The Greatest Single-Season Teams in NBA History
Greetings and welcome back my fellow Hoops Enthusiasts. It’s time once again to discuss my opinion of the greatest single season teams in NBA History.
The criteria that I used in compiling this ranking were that it was based on a single season team, with at least a three-year period between appearances.
So I have compiled my top 10 list, and of course have No. 11, just waiting on the outside. So here we go with number 11.
11. The 1994/95 Houston Rockets – 47-35 Regular Season Record
What in the Hell are you smoking? I am sure is your first comment, when you see the Rockets on this list, but first off consider this.
During their magnificent run to the championship (the second of a back to back by the way) they defeated the Utah Jazz (60-22), Phoenix Suns (59-23), San Antonio Spurs (62-20) and Orlando Magic (57-25), which were the No. one, two, and three seeds in their own Western Conference, plus the number one Eastern Conference seed Magic in the Finals and swept them by the way.
They became the lowest seeded team in NBA history (sixth seed in the West), to win the championship, the first team to win nine playoff road games and seven road wins in a row, as well as the first defending champion to sweep the championship series the following year.
These Rockets were also the first team to win the championship without having home court advantage in all four rounds of the playoffs.
Led by Hakeem “the Dream” Olajawon, who became the second player after Michael Jordan in 1991 to win back to back Finals MVP award, Clyde “the glide” Drexler and Kenny “the Jet” Smith, and a very underrated supporting cast; lead by Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry, and Sam “I Am” Cassell and “Super” Mario Ellie, they more than proved their mettle in winning their second consecutive title.
10. The 1964-65 Boston Celtics – 62-18 Regular Season Record
This Celtic team was at the end of the greatest USA Professional Team records as they recorded their seventh consecutive NBA championship, and broke their own league record for most victories in a season.
They were part of one of the NBA’s classic seven game playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers for the Eastern Conference championship, caped by winning game seven in the Hallowed Boston Gardens when the “Havlicek stole the Ball” radio call by Johnny Most was produced.
This Celtic team basically opened up their own wing in the Hall of Fame, as they were comprised of K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and John Havlicek off the bench at guards, Tom Sanders and Tom Heinsohn at the forwards and the legend Bill Russell at Center, this was a team without a weakness.
For the season Boston averaged 113 points per game and gave up only 104.5 both of which led the league.
On a final note, as hard as this may be to believe this season was the first and only time that coaching legend Red Auerbach would win the NBA coach of the year award even though he won more than 900 games and nine championships during his career.
9. The 1969-70 New York Knicks – 60-22 Regular Season Record
This season was the first in more than 13 years where Bill Russell’s Celtics were not the league favorites. Russell’s retirement after winning his 11 titles left the NBA championship up for grabs and there were many contenders for the title.
Once the season began though the New Your Knicks emerged as the top contender for the title. They ran off a then NBA record 18 game winning streak early in the season and with players such as Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Cazzie Russell and Dick Barnett, they had more than enough talent to sustain to make it out of the Eastern Conference.
Facing the Los Angeles Lakers with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in the finals turned out to be one of those series for the ages. This series turned out to be one of the strangest in league history as no team won back-to-back games and both teams won on each other’s court.
The series appeared to be over in game five as Willis Reed, who became the first player in NBA history to win the MVP award in the All Star game, the season and in the finals, pulled the thigh muscle in his leg.
However the Knicks showing the true meaning of team unity pulled together and managed to win the game and take a three to two series led. However the Lakers came back in game 6 and destroyed the Reed-less Knicks 135-113 with Chamberlain going off for 45 points and 27 rebounds.
Reed was not going to have one of those “what if I had played” moments 20 years after game seven. After taking several shots of pain killers prior to game seven, not even his teammates knew if he was going to play or not.
Even during warm-ups Reed was absent, but then the Madison Square Garden crowd erupted as they saw Reed emerge from the locker room and take a couple of week practice shots just prior to tip off. That was all his teammates needed for inspiration, as Willis came out and hit the first two shots of the game and the game was basically over.
