Ranking NBA's Title-Winning Teams of the Modern Era
Ask a parent of multiple children which one is their least favorite.
Chances are, doing so would be less painful than stacking one title-winning team against all the others. Every single one deserves love in its own way, and attempting to put them into some sort of order is a harrowing process.
Nonetheless, that's exactly what we're going to do for the 41 championship squads dating back to 1974, when the NBA started tracking steals, recording blocks and providing possession estimates. We're not doing so by picking names out of a hat or subjectively determining which is the most memorable.
It's all objective, and the order will be determined by using TeamRtng+ (explained in full here). Essentially, this metric looks at how much better a team's offensive and defensive ratings were than the league average during the year in question, then combines them to form an overall score, weighting each end of the court evenly. This neutralizes the effects of pace changes over the course of different eras and gives us an accurate picture of a team's strength.
Winning games isn't enough, as not every victory is created equally. To rise to the top of these rankings, you have to throughly and consistently destroy the opposition on a per-possession basis.
Each of the 41 relevant squads has two different scores for these rankings: TeamRtng+ for the regular season, and TeamRtng+ for the postseason. The average is the final score that will be used to determine the order, with each portion of the NBA season held on equal footing.
Playoff performance can be viewed as more important, as the stakes are higher and it ultimately determines the champion. But the regular season is played over a much longer period of time, and the sample is more indicative of a team's true strength.
In this analysis, the cream of the crop are those who just played at historic levels no matter what month it was.
But remember, even the teams that finish at the very bottom still won a title. They're better than the vast majority of the squads that have suited up throughout NBA history, and there's no reason to be ashamed of any spot in these rankings.
41. 1978 Washington Bullets (regular-season rank: 41; postseason rank: 35)
Not only were the 1978 Washington Bullets one of the least impressive title-winning teams during the playoffs, but they were the absolute worst during the regular season, only barely performing better than the league average on either end of the court.
Led by Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge, this was a 44-38 squad that earned the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. After a cushy first round against a .500 Atlanta Hawks unit, the Bullets did beat each of the two higher seeds in their half of the NBA, but it's still not enough to move out of the basement here.
40. 1995 Houston Rockets (regular-season rank: 40; postseason rank: 38)
This isn't because Hakeem Olajuwon and the 1995 Houston Rockets won a title while Michael Jordan was swinging and missing at baseballs for much of the year, putting his Chicago Bulls in a disadvantaged position for the playoffs. The Rudy Tomjanovich-coached Rockets simply didn't have much success during the regular season.
Winning 47 games throughout the year, they finished with the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, trailing the Los Angeles Lakers, Seattle SuperSonics, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs. And during the playoffs, they played below-average defense, relying on an unstoppable offense to carry them to a second consecutive championship.
39. 1979 Seattle SuperSonics (regular-season rank: 38; postseason rank: 40)
The Seattle SuperSonics didn't boast a dominant offense or a suffocating defense during the 1979 postseason. Instead, they made teams play at their relatively slow pace, enforced their will and gutted out one victory after another. They only outscored the opposition by 2.5 points per game, which was topped by the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Fred Brown made for one impressive core, but these Sonics were overachievers all year.
38. 1976 Boston Celtics (regular-season rank: 39; postseason rank: 37)
When the Boston Celtics won their second title without Bill Russell, two players stood out above all the rest for Tom Heinsohn's squad. Jo Jo White averaged 22.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists during the postseason, and he was still outdone by Dave Cowens, who was only a few years removed from winning MVP. The red-headed big man put up an astounding 21.0 points, 16.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks per game throughout the second season, and it was enough for a championship.
That said, the team as a whole didn't stand out—at least among the field of title-winning teams. Though the defense was truly incredible, the C's were well below average on the offensive end, posting more points per 100 possessions than only two of the other nine postseason squads.
37. 1994 Houston Rockets (regular-season rank: 31; postseason rank: 36)
Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe certainly made for a tremendous one-two punch, and the rest of the Houston Rockets roster was brimming over with talent. Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith and Robert Horry filled out the starting five, while players like Mario Ellie and Sam Cassell provided significant contributions off the pine.
But you need only look at this team's record to see proof of their low standing among title-winning outfits. After a 58-win season (one in which they overachieved significantly, based on the underlying metrics), they had to go to seven games in two different playoff series—first in the second round against the Phoenix Suns, then in the NBA Finals against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks.
