Landing 1st overall in your conference does not guarantee you a trip to the NBA Finals, but it can make things easier during the playoffs, as you’ll have homecourt advantage most of the way there.
As a result, teams work hard during the regular season to secure a top spot in the standings, and they know the extra rest and favorable schedule can be a major factor when it matters the most.
Notably, there are a handful of franchises that have never clinched the 1st seed, while others have made the most out of lower seeds by winning the NBA Championship.
Today, we’ll reveal the last time every team earned the 1st seed in their Conference.
Atlanta Hawks: 2015
The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks were the league’s most surprising team and it wasn’t even close. Led by Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks had 4 All-Stars on their team on Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, and Kyle Korver.
Sadly, they weren’t able to get past the Eastern Conference Finals after winning 60 games in the regular season. They beat the Nets and Wizards in 6 but were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the following round.
Boston Celtics: 2017
The 2016-17 Boston Celtics managed to clinch the 1st seed in the East despite winning just 53 games, two more than the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. But Isaiah Thomas’ injury put an end to their season.
After overcoming an 0-2 deficit vs. the Chicago Bulls in the 1st round, the Celtics got past the Washington Wizards in 7 games but fell short vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, who got the best of them in 5 games.
Brooklyn Nets: 2002
Led by Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Keith van Horn, the Brooklyn Nets were one of the most entertaining and dominating teams of the early ’00s but were never able to deliver in the NBA Finals despite crushing their opponents in the regular season.
Back in 2002, the Nets won 52 games, beat the Indiana Pacers in 5 games, then the Charlotte Hornets in 5, and the Boston Celtics in 6. Sadly, they couldn’t handle Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant — and were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.
Charlotte Hornets: Never
The Charlotte Hornets have never made it past the second round of the playoffs. They’ve only made the playoffs 10 times in franchise history and made it for the last time in 2016.
Chicago Bulls: 2012
Back in 2012, the Bulls finished the lockout season with the best record in the Eastern Conference after winning 50 games. Then again, injuries and poor luck got the best of them in the playoffs.
Derrick Rose was coming off an outstanding season and the Bulls looked poised for a trip to the Finals, but he suffered a career-changing injury and the Bulls eventually lost to the 8th-seeded Philadephia 76ers in 6 games.
Cleveland Cavaliers: 2016
Coming off a heartbreaking loss in the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers would bounce back in outstanding fashion, as they finished the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and had an easy ride back to the Finals.
There, they’d face the almighty Golden State Warriors, coming off a 73-win season. The Warriors were up 3-1 in the Finals, but LeBron, Kyrie, and Love got the last laugh by becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from that hole to win the Championship.
Dallas Mavericks: 2007
The Dallas Mavericks were running and gunning under coach Avery Johnson, winning 67 games in 2007 after winning 60 the prior season, when they faced the Miami Heat in the Finals and lost in 6 games.
They looked poised for a trip to the back to the Finals, but their campaign finished in a quite humiliating fashion. The Mavericks lost in the first round vs. the ‘We Believe’ Golden State Warriors, who got them in 6 games despite being the 8th-seeded team.
Denver Nuggets: 1976
It’s been a while since the Denver Nuggets last had the best seed in the Western Conference, and right when it looked like they were going to put an end to their drought, the Warriors beat them in the race last season.
Led by David Thompson and Ralph Simpson, the Nuggets looked championship-bound back in 1976, when they were still playing in the ABA. They beat the Kentucky Colonels in the Semifinals but lost in the Finals vs. the New York Nets.
Detroit Pistons: 2007
The Detroit Pistons had one of the most suffocating and physical defenses of the mid-‘00s, and coach Flip Saunders have developed an identity of hustle, effort, and grit that helped them win 53 games in 2007. Led by Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Chris Webber, the Pistons made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but LeBron James and the Cavs beat them in 6 games.
Golden State Warriors: 2019
The Golden State Warriors had a great run during the second half of the season to clinch the first seed in the Western Conference, and everybody thought they were poised for a three-peat when they got DeMarcus Cousins in free agency.
Sadly, injuries took a major toll on their team, losing Durant and Klay Thompson in the Finals vs. the Toronto Raptors, who may have put an end to their dynasty after beating them in 6 games against all odds.
Houston Rockets: 2018
The Houston Rockets bought into Mike D’Antoni’s ‘7 seconds or less’ offense and James Harden played the best ball of his career in 2018, clinching the best record in the Western Conference ahead of the Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul’s presence was supposed to give the Rockets the edge over the Warriors, but injuries and questionable officiating turned the table in favor of Golden State, who beat them in 7 games in the Western Conference Finals.
Indiana Pacers: 2014
The Indiana Pacers were the only legitimate threat to the Miami Heat’s dynasty back in 2014. Even though Danny Granger was no longer a star, Paul George’s surge to stardom made them a serious championship contender. Sadly for them, Roy Hibbert completely disappeared in their series against the Heat after beating the Hawks and Wizards. Miami would beat them in 6, but they eventually lost to the Spurs in 5 games.
Los Angeles Clippers: Never
Even though the Los Angeles Clippers are arguably the team to beat in the league nowadays, they haven’t been exactly a synonym of a dominant or successful franchise throughout their history. In fact, they haven’t even made it to the Finals.
Los Angeles Lakers: 2010
It’s been a while since the Los Angeles Lakers were a serious Championship contender, as they haven’t even made the playoffs since 2013. Now, LeBron James and Anthony Davis vow to put that drought to an end.