They simply ran away from the Lakers. New York led 9-2, then 15-6, and then 30-17. When Reed left the game, having delivered the inspiration the Knicks needed, New York led 61-37 at half time. From there, the Knicks rolled on to claim their first title, 113-99.
8. The 1988-89 Detroit Pistons – 63-19 Regular Season Record
This season was to be the final swan song for the most prolific scorer in NBA history. The Los Angles Lakers were trying to send Kareem Abdul-Jabbar off to retirement with one more title, had destroyed their Western Conference opponents, going 11-0 as they easily advanced to the NBA championship.
However they ran into a bit of bad luck and a buzz saw in the finals. Byron Scott pulled his hamstring prior to game one and Magic Johnson did the same thing in game number two.
The result of this was that the “Bad boys, bad boys, what you going to do when the come for you” Detroit Pistons winning the first of their back-to-back championships. This Piston team ran total roughshod over the NBA playoffs this year going 15-2, which included sweeping the defending champs the LA Lakers 4-0 in the finals.
The Pistons featured Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson, Dennis Rodman and Mark Aguirre, but it was quite unassuming Joe Dumars who walked away with the Finals MVP award.
This Piston team might have ranked higher in my list, if not for the fact that the league was diluted this season with the addition of two new teams in Charlotte and Miami which weakened the strength of the league overall.
7. The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76er – 68-13 Regular Season Record
Boston was looking to extend their greatness and send Red Auerbach to retirement with a final title as coach. The mighty Celtics tried, winning 60 games during the regular season, which was the second most in the league and teams history, but this season, it wasn’t even enough to win their division.
The Philadelphia 76ers, led by new coach Alex Hannum won 15 of their first 16 games, they followed that with an 11 game streak, then a loss and another streak and their record stood at 37-3. Another nine game streak and they reached the 50 game mark with a record of 46-4, a 92 percent record.
The 76er finished the season with an all time league best record of 68-13. The 76ers led by a slightly modified Wilt Chamberlain ended the Boston Celtics 8 straight championships by destroying the Celts 4-1 in the Eastern Conference finals.
Wilt was no “shrinking violet” by any means, as he still finished third in the league in scoring and led in rebounding 24.1 points and 24.2 rebounds, plus finishing thirdn assists with an average of 7.8 per game.
Wilt was joined by five other teammates who all averaged double figures in scoring including Hal Greer, Chet “the jet” Walker, Billy Cunningham, Wally Jones and Lucious Jackson, they were a team without a weakness.
The 76ers went 11-4 through the playoffs averaging almost 122 point per game through the playoffs, which I believe is still a league record.
6. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls – 72-10 Regular Season Record.
Yes I know, slap me up side of my head and call me stupid, for ranking the team with Michael Jordan and the best record ever in NBA history as only the number six team in history, but hear my case first.
This season the NBA had two expansion teams in Vancouver and Toronto, a total of eight teams lost 50 games or more including six that lost more than 55 games, so there was a great disparity between the haves and have-nots.
Still 70 plus wins is still a great accomplishment and when you have Superman, Batman, and Rodman on your team (Jordan, Scotty Pippen, and Dennis Rodman) you have a great core, but in my opinion, if it was possible to match this team up against any of the top five teams, including the 1991-92 Bulls team, I just believe they would come up on the losing end.
The Bulls biggest weakness was in the middle and I simply feel that a team with a dominant inside presence (Lakers, Celtics or 76ers of the mid-80’s) would have prevented Jordan from driving inside and would neutralize Rodman’s game, making their winning a seven game series impossible. But enough of the negative points on “da-Bulls”.
After missing most of the past two seasons due to his self-imposed retirement, Jordan returned and of course led the league in scoring for the record breaking eighth time, he also won the elusive “triple crown” of basketball, winning the MVP awards in the all star game, regular season and playoffs.
