or something, were a truly dominant team, Dirk looked unstoppable all season then they just collapsed in the playoffs.

  • Nizzio

    I agree with Sacramento 2002. The refs fucked them up

  • Yucca Man

    I love how DIME doesn’t seem to realize the NBA existed BM (Before Michael).

    At the very least shouldn’t 1986 Rockets be included?

  • choker

    I like the last one :) … it stands out..9 point win average..and people keep saying..lebron had no talent…wth..get a life scrubs..

  • JC

    The 1994-1995 Suns were better than both Suns teams mentioned here. The team something like 31-4 with Barkley and KJ both injured, led by Danny Manning and Dan Majerle. It was widely called Dream Team 3. Even after Manning went down, the Suns would have won the title–had Barkley decided not to hit the strip joints in Houston the night before a decisive game 5 (?). Season average? 26 pts. That night, he scored 6 because he was hung over.

    Had that team stayed healthy, it would have been a 70-game winner IMHO, and would have cruised to a championship.

  • Shot In Your Face

    What about the 2003-2004 Lakers?

    Kobe Bryant – Shaquille O’Neal – Gary Payton – Devean George – Derek Fisher – Stanislav Medvedenko – Karl Malone – Kareem Rush – Bryon Russell – Horace Grant – Rick Fox – Luke Walton – Brian Cook – Jamal Sampson – Maurice Carter – Jannero Pargo – Ime Udoka

    Season Record: 56-26 (.683)

  • spike

    u forgot the bird teams that lost to magic in the 80’s or vice versa. or detroit in 88

  • Lee

    WOW, 1994 knicks ??? Sonics had a 64 win season that year and the top seeded team in the east (hawks) traded Domonique Wilkins at the deadline. I hope the Hawks never win anything because of that trade.

  • Robmo35

    2004 Lakers? 1974 Bullets? Anyone? Was this done by one of the 12 year olds on your staff?

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    @ Robmo and Shot – you’re listing teams that won the title here or there around the time of your year cited. You didn’t notice that none of these teams won the title within 5 or even 10 years from the year the Dime staff (12 yr olds, Robmo) mentioned? Good job.

  • Sporty-j

    Who ever wrote this must be YOUNG…

  • Promoman

    I think the 2002 Sacramento Kings were the best team of the past decade to not win. I put them over the 2006 Mavericks because it was clear that the League didn’t want that squad to get to the Finals. That series was so bad that Ralph Nader tried to present that shit before Congress for corruption. There’s been other crimes in the league but nobody tried to take it to Congress MLB-style until the Kings came along. The 2006 Mavericks got fucked by reffing too but not to the brazen extent of the Oz treatment that the Kings got.

  • Cha-Ching

    Jordan hurt a lot of feelings. It is what it is.

  • Sporty-j

    Mavs fans still whining about the finals when all they had to do is stop 1 man… PATHETIC AND SAD!!!

  • Phileus

    @15, I don’t think it matters. That team (whose core was ONLY like that for one year) had the most talent in the league by far. It was assembled to win a championship, and it lost to a squad that was clearly inferior at almost every position on paper. Sure they dominated the 00’s, but that team was still a disappointment.

    @2: I liked them too, but they weren’t dominant and they had no business taking even one game from one of the best teams I’ve ever seen in any sport. Iverson and Mutombo plus what? Aaron McKie? Eric Snow? They were “the team that won on heart” which means they didn’t have dominant talent.

  • MadSammyboy

    I find it very hard to believe that every single one of the “10 Best NBA Teams That Didn’t Win a Championship” played in the last two decades. It’s a neat article, but Jaimie needs to do some actual research instead of just listing the 10 best teams that he REMEMBERS.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    @ Sporty – j – no, the Mavs had to stop 2 men. The refs.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    also, @ Phileus, no, I think that you’re missing the point of the article. The Lakers were at the end of a 3peat. Hard to put them as one of the 10 best teams that didn’t win a chip, since, as I just said, they had already won 3.

  • slick ric

    no teams before the 90’s huh.

  • Phileus

    I know what you’re saying dagwaller, but that particular team (Shaq-Kobe-Malone-Payton) was way different from the other Lakers squads, and that particular team never won a chip! To me, that’s still a disappointment, just like the 2008 Patriots. You’re right that it’s a little bit different from the point of the article, but hey it’s just a discussion ;)

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    @ Phileus – so true! I know what you mean about that team. They’re almost like this year’s Celtics – the All-Decade team all on one roster.