36. 1988 Los Angeles Lakers (regular-season rank: 27; postseason rank: 41)
You wouldn't expect it from a team led by Magic Johnson, but the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers actually graded out worse than every other championship squad during the playoff portion of our methodology.
Scoring 114.1 points per 100 possessions, they were No. 4 in the postseason field, trailing just the Dallas Mavericks, Seattle SuperSonics and Atlanta Hawks. However, the Purple and Gold had a below-average defense under head coach Pat Riley, and that's not going to get the job done in this competition.
Is it any wonder the Lakers went to seven games in the NBA Finals and needed a triple-double from James Worthy to beat the Detroit Pistons by a mere three points?
35. 2006 Miami Heat (regular-season rank: 34; postseason rank: 30)
Free throws, free throws and then some more free throws.
That's the enduring legacy of the 2006 Miami Heat, who were led by Dwyane Wade's parade of charity shots and a couple throwback performances from Shaquille O'Neal. But those freebies also helped a slightly undeserving team win during the 2005-06 campaign. According to our scoring system, the Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs would've all ranked more favorably.
34. 2010 Los Angeles Lakers (regular-season rank: 30; postseason rank: 34)
This isn't just because the Finals MVP made only six of his 24 shots from the field in the championship-clinching Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics. Kobe Bryant was still outstanding during that final series, even if his shooting percentage checked in at just 40.5 percent.
The problem was the defense run by Phil Jackson's troops. These Los Angeles Lakers fell back to earth on both sides of the ball during the playoffs, even as they won a title, and the regression was especially significant on the point-preventing end. Allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions, they were exactly average.
33. 1975 Golden State Warriors (regular-season rank: 37; postseason rank: 25)
It may seem a bit strange to see a team that got out the brooms during the NBA Finals all the way down in the 30s. But even with head coach Al Attles leading Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes and everyone else, the Golden State Warriors weren't actually the most dominant squad in 1975. By our rating system, they would actually have finished behind the Washington Bullets, who were on the losing end of the beatdown.
Why? Not because of the playoffs, where the Dubs were quite obviously superior, but due to the regular season. That matters quite a bit here, and the 48-win Warriors weren't nearly on the same level as many other title-winning teams throughout NBA history—or losing squads, if the Bullets are any indication.
32. 1980 Los Angeles Lakers (regular-season rank: 28; postseason rank: 31)
Subjectively, this was one of the more memorable squads, especially because Magic Johnson jumped for the opening tip in the final game of the NBA Finals clash with the Philadelphia 76ers, then played center while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sat out.
But these Lakers still weren't historically impressive during the playoffs, finishing behind the Phoenix Suns in offensive rating and down at No. 4 in defensive rating during a year in which many teams were clumped right around the league-average marks. When you don't stand out during the year in question, it's inordinately tough to do so when compared to other teams that won their final game of the season.
31. 1974 Boston Celtics (regular-season rank: 35; postseason rank: 24)
Led by Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White, the Boston Celtics actually had a surprising amount of trouble during the playoffs. They dropped two games against the Buffalo Braves in the opening round, got by the New York Knicks in five games during the Eastern Conference Finals and then went the distance against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks, thriving under Tom Heinsohn's supervision.
However, the regular season was the bigger issue here for the 56-win team. That's an impressive record, but like many squads in this portion of the rankings who earned gaudy win-loss marks, it points toward a bit of overachieving.
30. 1977 Portland Trail Blazers (regular-season rank: 29; postseason rank: 28)
This wasn't a one-man team by any stretch of the imagination. Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Bob Gross and Dave Twardzik need some credit, and so too does Jack Ramsay for his coaching job. But it was still all about Bill Walton, who dominated during both the regular season and the playoffs.
Throughout the first 82 games of the year, the big man averaged 18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.2 blocks for the Portland Trail Blazers. And come playoff time, he posted 18.2 points, 15.5 boards, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 3.4 dimes during his typical outing. He wasn't enough to single-handedly lift the offense to historical levels during the playoffs, where it was actually a below-average unit, but the defense all but ensured a title.
29. 1982 Los Angeles Lakers (regular-season rank: 33; postseason rank: 26)
If only the 1982 Los Angeles Lakers were better on the defensive end...
During the regular season, Magic Johnson and Co. (105.5 defensive rating) were only slightly better than the league average (106.9), finishing behind nine of the other 22 teams in the Association. And when the playoffs rolled around, the Lakers were even closer to that league average. This time, they allowed only 0.3 fewer points per 100 possessions, putting them at No. 5 in the 12-team field.