The Bulls started the season with an incredible 41-3 record and just rolled from there. They only lost a close three-point overtime game to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals and then two games in the NBA finals to the Seattle Supersonics.
This season also singled the beginning of the Bulls second straight three-peat. A very, very good team, just not quite good enough to make the top five.
5. The 1991-92 Chicago Bulls – 67-15 Regular Season Record
Determined to prove that the previous season was not a fluke the 1991-92 Bulls with Michael Jordan and strong support from Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright showcased a sixth game improvement over the previous season, what was at that time the fourth highest win total for a season of all time.
In the first round they dismissed the Miami Heat in three straight game and faced their “nemesis” the New York Knicks in the second round.
The Bulls proved their mettle by winning a hard fought seven games series in impressive fashion, by blowing out the Knicks in Chicago by 29 points 110-81. In the Eastern Conference finals they faced their divisional rival the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bull simply had too much experience for their divisional foes, dispatching the Cavaliers in six games, clinching it in Cleveland.
So it was onward to the finals and a match-up against fellow sky walking star Clyde “the glide” Drexler and the Portland Trailblazers.
Once again Michael and company had little trouble in dispatching the Trailblazers winning the championship in six games.
4. The 1971-72 Los Angles Lakers – 69-13 Regular Season Record
Wonder what it takes to win 33 games in a row; just think about that for a moment. Over a twp months (November 5th until January 7th) of the regular season not losing a single game, destroying the previous longest winning streak by 13 games. Is that not impressive enough for you?
Well then how about having a 16 game road-winning streak during the same season, also still the NBA record. Not convinced yet? How about a season road record of 31-7, an 816 percentage.
So who made up this team you ask, was it the Harlem Globetrotters? No, it was Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Jim McMillian, and Happy Hairston members of the Los Angles Lakers, who were able to win their franchises first league championship since the team moved to Los Angles.
It wasn’t an easy task though as they had to defeat the defending league champions in the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee Bucks, who won a very impressive 63 games themselves. In a battle of the titans for the Western Conference championship, the Wilt led Lakers defeated the Bucks four games to two and went on to the championship to face their latest nemesis the New York Knicks.
The Knicks were no match for this Laker team however, as the Lakers won the series in convincing fashion four games to one with the Knicks winning the opening game of the series and then losing four straight.
In the final game, won by the Lakers 114-100 Chamberlain scored 24 point and had 29 rebounds, which helped him win his second and final championship as well as his second Finals MVP award.
The Lakers went 12-3 during the playoffs and finished the season with an impressive 82-16 overall record.
3. The 1982-83 Philadelphia 76er – 65-17 Regular Season Record
One of the main thing that each of my final 3 teams have in common is the fact that they all won their championships without the benefit of having an “expansion” situation within a year or two of winning their championships as some of the previous great teams did.
Well the 1982-83 76er team had no expansion to deal with, only the oncoming rush of the Larry Bird led Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson's Los Angles Lakers.
They also knew that time was running out for one of greatest players in basketball history Julius “Dr. J.” Erving. Erving had lead the 76ers to three previous finals in his six years with the 76ers, but they could never get over the hump, losing in the 77 finals to Portland, and the Lakers in 1980 and again in 1982.
So when Moses Malone joined the Dr. for the start of the 1982-83 season, no one could blame the Dr. for not being overly excited. After completing the season in fantastic fashion, winning 65 games, Moses was asked how he felt they would do in the playoffs.
Moses responded with a boast of “Fo, fo, fo”, meaning that they would sweep all three of their playoff series, A daunting task to say the least as the best any team had done previously was 12-3 by the incredible 1971-72 Los Angles Laker team.
Well it turns out Moses was not too far off, as the 76ers swept the Knicks in their first round series, then dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks in 5 games before facing the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led defending champs Los Angles Lakers, who had defeated the 76ers in last years finals.
Well that didn’t matter as the Sixers smashed the Lakers in four straight games to finish out their playoff campaign with a 12-1 record, still a record for the best percentage in playoff history.
