The NBA admits no mistakes. Either you finish the season on a high note or everything you’ve done in the year can vanish right before your eyes. Sometimes, not even having the better team will grant you success.
An NBA season has plenty of ups and downs. There are chemistry issues, trades, injuries, and even some bad luck. Anything can happen and that’s one of the biggest reasons why we love it that much.
We’ve seen plenty of teams dominate the league from the start since the dawn of history. However, some of them have been far ahead of the pack for the way they changed the game and crushed their opposition. Today, we’re about to honor those squads by putting together the ultimate ranking of the 30 best teams in NBA history:
30. 1994 Houston Rockets
Record: 58-24, 15-8 Playoffs
The NBA was up for grabs following Michael Jordan’s first retirement and Hakeem Olajuwon made sure to make the most of the opportunity now that the GOAT wasn’t looming around. He had one of the greatest seasons ever.
Olajuwon was named MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year that season. He led the Rockets to the 2nd seed in the Western Conference and got them past the Blazers, Suns, and Jazz in the playoffs.
Their reward would be facing non-other than Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in the Finals. The Dream averaged 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 3.6 blocks per game and led them to their first ring ever.
29. 1970 New York Knicks
Record: 60-22, 12-7 Playoffs
Most Knicks fans haven’t seen their team compete in quite a long time. That wasn’t the case in the early ‘70s, when the Knickerbockers were one of the driving forces in the league, especially during the 1969-70 season, when they posted the best campaign in franchise history.
Led by Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Dick Barnett, and Dave DeBusschere, the Knicks had an unstoppable offense that took them to a 23-1 start of the season and all the way to the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks beat the Baltimore Bullets and Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs before facing off vs. the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. They won the Championship in 7 games despite the great efforts of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain. Willis Reed was named both MVP and Finals MVP.
28. 1965 Boston Celtics
Record: 62-18, 8-4 Playoffs
The Boston Celtics were the most dominating force of the league in the ‘60s and by a long stretch. This time, they were coming off their 8th championship (7th straight) and were the main favorite to take the silverware home again that season.
Boston had a team full of Hall of Famers. Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, K.C Jones, Satch Sanders, and Tom Heinsohn put together a squad no other team in the world could match up against back in the day.
They had a first-round bye in the playoffs and then beat the Sixers in 7 games. They faced off vs. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in the Finals and got them in 5 games. Then again, the league wasn’t very competitive back then so these numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. But hey, they got the job done.
27. 2011 Dallas Mavericks
Record: 57-25, 16-5 Playoffs
The Dallas Mavericks are one of the most unlikely champions of all time. They beat the odds with a team full of hard-working veterans that were completely sold on the team’s idea. Hell, even Jason Terry got a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien trophy before the start of the season.
The Mavericks were a hard-nosed team that was never going to give up. Led by Dirk Nowitzki and player of the likes of Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, and Caron Butler, they ended up with the 3rd seed in the West.
They beat the Blazers in the 1st round, swept Kobe and the Lakers in the 2nd round, beat Durant, Harden, and Westbrook in the WCF, and then knocked down the Miami Heat’s Big 3 (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh) in 6 games in the Finals. Such a beautiful underdog story.
26. 1961 Boston Celtics
Record: 57-22, 8-2 playoffs.
We’ve already talked about the league’s lack of competitiveness in the early ‘60s. Still, we must give credit where it’s due and acknowledge the fact that the 1960-61 Boston Celtics were one of the most influential teams in NBA history.
Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, and Bill Sharman were all franchise players teaming up on the same squad, and that just wasn’t fair to the other 7 teams that played in the league back in the day.
With Red Auerbach’s tutelage, they got a 1st round bye, then beat the Syracuse Nationals in 5 games, and later the St. Louis Hawks in the Finals. It was the 4th championship in franchise history and their third straight win.
25. 1973 New York Knicks
Record: 57-25, 12-5 Playoffs
It’s always nice to see a team bounce back from a tough loss the prior campaign. That’s exactly what happened to the 1972-73 New York Knicks, who were dominated 4 games to 1 in the NBA Finals by Wilt Chamberlain and the almighty Los Angeles Lakers.
The Knicks were back on track next season and coach Red Holzman put together the best defense in the league. However, they finished in second in the Eastern Conference, trailing the Boston Celtics by 11 games.