28. 1984 Boston Celtics (regular-season rank: 22; postseason rank: 33)
These Boston Celtics were utterly dominant during the regular season, winning 62 games under K.C. Jones and thriving in that part of our grading process. However, they experienced a bit of a reality check during the postseason when the frontcourt declined on both ends. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale were both still effective—just not as excellent as they were earlier in the year.
In fact, two separate series—the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks and the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers—went the distance. As a result, Boston's overall winning percentage in the playoffs (0.652) was significantly worse than the regular-season mark (0.775).
27. 2011 Dallas Mavericks (regular-season rank: 32; postseason rank: 20)
It's only natural to wonder. We've already explained that some of these title-winning teams didn't even receive the highest score in the year they won the championship, so were the 2011 Dallas Mavericks better than the Miami Heat, who they beat during LeBron James' first season in South Beach?
Unfortunately for Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of that veteran-laden squad, the answer is no. Dallas' Total Rating was 102.664, while the Heat's was a slightly better 102.666. And interestingly enough, the Chicago Bulls (103.19) had the top score of the season, which would have left them ranked No. 22 in this countdown during the last full postseason Derrick Rose played in before injuries struck.
Throughout the regular season, the Mavs weren't as strong and used a ridiculous playoff run from Nowitzki to win the title and outdo what it's seed dictated it should. Sure, 57 wins during the regular season was a great total, But it was the remarkable playoff run that got them the title, not longstanding superiority.
26. 2002 Los Angeles Lakers (regular-season rank: 16; postseason rank: 32)
The 2002 Los Angeles Lakers were utterly fantastic during the regular season, winning 58 games and faring better than all but 15 of these title-winning squads. However, they declined rather dramatically during the postseason, no longer standing out to nearly the same extent.
Though the offense was still great, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, it was the defense that had more trouble. That was particularly true during the Western Conference Finals, when the Lake Show needed seven games to beat the Sacramento Kings and allowed its opponents to score 103.8 points per 100 possessions.
25. 2000 Los Angeles Lakers (regular-season rank: 7; postseason rank: 39)
The 2000 Los Angeles Lakers were quite similar to the 2002 team that completed the three-peat: They thrived during the regular season and didn't stand out nearly as much during the playoffs. In fact, they were even more extreme than their 2002 counterparts.
Based on TeamRtng+, the 2002 Lakers finished No. 16 and No. 32 among the 41 ranked title-winning teams during the regular season and postseason, respectively. These 2000 Lakers? No. 7 during the first 82 games, and No. 39 throughout the second season.
24. 1981 Boston Celtics (regular-season rank: 26; postseason rank: 21)
Unlike the Lakers squads that have occupied the last two spots, the 1981 Boston Celtics got better during the postseason. They were utterly dominant behind head coach Bill Fitch's adjustments, sweeping the Chicago Bulls in the second round, knocking down the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games during the next series and then beating the Houston Rockets in six to win a championship.
All in all, Larry Bird and the rest of the Boston Big Three scored 107.9 points per 100 possessions, putting them behind only the Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs. They were even better on defense, finishing behind only the Phoenix Suns in defensive rating.
23. 2003 San Antonio Spurs (regular-season rank: 24; postseason rank: 19)
It was the final season of David Robinson's career, and he teamed up with a young and dominant Tim Duncan to form one of the most terrifying playoff defenses of all time. Though the offense ultimately held these San Antonio Spurs back—in this competition, not in the race to a title—the Spurs were just that good at preventing points.
During the 2003 playoffs, the average team scored 105.1 points per 100 possessions. But during San Antonio's championship run, it allowed just 97.7. Putting up gaudy totals against the two interior towers was just about impossible, especially with Bruce Bowen patrolling the perimeter.
22. 1993 Chicago Bulls (regular-season rank: 20; postseason rank: 22)
Is it blasphemous to have one of Michael Jordan's six title-winning squads ranked outside the top 20? Probably, but you can at least take solace in the fact that none of his other five will be showing up for a significant amount of time.
Plus, this iteration was quite obviously the weakest of the six.
Not only did it win "just" 57 games during the regular season, making it the only one that didn't break past the 60-win barrier, but it was also merely average on the defensive end during both parts of the year. Still, it's not as if a squad with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and more quality parts was ever going to be too bad.
21. 2005 San Antonio Spurs (regular-season rank: 10; postseason rank: 27)
Though balanced during the playoffs, this was yet another brutally effective defensive squad throughout the regular season. With Gregg Popovich pacing the sidelines, Tim Duncan patrolling the interior and plenty of others shutting players down on the perimeter, these San Antonio Spurs simply couldn't be scored on.