The last time the Lakers clinched the first seed in the West, they went the distance to win the NBA Championship vs. the Boston Celtics. 10 years later, it may be time for them to get back to the Finals.
Memphis Grizzlies: Never
The Memphis Grizzlies haven’t been around for that long, and while the ‘Grit and Grind’ era was quite exciting for their fans during the playoffs, they were never able to clinch the first seed — but did at least made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2013, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
Miami Heat: 2013
Back in 2013, the Miami Heat were at their peak. With LeBron, Bosh, and Wade, they had taken the Eastern Conference for assault and won 66 games to clinch home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Later on, they swept the Bucks, beat the Bulls in 5, the Pacers in 7, and won the Championship by beating the Spurs in 7.
Milwaukee Bucks: 2019
The Milwaukee Bucks had the best record in the league last season, even ahead of Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.
They looked poised for a trip to the Finals for the first time in decades, but the Raptors were just too much to handle for them in the ECF. After being up 2-0, Leonard and the Canadians won 4 straight games and knocked them out of contention.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 2004
The 2003-04 season was the best in Timberwolves’ history. Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell led this team to a 58-24 record and the Western Conference Finals.
There, however, they were unable to get past the ‘Fab Four’ of Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers took them to 6 games and went on to lose in the Finals vs. the Detroit Pistons.
New Orleans Pelicans: Never
The New Orleans Pelicans haven’t been around the league for a long time, and they have never been able to find success in the playoffs.
They couldn’t clinch the 1st seed with Chris Paul and David West, neither they could with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Will Zion and Lonzo turn their history around?
New York Knicks: 1993
The New York Knicks were the team to beat during the 1992-93 season. Pat Riley won Coach of the Year after leading them to a 60-win season, and Patrick Ewing was right in his prime.
Still, the Chicago Bulls went on to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning 4 straight matchups before beating the Suns in the Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 2013
The Oklahoma City Thunder had an outstanding season and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were arguably at the pinnacle of their partnership.
They won 60 games and got past the Rockets in 6 during the first round of the playoffs, but Westbrook’s season-ending injury took a toll on their chances vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, who beat them in 5 games in the second round.
Orlando Magic: 1995
With just 6 seasons in the NBA, it looked like the 1994-95 was going to be the Magic’s step towards success.
Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal led them to a 57-win season and they beat the Celtics, Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and the Indiana Pacers, but Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets were just too much to handle, and they ended up being swept in the Finals.
Philadelphia 76ers: 2001
The 2000-01 season will always be remembered as Allen Iverson’s campaign. He won the MVP, the scoring title and led the league in steals as well. Moreover, Iverson carried this team in both ends of the floor all the way to the Finals, but Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant torched his Sixers in 5 games.
Phoenix Suns: 2005
The 2004-05 Phoenix Suns were one of the most entertaining teams this league has ever seen. With Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense and a prime Steve Nash in charge of the offense, this team won 60 games, swept the Grizzlies in the first round, and got past the Dallas Mavericks in 6 games.
However, they weren’t able to beat San Antonio in the WCF, losing in 5 games before the Spurs won the Finals.
Portland Trail Blazers: 1992
Clyde Drexler had the rough luck to be on his prime at the same time as Michael Jordan, as he wasn’t able to lead his Sixers past the Bulls, or beat Jordan for the MVP honors in 1992.
The Blazers won 57 games and easily got past the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz en-route to the Finals. There, the Bulls got the best of them in 6 games despite Drexler’s efforts.
Sacramento Kings: 2002
The Sacramento Kings haven’t been in the playoffs for the last 13 seasons, which is the longest active drought in the NBA, and it’s not even close. Moreover, it’s been almost 20 years since they last clinched the 1st seed in the West.
The Kings were an exciting team to watch with Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, and Peja Stojakovic, but lost in 7 games to the Lakers in the WCF after winning 61 games in the regular season.
San Antonio Spurs: 2014
The 2013-14 season was arguably the last glorious season of the Gregg Popovich era, at least for the time being. The Spurs won 62 games and had the best record in the league.
They beat the Mavericks in 7 games, the Blazers in 5 games, the Thunder in 6, and then went on to humiliate the Miami Heat in the Finals, getting their revenge from their heart-breaking 2012-13 loss.
Toronto Raptors: 2018
The Toronto Raptors were slowly putting together a competitive team, but they were still missing a superstar to leap forward. Coached by Dwane Casey, they won 59 games and looked finally poised to get past LeBron James in the playoffs.
Notably, the King had other plans. After beating the Wizards in 6 games, they were swept by the Cavaliers in the second round.
Utah Jazz: 1998
The Utah Jazz would’ve won multiple NBA Championships if it wasn’t for Michael Jordan and his Bulls. Back in 1998, the Jazz had arguably the best team in the league, with Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, and John Stockton leading them to an NBA-best 62-win season.
In the playoffs, they beat the Rockets and Spurs and swept the Lakers in the WFC. Still, the Bulls got the best of them in 6 games for the second straight season, winning their 6th and final NBA Championship.
Washington Wizards: 1979
The Wizards have never clinched the first seed in the Eastern Conference, at least under that name. However, back in 1979 when they were still the Bullets and defending champions, they were poised for a second straight trip to the NBA Finals.
Thanks to Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, they won 58 games and won their division. And after beating the Spurs and Hawks in the playoffs, they were beaten by the Seattle Supersonics in 5 games in the Finals.