Even so, the Knicks came through when it mattered the most: the playoffs. They demolished the Baltimore Bullets and Boston Celtics and then got back at the Lakers in 5 games. Willis Reed was named Finals MVP. Up to this day, this is still the last championship in franchise history.
24. 2004 Detroit Pistons
Record: 54-28, 16-7 playoffs
Nobody ever thought the Detroit Pistons would go the distance and win the NBA championship. They had the toughest defense the league had seen in ages and perfectly impersonated the heart and soul of the city and the franchise. That’s what led them to the ultimate stage.
The Pistons ended up the season with the 3rd seed in the East. Despite having just one All-Star on their roster (Ben Wallace), they got past the Bucks, Nets, and Pacers en route to the Finals. To make things even more impressive, the Pistons beat the Lakers’ infamous ‘Fab Four’.
Not even Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone were enough to disrupt their chemistry and elite defense and Chauncey Billups took the Finals MVP award home after beating them in 5 games. They put an end to the Lakers’ dynasty.
23. 1971 Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 66-16, 12-2 Playoffs
When the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Lew Alcindor out of UCLA, they went through an instant turnaround. However, it wasn’t until his sophomore year when he took them the distance and helped them win their first-ever NBA championship - and the only one to this date.
The Bucks added Oscar Robertson to the roster and their one-two punch led them to the best record in the league. They even put together a then-record 20-game winning streak en route to the playoffs.
Milwaukee beat the San Francisco Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs (they played in the Western Conference back then) and then swept the Baltimore Bullets in the FInals. Lew Alcindor led the league in scoring and was named the league’s MVP and Finals MVP.
22. 2009 Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 65-17, 16-7 Playoffs
The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off a heartbreaking loss in the Finals at the hands of their lifelong rivals: the Boston Celtics. But, in great Kobe Bryant fashion, the Black Mamba led the team back to the ultimate stage by playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Next to Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, Kobe led the Lakers to a 65-17 record, the best in the Western Conference. They beat the Jazz, Rockets, and Nuggets to make it back to the Finals and face the Orlando Magic.
Kobe was unstoppable in that series with averages of 32.6 points and 7.4 assists per game, so the Dwight Howard-led Magic fell in just 5 games. The Lakers won their first title since the Shaquille O’Neal era. Needless to say, Phil Jackson was named Coach of the Year and Kobe won his first Finals MVP award.
21. 2015 Golden State Warriors
Record: 67-15, 16-5 Playoffs
The Golden State Warriors had a long history of underperforming and falling short in the playoffs until Steve Kerr came along. He brought Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston with him and started Draymond Green over the injured David Lee. The rest, as you know by now, is history.
The league had never seen anything like this Warriors. The Splash Brothers were the most unstoppable backcourt in the world and it seemed like they could knock down shots from all over the court. Their free-motion offense and shifting defense led them to the 1st spot in the West.
So, after sweeping the Pelicans, beating the Grizzlies, and getting past the Rockets, the Warriors finished the season strongly by defeating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 6 games. Also, Stephen Curry became the first Warriors to win the MVP since Wilt Chamberlain in 1960.
20. 2003 San Antonio Spurs
Record: 60-22, 16-8 Playoffs
The San Antonio Spurs were already one of the rising forces in the Western Conference. David Robinson entered his final season and the team welcomed Manu Ginobili and brought back Steve Kerr for the 2003 season.
This campaign marked the official beginning of their legendary Big 3, with Tony Parker vastly improving from his rookie season. They finished with the best record in the league and Tim Duncan won his second MVP award.
The Spurs got past the Suns, then beat Kobe and Shaq in the second round, and made it to the Finals after topping the Mavericks. Then, they were just too much to handle for the New Jersey Nets in the Finals, beating them in 6 games. Duncan was named Finals MVP.
19. 1967 Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 68-13, 11-4 Playoffs
Wilt Chamberlain had completely dominated the regular season and had already established several marks and records in the league. Still, he hadn’t won when it mattered the most and drew a lot of criticism for his lack of championships. That narrative was dead after the 1966-67 season.
Next to Chelt Walker and Hal Greer, Chamberlain and his new coach Alex Hannum led the Sixers to the first spot in the Eastern Conference. They easily got past the Cincinnati Royals and then finally put an end to the Celtic’s dominance in the Conference Finals.