Their 98.8 defensive rating was so much better than the league average (106.1) that by DRtng+, they still remain one of the 15 best point-preventing units in NBA history. Unfortunately, that didn't last during the playoffs, falling all the way down to 105.1, which ultimately holds them back.
20. 1990 Detroit Pistons
Regular-Season Rank: No. 23 (103.05 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 14 (103.66 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.36
The Detroit Pistons were strong enough during the regular season, winning 59 games and looking the part throughout the year. But they were even better during the playoffs, thanks to the defense tightening up.
These were the Bad Boys, after all.
With Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and co. ready to lock down every opponent under the sun, these Pistons fit in perfectly with the playoff style. Possessions mattered more, it was harder to draw foul calls from the referees and physicality reigned supreme, regardless of who they were squaring off with.
First, the Pistons swept the Indiana Pacers in the three-game opening round. After that, they took down the New York Knicks, only dropping a single contest in the process. Then came the toughest matchup of all.
But ultimately, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls fell in seven games. The legendary 2-guard averaged 32.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists during the Eastern Conference Finals, but he still fell prey to the famed Jordan Rules, which also helped lock down nearly everyone else on the Windy City roster.
With the Bulls out of the way, only the Portland Trail Blazers stood between Detroit and consecutive championships. Five games later, no one did.
19. 2007 San Antonio Spurs
Regular-Season Rank: No. 6 (104.57 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 29 (102.16 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.37
Few regular-season teams have ever been better than the 2007 San Antonio Spurs, who used a potent offense and suffocating defense to win 58 of their 82 games.
Tim Duncan was incredible all year (surprise, surprise), Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were both squarely in the midst of their primes and a host of veteran role players and bench contributors made significant impacts.
Opponents only managed to score in triple figures 14 times during the regular season, and just twice did they put up more than 106 points. Even more incredibly, two of those 14 performances required overtime periods.
It was just that difficult to put up huge numbers against this defensive machine.
San Antonio couldn't quite keep up that pace once the playoffs rolled around, but that's largely because the Spurs had to go up against the high-scoring Phoenix Suns and the "seven seconds or less" offense. For that reason alone, they're a bit underrated here, especially if you only look at their work against a young LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not only did the Spurs sweep their foes in the NBA Finals, but they allowed the Cavs to score 76, 92, 72 and 82 points in their four outings.
18. 1983 Philadelphia 76ers
Regular-Season Rank: No. 17 (103.6 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 17 (103.21 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.41
Talk about consistency.
The Philadelphia 76ers finished both the regular season and the playoffs as the No. 17 team among the 41 title-winning squads analyzed here, and they did so with a healthy mix of quality play on both ends of the floor. During the postseason, the defense took over, but it's not as if the Julius Erving-led offense just stopped scoring points.
Plus, the Sixers didn't exactly have much trouble sweeping their way through the field. This was the year that Moses Malone, a new addition to the Sixers who sparked offseason hope of a 70-win season and a championship, made his infamous "Fo', Fo' Fo,'" prediction, alluding to Philly's hope of winning a title in undefeated fashion.
It turned out to be "Fo', Fi', Fo'."
The only dropped contest came against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 4, which featured Erving and Malone uncharacteristically combining for just 36 points on 14-of-36 shooting from the field, was a 100-94 victory for the underdogs.
After the Sixers closed things out in the next game, they didn't have much trouble with the Los Angeles Lakers in the final round, taking advantage of a squad that no longer boasted the presence of James Worthy—who was out with a broken leg.
"It would have been hard to beat them, even if we were healthy," Lakers guard Michael Cooper later admitted, per NBA.com's Michael Bradley. "They were like us in '85, after we had lost to Boston in '84. They were on a mission."
Note: With a total rating of 103.41 heading into the NBA Finals, the 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers would rank just ahead of these Sixers.
17. 1989 Detroit Pistons
Regular-Season Rank: No. 25 (102.87 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 9 (104.09 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.48
The Detroit Pistons were not going to be denied in 1989, claiming the first title in the long history of a franchise that had been around ever since the BAA days in the 1940s. And it was especially sweet after making the playoffs each of the previous five seasons and falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals.
This wasn't the year that Isiah Thomas sprained his ankle and still put up a 25-point quarter; that came during Game 6 of the aforementioned Finals. But the Hall of Fame point guard still put up some exemplary showings, averaging 18.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists during the 1989 postseason.