    But if Dime was to play it your way, they’d have about 50 teams to list, as opposed to the x<50 that made it close to/to the Finals and never ended up winning the whole thing.

    …post 1990. Ha!

  • Ian

    no team that had patrick ewing as the best player was going to win shit so get the 94 knicks out. utah really?? the reason they made the finals was because the west was watered down by the end of the decade with houston , suns , portland and seattle out of the picture and spurs and lakers rebuilding (kinda). seatle nah. kings well the refs took that one. portland was just names bunch of thugs and old pippen. i do agree with the 93 suns but comon you mentioned they traded for barkley that is what they needed to get them over the hump ehhh im sorry but when had he done that before? bulls had the 2 best players in every series they played in the 90s (yeah i think pip is 4th best player of the 90s only admiral dream and jordan were better) so the other teams didnt have much of a chance.

    get in the 06 spurs and mavs 04 spurs and lakers.

  • Big Marv

    1999 – 2000 Portland Trailblazers

  • shuttles

    I think you have to pretty much throw regular season records out the window when looking at this and just focus on how these teams did in the playoffs. They all lost eventually obviously but to be on this list they should have taken the Finals champ to the wire at the least.

    For example, Cleveland? Hell no. They got beat handily by the Magic, who then got beat easily by the Lakers. That doesn’t happen to a great team.

    Same thing with the 05 Suns. San Antonio beat them 4-1 and then went 7 games with Detroit in a series that could have gone either way. Suns were 3rd best team in the league that year at best.

    But I agree with teams like the Jazz, Blazers, and Kings, who all lost tough series to some of the best teams of all time- the MJ Bulls and the Kobe-Shaq Lakers.

  • shuttles

    And for those saying the 06 and 07 Mavs, nah. Good regular season team who lost to a mediocre Heat team (yeah I know, the refs, but they still lost to one of the least impressive Finals champs of all time) and then lost in the first round to an 8 seed.

  • yoda

    nba didn’t existed before 1992? :O

  • K Dizzle

    1970-71 Lakers squad….best team to not win the chip…

  • Wonil

    no mention of the 97-98 pacers?

  • sh!tfaced

    What about giant killers like the ’81 Rockets (40-42), ’99 Knicks (8th seed), ’94 Nuggets (42-40, 8th), the 2010 Celtics…?

    Teams that were so-so in the regular season but began to hit stride where it really counted in the playoffs – and almost pulled it off like the ’95 Rockets did. Prolly deserves more props than those who dominated the regular season but choked in the postseason…

  • jimmhumm

    Darn good story. I wish every dime article was like this.

  • http://www.donthatemiami.com LeBron #1

    Jeeze The Miami Heat Looking Real Scary after this ESPN Report Only Practicing Defense…Offense Not Needed lOl

  • JA

    I love how the Kings’ defence actually improved when Bibby came aboard.

  • http://www.TheProductBand.com Kermit The Washington

    Man, that TrailBlazers team was LEGIT. I loved watching them, and I thought for SURE that was gonna be Pippen’s ring without Jordan, and really wanted him to get that. But in that second half, all they had to do was keep feeding ‘Sheed in the paint, but they were busting 3s for no reason and shot themselves right out of it.

    The Kings, however, got screwed by the refs BIG TIME. That series was hard to watch. But even with the refs trying to rig the games, they STILL woulda pulled it off if it weren’t for that dang tap-out to Horry! Most back-breaking shot ever.

  • WinDelRoj

    The Mavericks lost that finals series because they didnt have anyone athletic enough to hang with Wade. When you are a step slow the refs know that and are more likely to call a foul. If Dallas didnt want to lose then they shouldve done a better job coaching. D Wade forces the issue and gets results

  • http://www.donthatemiami.com Miami Heat

    Well, the HEAT sure as HELL wont be on this list!!

  • nnelg

    Oh come on. This list is missing some key teams: The 2006 and 2008 Spurs teams, for instance. Also, the Celtics and Lakers teams of the 80s that didn’t win championships. And what about the Wilt Chamberlain-led Lakers and Warriors teams of the 60s and 70s that lost out to Knicks and Bill Russell’s Celtics?

    But let me spend a bit arguing in favor of the 2006 Spurs.

    The 2006 Spurs represented probably the club’s best chance for a repeat championship. The team won 63 games, most ever for a Spurs club, giving them the second-best record in the league, one less than Detroit). They were one year removed from the 2005 championship team, which beat the reigning Pistons (also worthy of a mention here) in a tough 7-game series and one year away from 2007 championship team, which crushed LBJ’s Cavs in a four-game sweep.

