The NBA season is on its way to returning. Whether we jump right into the playoffs or if the NBA sets a target number of games for each team to play before the season ends, we are all waiting to find out who will hold the Championship Trophy in the end.
If the season records were to end now and the playoffs ended with a team other than the Milwaukee Bucks winning the title, the Bucks would go down as one of the league’s “Best Non-Title Winning Teams”.
The Bucks currently hold a league-best record of 53-12, good for a .815 win-loss percentage. Shockingly, there have been 5 teams with better win-loss records that did not win the NBA title. We will be going over those 5 teams who should have won, but ultimately disappointed their fans. Let’s just hope the ’19-’20 Bucks do not add their team to this list.
5. 1947 Washington Capitols
Record: 49-11 (.817)
Outcome: Semifinals (2-4 Loss) to the 39-22 Chicago Stags
1946-1947 was the NBA’s 1st professional season. At the time, the league was not called the NBA just yet; it went by BAA (Basketball Association of America). In the league’s 1st season, the Washington Capitols had the 2nd best offense and the #1 ranked defense.
Coached by legendary, future HOF coach Red Auerbach, they ruled the league with a 49-11 record, 10.5 games ahead of the league’s next best team, the Chicago Stags. Somehow, the rules at the time allowed the 2 teams to meet in the 2nd Round of the playoffs (then known as the Semifinals).
The Capitols would fall to the Stags in 6 games, being outscored 70.8 to 58.5 in the 4 losses. The Stags would then lose to the 35-25 Philadelphia Warriors in the BAA Finals, in only 5 games.
This set the precedent for the future of the league, showing the importance of having the playoffs rather than having a regular-season Champ.
4. 2016 San Antonio Spurs
Record: 67-15 (.817)
Outcome: Semifinals (2-4 Loss) to the 55-27 Oklahoma City Thunder
The ’16 San Antonio Spurs don’t necessarily belong on this list. Their record lands them here but as you read further, you will see a team from this same season that was more of a disappointment than the Spurs. Even with that said, winning 67 games and not bringing home an NBA title is still dissatisfying.
The Spurs ended the season with the league’s top defense and a top 10 offense (4th in rating/10th in scoring). It marked the beginning of the Kawhi Leonard – LaMarcus Aldridge era, and the end of the Tim Duncan era as he would retire following their playoff exit.
The Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the 1st Round, but it came with a bold asterisk as the Grizzlies went the series without their 2 star players: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The Spurs then silenced the non-believers with a convincing Game 1 win over the Thunder in the next round as they won 124-92. That win would remain as their best game of the series as they failed to reach 100 points in all 4 of their losses, only hitting 100 points in their 4-point Game 3 win.
The Spurs were knocked out of the playoffs by a formidable team, but it still was a disappointing end for the end of Duncan’s career.
3. 2007 Dallas Mavericks
Record: 67-15 (.817)
Outcome: 1st Round (2-4 Loss) to the 42-40 Golden State Warriors
This may be the most disappointing team in NBA history. The ’07 Mavericks finished the season 6 games ahead of the NBA’s 2nd best team and 9 games ahead of the 3rd best team. They were head and shoulders above the rest of the league, despite not being ranked #1 on offense or defense.
The team just simply looked motivated after losing in the NBA Finals the previous season. Dirk Nowitzki won MVP, the team went on 3 separate 10+ game win streaks (peaking at 17 straight wins), and they set their Franchise’s All-Time best regular-season record. None of that mattered once the playoffs started.
The Mavericks matched up with the 8th seeded Warriors, who had a rollercoaster season which ended with a 5-game win streak to make the playoffs. The series opened with a shocking win from the Warriors, but the Mavericks would win Game 2 decisively.
However, as the series turned over to Golden State’s home court, the Warriors took full control of the series, going up 3-1 in the series. The Mavericks were able to win Game 5 at home but would be convincingly blown-out in Game 6 in Golden State.
This series would mark arguably the largest upset in NBA history as the Warriors were 25 wins behind the #1 seeded Mavericks. It also birthed the “We Believe” Warriors, one of the decade’s most exciting/fun stories.
2. 1973 Boston Celtics
Record: 68-14 (.829)
Outcome: Conf. Finals (3-4 Loss) to the 57-25 New York Knicks
The Boston Celtics had one of the fastest rebuilds after the retirement of Bill Russell in 1969. In just their 4th season post-Russell, the Celtics returned to the top of the league behind league MVP Dave Cowens. The team ranked near the top of the league both offensively and defensively. They managed to only go on 1 multiple game losing streak, which was a 2-game losing streak mid-season. Aside from that, the Celtics experienced many 8-game winning streaks with losses sprinkled throughout the season here and there.
The playoffs started well for the Celtics as they matched up against the 46-36 Atlanta Hawks in Round 1 (then known as the Semifinals). They would win the series 4-2 and meet the 57-win Knicks in Conference Finals.
Unfortunately for the ’73 Celtics, these New York Knicks were on a focused mission to win an NBA title. The series would go to 7 games, where Knicks PG Walt Frazier would lead the Knicks to a 94-78 upset win over the Celtics.
The Knicks would ultimately win the NBA Championship, halting the Boston Celtics efforts to re-take control of the league that season.
1. 2016 Golden State Warriors
Record: 73-9 (.890)
Outcome: NBA Finals (3-4 Loss) to the 57-25 Cleveland Cavaliers
As mentioned before, the ’15-’16 San Antonio Spurs were not the most disappointing team of that season. We all know the story of the ’16 Warriors, the most winningest team in NBA history. The Warriors were on a crash course to repeat as NBA Champions. The team finished the season with the top-ranked offense and a top-ranked defense (2nd in PPG/5th in rating).
Steph Curry would go on to win the NBA’s 1st ever unanimous MVP after his Warriors broke the ’96 Chicago Bulls 72-win record. They would also feature 2 other All-NBA selections as Draymond Green made the All-NBA 2nd Team and Klay Thompson made the All-NBA 3rd Team (Curry made the All-NBA 1st Team). They opened the season with a 24-game win streak and would not lose consecutive games at any point in the season… until the NBA playoffs.
Through their 1st 2 playoff series against the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers, the Warriors looked the part of NBA Champions. They handled both teams in 5 games, losing Game 3 in both matchups. The following round would serve as, what everyone believed to be, the Warriors biggest test of the season with a matchup against the Kevin Durant – Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Warriors would go down 1-3 before rallying in epic fashion to win the series and prevent the upset. The Warriors were back on course to win the title after going up 3-1 versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team they swept 2-0 in the regular season.
The Cavaliers would reverse fate on the Warriors and come back to win the NBA title, rendering the Warriors’ record-breaking season pointless, as the ’96 Bulls held the title as a reward, unlike the ’16 Warriors. This series, as well as the previous series, led to a ripple effect that would change the league as we now know.
“Don’t Mean A Thing Without The Ring”
When it is all said and done, history will not look at ‘regular season’ winners in a high light.
The ’16 Warriors are poked fun at instead of praised, despite winning the most games in NBA regular-season history. Without an NBA title to cap off the season, winning regular-season games means nothing.
That will continue to be the way we look at All-Time Great teams. In a few months, we will be finding out what side of history this year’s Milwaukee Bucks will end up on. Will they end up as one of the biggest disappointments? Or will they sustain their dominance into the playoffs, leading to a much-coveted NBA title?