While the Pistons were marvelously successful during the Association's second season, dropping only two games in the Eastern Conference Finals when they matched up with the Chicago Bulls, it is their regular season that holds them back here.
After all, the midseason trade that sent Adrian Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aguirre forced the Pistons to figure out how to rebuild offensive chemistry halfway through the season, and they finished the year ranked just No. 7 in offensive rating. Without beating the league average by much in the scoring column and "only" ranking third in defensive rating, this wasn't a dominant enough squad to finish in the top half of our 41 regular-season contenders.
16. 2012 Miami Heat
Regular-Season Rank: No. 21 (103.15 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 12 (103.88 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.52
There was a lot that made the Miami Heat's 2012 victory special, and I'm not just referring to the fact that LeBron James finally managed to get the monkey off his back.
This was a year loaded with elite teams, even if the South Beach representatives didn't have to play all of them during the postseason. The San Antonio Spurs, had they maintained their numbers but won the title, would've ranked No. 18 in this countdown, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who the Heat disposed of in the Finals, would've come in at No. 26.
On top of that, the Heat had been embarrassed by the Dallas Mavericks one year earlier, forced into passive play by the defensive schemes of Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle. This was a redemption campaign, and the Heat collectively turned the intensity up a few notches once the postseason rolled around.
The playoffs weren't easy.
Miami fell to the New York Knicks once during the opening round, won in six games against the Indiana Pacers and then went the distance against the Boston Celtics just to get out of the East and meet the Kevin Durant-led Thunder. But as you've probably gathered by now, wins and losses aren't the ultimate barometer.
15. 2004 Detroit Pistons
Regular-Season Rank: No. 18 (103.49 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 11 (103.95 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.72
Was this a starless squad? Not exactly, as Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote last April:
Something tells me we would have labeled him [Ben Wallace] a top-10 player if he were performing at that elite level today.
He was nothing less than one of the single greatest defensive players in NBA history during the 2003-04 season. That's not hyperbole; that's a statistically irrefutable fact.
We shouldn't readily concede, then, that the 2003-04 Pistons lacked a top-10 star.
And yet, even with Ben Wallace thriving, it was Chauncey Billups who essentially served as the face of this team. He took the big shots, put up the glamorous numbers and led the two-way charge that ultimately resulted in a title run and ended with a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
But perhaps the reason the starless reputation persists is the mentality of this team. It actually didn't need a celestial entity on the roster, instead content to shut down everyone it squared off against.
During the regular season, Detroit was so suffocating that, by adjusted defensive efficiency, it ranks as the No. 11 defense in NBA history. And it didn't decline much during the postseason.
The adjusted defensive efficiency fell from 107.86 to 107.39, which, according to my databases, would be a top-10 mark in playoff history among teams that won at least one series.
14. 2009 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular-Season Rank: No. 15 (103.8 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 13 (103.75 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.77
What's truly crazy about the 2009 Los Angeles Lakers is that they didn't even finish with the top score during the year in which they won the title. That honor actually belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won 66 games during the regular season and thrived in the playoffs before losing to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
How good were LeBron James, Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the rest of the Cavs? Well, even with the loss, they finished the go-round with a Total Rating of 104.77, which would've left them ranked at No. 3 in this countdown.
But this isn't about teams that fell early, and the Lakers did ultimately win the championship, completing 2008-09's other historic campaign. After all, the Purple and Gold played their way to a 65-17 record during the regular season and won three of their four playoff series in decisive fashion. The only exception came during the Western Conference Semifinals, when they needed seven games to knock off the Houston Rockets.
From start to finish, this was a dominant squad. There was no lackluster regular season, drawn down by injuries or bouts with ineffectiveness. There was no postseason decline that still resulted in a title.
It ain't easy to rank in the top 15 among the 41 title-winning teams for both portions of the year, but that's exactly what Kobe Bryant and the rest of these Lakers managed to do—if only barely. Pau Gasol made a huge impact, even leading the Lake Show in win shares, and we can't just overlook the contributions of standout rotation members like Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher.
13. 2013 Miami Heat
Regular-Season Rank: No. 12 (104.08 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 15 (103.5 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.79
LeBron James' second ring-earning squad actually played a bit worse than the first one during the playoffs, but it was vastly superior during the regular season. Even though the Miami Heat seemed to sleepwalk through some stretches of the year, they still finished with a 66-16 record, thoroughly dominating on both ends of the court.
Were the Heat the best in the league at either defense or offense during the 2012-13 campaign? Nope, but they were at least close in both.