    The 2006 team featured Ginobili at or about his peak (he nearly won the NBA Finals MVP the prior year); All-Star years from Tony Parker and Tim Duncan; and Bruce Bowen, who was the runner-up to Ben Wallace for Defensive Player of the Year.

    That team lost to a stacked Dallas team (the eventual league runner-up, who should have won the championship and also deserves mention here) in a 7-game series that went to overtime in the final game and turned on one mistake by Ginobili. That series prompted the NBA to change its playoff format, making sure that the teams with the top two records in the conference (like the Spurs and Mavs that year) couldn’t meet in the playoffs before the conference finals.

  • Sporty-j

    You took the words right out of my mouth WINDELROJ. I hate when teams whine and complain or fans about the refs. Its goes both ways and you either hate the refs or you love them. Wade played lights out that series and the Mavs did not lose because of the refs. Its was because of coaching. I have never seen anybody take over an entire series like that since Jordan and it was because Wade kept driving to the hole. My thing is that Dallas was up 2-0 and in game 3 was up by like 14 heading into the 4th and thats when Wade just said im not going out like this. You mean to tell me that once Dallas saw that 1 man was killing them that they could not adjust and just get the ball out his hands and let Shaq or somebody else beat them. It took 4 games to realize that 1 man was single handedly beating them. No coaching adjustments no recognition on the players part to say that we have to get the ball out this man hands everytime he touches the ball POINT BLANK. Give Wade his props on forcing the issue until dalls adjust, which they never did and just say that once probably the best finals performance that any player has ever had since Jordans “FLU” final performance. Why do you think Jordan fell in love with Wade as his favorite player. Because he see himself in Wade and if Jordan had 1 guy that he wishes he could have played against the most its Wade. The man said in his prime Kobe would not have even been a competion to him. The GOAT himself is saying this…

  • Ian

    sporty
    jordan is the best 2guard ever sure but hes talking out his ass about kobe not being in competition with him. who were the best 2 guards jordan had to play miller , drexler and richmond?? now almost every team has a super athletich 2 guard that jordan would have to go all out chasing around.

    dont get me wrong he might be the goat but the 2 guard position was the weakest one during the 90s.

    jordan played those 3 teams 8 teams a year kobe during the decade in one road trip coulda gotten to play tmac (orlando version) , manu , carter (toronto version) , iverson (00 version) in just one week.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    Wade was an animal that series, no doubt. They should have played him differently.

    That said…Mavs deserved to win that series. It’s one of the most controversial series of all time for a reason.

  • Nyeme

    If you didn’t go to the Finals, you can’t be the best team to not win (’05 Suns or ’02 Kings even though thats questionable)

  • http://www.nba.com Justin

    How the hell were the 08-09 Cavs like the ’96 Bulls?

  • S.A.C.

    The 86 Houston Rockets could of should of been a dynasty for 10 years.

    The problem was their three top guards flunked out of the league on drug suspensions and Ralph Sampson knees crumbled shortly after.

    This was after the Rockets destroyed the defending Champion Lakers in the 86 Western Conference finals and lost to the all time great Celtic team in 6 games that year.

    Unfortunately, the Rockets went through several rebuildings until Hakeem and them won in 94, 95.

    But it should/could of been Olajuwon, if it wasn’t for those drug suspensions and injuries to his team mates, that would of won 6-10 titles and not Jordan.

    Also the Run TMC teams in Golden State.
    The Great Milwaukee Bucks teams with Sidney Moncrief and crew. And some of those talented Dallas Mavericks teams.

    I’m sure I’m missing a few.

  • S.A.C.

    Kevin Willis, Dominique Wilkens, Doc Rivers Atlanta teams. They weren’t really serious title contenders. But they still should get a mention.

    Yes (as someone said earlier), the Lakers team with Wilt, West and Elgin Baylor, didn’t win a title that year.

    I’m sure they are many, many, many others. Lol.

  • S.A.C.

    Also the Brad Daugherty, Ron Harper (and I’m forgetting the point guard) teams. Indiana (as some has mentioned) had some good teams to that didn’t win but contended.

  • http://www.eveningdressesdresses.com Evening Dresses

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  • DAN

    96 SONICS

  • DAN

    How many free throws did Phoenix need to get there in 93