2. The 1985-86 Boston Celtics – 67-15 Regular Season Record
This team was still smarting over losing the 1985 NBA finals four games to two lost to their rival Los Angles Lakers, so the 1985-86 Celtics picked up often injured Bill Walton, in hopes of being able to offset the impressive Laker squad.
This pickup, plus the dogged determination of Larry Bird and his front line teammates of Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish, had the Celtics on a mission.
They stormed through the regular season winning a franchise record 67 games, third best in league history at that time, which included an unbelievable 40-1 home record at Boston Garden, still the best home record (.976) in NBA history.
Bird won his second consecutive MVP award, finishing in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, steals, free throw shooting, and three point shooting. They went through the first three rounds of the playoffs by only losing a single game.
Thus the Celtics brought a gaudy 11-1 record into the finals to face the, no not a rematch with the Lakers, but the surprising Houston Rockets, led by talented rookie 7 footer Hakeem Olajawon and previous years rookie of the year 7 foot 4 inch Ralph Sampson and coached by former Celtic coach Bill Fitch, who just five years earlier had coached the Celtics to the championship.
Houston’s “Twin Towers” approach had shocked the NBA with their four to one defeat of the defending champ Laker squad in the Western Conference playoffs and they were looking to give the Celtic team the same medicine.
However with the best starting front line in NBA history along with the bench help of Walton, plus timely double teams from guard Dennis Johnson, Bird and the Celtics proved that experience would win out over youth in this match-up and the Celtics went on to capture their NBA best 16th championship four game to two.
Which leads us to my number 1 team in NBA history…
1. THE 1986-87 LOS ANGLES LAKERS – 65-17 REGULAR SEASON RECORD
SHOWTIME! In NBA circles in the 80’s this single term had come to describe one thing and one thing only The Los Angles Lakers, led by the incomparable Erwin “Magic” Johnson, complemented by the best offensive half court center of all time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, fast break gazelle’s such as James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green and defensive stopper Michael Cooper.
Magic averaged a career high of 23.9 points per game to help offset the need of Kareem to score. Plus he averaged a league high of 12.2 assists per game. The Lakers stormed through the regular season, winning 65 games.
Then in the playoffs they rolled through the Western conference with an 11-1 record to reach the finals again their rivals Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics who were making their fourth straight appearance in the NBA finals, a streak unseen since the previous Celtic dynasty from the 60’s.
However the wear and tear of making that many deep playoff runs had final taken its toll on the Celtics, with both Walton and Scott Wedman hurt and unable to contribute. That, coupled with the fact that the Celtics were extended to seven game series with both the Milwaukee Bucks and then the up and coming Detroit Pistons had Boston a worn and tired team.
But this was the Celtics, so a Well rested and motivated Laker team came out and blitzed the Celtics in the first two games in Los Angles. Back in Boston, however, Celtic pride emerged and the Celtics took game three with Bird pouring in 30 points in a 109-103 victory.
Pivotal game four in Boston Garden came down to a Celtic lead of two with Abdul-Jabbar at the line with two second remaining. Kareem hit the first one to cut the led to one, but missed the second, Boston failed to get the rebound and it went out of bounds and possession was awarded to the Lakers setting up one of the single greatest plays in NBA Finals history.
Magic Johnson took an inbounds pass on the left side, drove into the key and was met by McHale, Bird and Parish. Magic lofted a hook shot over Boston's tall trio and when the shot found net, the Lakers led by one.
With two seconds left after a timeout, Bird somehow got open for a jumper, but the shot rimmed out. The Lakers had stolen a game in Boston and would eventually win the series back in Los Angeles.
"You expect to lose on a sky-hook," Bird said later. "You don't expect it to be from Magic."
Overall the Lakers finished this season with a 80 and 20 record. Maybe not the best single season record of all time, but in this fans opinion definitely the best team of all time.
During a 10-year run from 1979 through 1988, the Lakers appeared in the finals a total of eight times winning five titles. Thanks for reading….