When it came to preventing points, Miami did so quite well, even without top-notch interior presences to protect the rim or a strong rebounding threat to end possessions. Using Erik Spoelstra's aggressive perimeter schemes that asked for constant traps, it allowed just 103.7 points per 100 possessions, allowing it to finish at No. 9 throughout the Association.
All the while, the Heat posted a 112.3 offensive rating, narrowly losing out to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the pole position in that category. Finally, the Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together and lived up to their full scoring potential.
The combination resulted in a truly excellent regular season squad that verified its greatness with a run to the franchise's second consecutive title.
12. 1985 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular-Season Rank: No. 19 (103.29 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 8 (104.29 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.79
Beating the 1985 Los Angeles Lakers during the playoffs was just about impossible.
The Phoenix Suns tried first, but behind some fantastic play from just about everyone—seriously, Mike McGee averaged a team-high 19.7 points per game—the Lakers won all three games during an offensively geared series. Better yet, they won by a combined 61 points.
Next up were the Portland Trail Blazers, who managed to steal Game 4 on their home court but fell for the final time in the very next contest. This time, it was unquestionably the Magic Johnson show. The legendary point guard averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 17.0 assists while shooting 56.5 percent from the field.
In the Western Conference Finals, Alex English and the Denver Nuggets attempted to slow down the juggernaut from Los Angeles. Spoiler alert: They couldn't. Five games later, the Lakers were in the NBA Finals, and Byron Scott, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all put up at least 20 points during their average outings.
The Boston Celtics actually pushed the Lakers to Game 6, but they couldn't get the job done, either.
No one could in 1985.
11. 1998 Chicago Bulls
Regular-Season Rank: No. 13 (103.89 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 10 (104.01 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 103.95
In terms of unforgettable moments, the 1998 Chicago Bulls would have to rank even higher.
After all, this was the team that won a title when Michael Jordan created space—whether legally or illegally—against Bryon Russell, elevated and then knocked down the game-winning shot against the Utah Jazz, one that would serve as his last shot for the Windy City. And it's not as if that was his only memorable contribution during that NBA Finals' last game.
He was a one-man team down the stretch.
But even beyond Jordan, the list of top-notch contributors on this squad was just ridiculous.
Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper and Luc Longley joined him as starters who got to hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy, and that was such a strong starting five that Steve Kerr and Dennis Rodman had to come off the bench.
How exactly do you beat a team like that?
Well, most squads didn't in 1997-98. Chicago compiled a 62-20 record during the regular season then went 15-6 during the playoffs en route to the sixth title in franchise history.
10. 1992 Chicago Bulls
Regular-Season Rank: No. 4 (105.14 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 16 (103.26 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.2
One of the most dominant regular-season teams in NBA history kicks off the top 10.
The 1992 Chicago Bulls were fresh off winning the first title in franchise history, and they weren't going to let reaching the pinnacle of the sport detract from their motivation. All they did was win 67 games while thoroughly embarrassing opponents on both ends of the floor.
Led by the Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls only lost four regular-season games by double digits.
On offense, they were simply in a class of their own. Chicago scored 115.5 points per 100 possessions—1.6 more than the Cleveland Cavaliers and everyone else in the 27-team Association. And defensively, they "only" finished at No. 4 with a 104.5 defensive rating, trailing the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks and Portland Trail Blazers.
That's a devastating combination, and it only declined slightly during the postseason. The Bulls had a bit more trouble scoring efficiently, but they still breezed through the first round against the Miami Heat and then overcame a number of tough tests to earn back-to-back titles. Working past Patrick Ewing's New York Knicks, Mark Price's Cleveland Cavaliers and Clyde Drexler's Portland Trail Blazers is no easy feat.
9. 2008 Boston Celtics
Regular-Season Rank: No. 3 (105.6 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 23 (102.92 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.26
As the saying goes, defense doesn't always win championships. But for the 2008 Boston Celtics, it certainly did.
During the regular season, one in which Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the rest of the C's put together a run that only a handful of teams in NBA history have matched, no one could really score on them. By adjusted defensive efficiency, this was the eighth-best point-preventing squad ever—notably, five of those ahead included Bill Russell.
And while the C's didn't live up to their regular-season standards after they finished the 82nd game of the campaign, they remained quite good on the less glamorous end. They were just matched up against tougher opponents on a regular basis, and they still overcome everyone they faced.
On the defensive end, anything truly was possible for these green-clad warriors. That wasn't quite true on offense, but it's not as if this team lacked weapons.
Rajon Rondo was breaking into the league, while the combination of Pierce, Garnett and Allen—all in their primes at the time—was enough to put up gaudy figures on a regular basis.
8. 2001 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular-Season Rank: No. 36 (101.76 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 1 (106.77 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.27
No team has ever been more dominant during the playoffs.
None. Ever. Period. End of discussion.
First, the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers swept the Portland Trail Blazers. After that, they got out the brooms against the Sacramento Kings and then went unbeaten in the Western Conference Finals, where they easily got past the San Antonio Spurs. They lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers, ending dreams of an unbeaten postseason, but they won the next four games and earned a ring for the second consecutive year.
Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were both absolute monsters. The former averaged 30.4 points, 15.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.4 steals and 2.4 blocks while shooting 55.5 percent from the field, and the latter recorded 29.4 points, 7.3 boards, 6.1 dimes, 1.6 steals and 0.8 rejections during his typical outing.
And yet, this was still more than a two-man effort.
The team as a whole posted the postseason's best offensive rating, scoring 3.6 more points per 100 possessions than any other squad. The defense followed suit, allowing three fewer points than everyone else over the same stretch.
That's simply unmatched, and it carries a team that actually finished No. 21 in regular-season defensive rating into one of the premier positions. Make no mistake, this point-preventing unit looked completely different and far more motivated once the games started to matter more.
7. 2014 San Antonio Spurs
Regular-Season Rank: No. 14 (103.88 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 6 (104.69 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.28
The 2014 San Antonio Spurs just kept getting better and better throughout the year.
Going into the All-Star break, they were 38-15, putting the team on pace for a 59-win season. But the Spurs finished the campaign with 62 victories and entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed in a loaded Western Conference.
Then they struggled against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and, again, just kept getting better as they advanced deeper into the playoffs. Their season ended with a 4-1 NBA Finals victory over the two-time defending champs. Notably, Kawhi Leonard held his own—and then some—against LeBron James and the mighty Miami Heat.
During that series, San Antonio played picture-perfect basketball at times, completing a postseason in which the Spurs finished No. 2 in offensive rating and No. 3 in defensive rating. The ball moved seamlessly, often finding the hands of multiple players without hitting the floor even once, then leading to a wide-open shot. It was an exhibition in fundamentally sound play, and the Heat didn't even stand a chance.
Talk about peaking at the right time.
6. 1997 Chicago Bulls
Regular-Season Rank: No. 2 (105.71 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 18 (103.17 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.44
You all know about the Flu Game, when Michael Jordan scored 38 points in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz before collapsing into the arms of Scottie Pippen and requiring help just to get off the court. But in some ways, that's overshadowed what this 1997 Chicago Bulls squad did throughout the year.
The Flu Game was by no means the only memorable part of this season.
Only one team has ever posted better numbers than this Jordan-led squad during the regular season, and we'll come to them when we get to the final spot in the countdown. The '97 Bulls produced a sparkling 69-13 record, led the league in offensive rating and still managed to put up a top-five defensive rating.
There really wasn't a glaring weakness here. Well, during the regular season, at least.
Chicago wasn't perfect during the playoffs, going 15-4 on its run to the franchise's fifth title of the decade. Impressive as it sounds, that's "only" good for a 68-win pace over an 82-game season, which means the Bulls weren't quite up to the standards set during the first part of the campaign.
Plus, the offense was only average—among playoff teams, that is—during the postseason. The schemes changed slightly, and missed shots kept them from blowing the rest of the NBA out of the water on the scoring end.
Note: With a total rating of 104.51 heading into the NBA Finals, the 2015 Golden State Warriors would rank just ahead of these Bulls.
5. 1999 San Antonio Spurs
Regular-Season Rank: No. 5 (104.67 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 7 (104.41 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.54
The 1999 San Antonio Spurs are the first team that finished in the top 10 during both the regular season and the playoffs. And they one-upped even that set of qualifiers by ranking in the top seven for both. The only other team that can claim that occupies the No. 1 spot in this countdown.
Just as always seemed to be the case while Tim Duncan and David Robinson were patrolling the paint, defense ruled the day.
A lockout shortened the 1998-99 season, and teams only played 50 games. Nonetheless, it's still quite impressive that only five contests featured an opponent in triple digits—the Sacramento Kings actually accomplished the feat twice—and one of those matchups went to overtime.
During the playoffs, a similar story unfolded.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the only team to score more than 90 points in a postseason game against the Spurs—hitting 107 and 91 but still losing both outings. No one else could get past 89, which is absolutely insane, even given the relatively slow pace of the late '90s.
4. 1986 Boston Celtics
- 131 points to the Bulls in a double-overtime game
- 111 to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals
- 111 to the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Regular-Season Rank: No. 9 (104.39 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 5 (104.86 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.62
Stopping the 1985-86 Boston Celtics was difficult enough during the regular season, as they won 67 games while emerging as one of the league's best teams on both sides of the ball. Not only did the Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish finish with the No. 3 offensive rating in the Association, but it also earned the top defensive rating, narrowly edging out the Milwaukee Bucks.
Oh, and this team was even more dominant during the playoffs.
While Boston's offense moved in the wrong direction, it was virtually impossible to score on this team. Before reading any further, keep in mind that the paces of the late 1980s were heavily inflated, featuring teams that played at a far quicker tempo than is commonly used today.
The C's allowed only 104.1 points per game during the postseason, and that's including a double-overtime victory against a young Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, one in which Boston gave up 131 points in a win. No other team allowed fewer than 106.4, and the postseason average was 110.7.
To look at this another way, the Celtics only gave up more points than the NBA playoff average on three occasions:
During those games, Bird's crew was still 2-1.
3. 1987 Los Angeles Lakers
Regular-Season Rank: No. 11 (104.22 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 4 (105.09 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 104.65
If you expected to slow down the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1987 postseason, you were in for a rude awakening. Much like the Boston Celtics from one season earlier, this was a terrific team during the first 82 games that got even better when the pressure cooker was turned all the way up.
In the opening round, Magic Johnson steered his team to a 3-0 series victory over the Denver Nuggets, averaging 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 14.3 assists as the Lakers won the average game by a mind-numbing 27.3-point margin. The offense simply couldn't be stopped, putting up at least a 128-spot in every outing.
And the Lake Show didn't slow down by much in later rounds.
Though Los Angeles did drop a game to the Golden State Warriors in the next series, the remarkably deep Lakers rotation still scored 122.6 points per game. The Dubs? Only 112.
Then, the Western Conference Finals saw the Lakers sweep the overmatched Seattle SuperSonics, outscoring their latest opponent by 11.3 points per game. Through three rounds, Johnson and the rest of the purple-and-gold-clad stars had managed to outdo every opposing unit by double digits in the average outing.
That changed in the NBA Finals against a terrific Celtics squad—L.A. won by 4.2 points per game in the 4-2 series victory—but this was still one heck of a run.
2. 1991 Chicago Bulls
Regular-Season Rank: No. 8 (104.39 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 2 (106.12 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 105.27
Few teams have rampaged through the field quite like the 1991 Chicago Bulls did, and it validated the years it took for them to reach this point.
In 1985, 1986 and 1987—the first three postseason appearances of Michael Jordan's career—the future champions lost in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. In 1988, they advanced to the conference semifinals before the Detroit Pistons and their Jordan Rules bit them. The next two years also saw the Bad Boys take down the Bulls, both times in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But in 1991, the Bulls experienced a healthy dose of vindication.
First, a 3-0 sweep of the New York Knicks. Then, a five-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers, one in which Chicago won by 8.8 points per contest. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls and Pistons met for the third straight time, but it only took four games for Chicago to advance victoriously, making the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
It would've been easy for the Bulls to take a deep breath and relax after vanquishing their long-time foes. But they didn't, instead toppling the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. When it was all said and done, they'd won a title with a 15-2 postseason record.
And they're still not even the best Bulls squad in these rankings.
1. 1996 Chicago Bulls
Regular-Season Rank: No. 1 (106.38 TeamRtng+)
Postseason Rank: No. 3 (105.92 TeamRtng+)
Total Rating: 106.15
Was there any doubt?
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are quite easily the greatest team in NBA history, winners of a record 72 games during the regular season. But there's more to it than the win total, and not just because Michael Jordan's top squad only lost three playoff games en route to the title.
During the first 82 contests of the year, the Bulls scored 115.2 points per 100 possessions, which was 1.9 more than the Utah Jazz and everyone else in the Association. But on top of that, they also gave up just 101.8 during the same stretch, allowing them to edge out the Seattle SuperSonics (their eventual NBA Finals foes) for another No. 1 finish.
Combine the two, and you're looking not only at the top regular-season finish among title-winning teams, but also the best score of all time from anyone, beating the 1997 Bulls by a relatively wide margin. And did they drop off during the playoffs?
Chances are, this will remain the best title-winning squad for a long time.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.