Then, it was Hal Greer the one who stood up in the Finals with averages of 26.0 points to complement Chamberlain’s 28.5 rebounds per game. The Sixers beat the San Francisco Warriors and Wilt 'The Stilt' was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
18. 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 57-25, 16-5
LeBron James promised Cleveland fans that he was going to deliver a Championship for his hometown. However, he hadn’t been able to fulfill that promise during his first stint with the team nor during the first year of his homecoming.
But, coming off a tough loss in the NBA Finals vs. the Golden State Warriors, James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were back at full strength next season to get the job done. This time, they could avoid injury and were prepared for the challenge of beating the Splash Brothers.
The Cavs were the 1st seed in the East. They beat the Pistons, Hawks, and Raptors in the road to the Finals. Then, they had to face the team that had just broken the record for most regular-season wins ever and became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. Obviously, LeBron was named Finals MVP after his heroic performances.
17. 2014 San Antonio Spurs
Record: 62-20, 16-7 Playoffs
The San Antonio Spurs were obsessed with going back to the Finals in 2014. According to Gregg Popovich, there wasn’t a day they didn’t mention how they let the 2013 Championship slip right through their fingers. They were on a mission and made sure to deliver.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan were aware of the fact that this could be his final run at a Championship. They put the team on their shoulders once again and led them to the 1st spot in the West.
The Spurs got past the Mavs, Blazers, and even the Thunder in the playoffs. Then, they demolished the Miami Heat in 5 games thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s surge and top-tier defense on LeBron James. They spoiled the Heat’s three-peat and pretty much sent LeBron back to Cleveland in the offseason.
16. 1998 Chicago Bulls
Record: 62-20, 15-6 Playoffs
The 1997-98 season was the Chicago Bulls’ last dance. Scottie Pippen was pushing for a trade, the team’s front office wanted to start a rebuild, Dennis Rodman was worn out, and Michael Jordan announced that he was going to retire if Phil Jackson didn’t come back to coach next season.
Everybody was trying to take the Bulls down. They had won back-to-back rings and 5 of the last 7 championships. The team got off to a slow start and it seemed like the magic was vanishing. Then again, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Toni Kukoc thought otherwise.
They finished the season strong, swept the Nets in the first round, beat the Hornets in 5, and then barely got past Reggie Miller and the Pacers in the ECF in 7 games. They went on to beat the Utah Jazz again in the Finals in six games and Jordan had the farewell he deserved with arguably the most iconic shot in NBA history.
15. 1983 Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 65-17, 12-1 Playoffs
The Philadelphia 76ers came up short in the 1982 NBA Finals vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. Then, they made a game-changing move when they acquired the league’s reigning MVP, Moses Malone after the Houston Rockets refused to pay him what he wanted as a free agent.
Needless to say, Malone was the missing piece on an already hard-nosed core of Julius Erving and Mo Cheeks, so it didn’t take long before the Sixers ruled the league. They got the 1st seed in the East and the best record overall.
The Sixers swept the New York Knicks in the first round, then beat the Milwaukee Bucks in 5, and put an end to their season with a 4-0 sweep vs. the Lakers. Moses Malone won his back-to-back MVP, the Finals MVP, and Bobby Jones was named Sixth Man of the Year.
14. 2008 Boston Celtics
Record: 66-16, 16-10 Playoffs
The Boston Celtics had the most overpowered roster in the league entering the 2007-08 season. They added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the offseason. Combined with Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Paul Pierce, they had a tough, physical squad on both ends of the floor.
Garnett was back at his best and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. However, despite their dominating regular season, they faced a tough path in the playoffs and even broke the record for most games played in the postseason (26).
The Celtics beat the Hawks, Cavaliers, and Pistons before facing off vs. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the Finals. They put an end to their two-year playoff drought by winning their first championship since 1986 and 17th in franchise history, which is a league-best.
13. 2013 Miami Heat
Record: 66-16, 16-7 Playoffs
LeBron James took his talents to the Miami Heat to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and dominate the league. Obviously, the plan worked out perfectly, as they had made it to back-to-back trips to the Finals and entered the season as the reigning champions after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder last year.
The Heat didn’t take their foot off the gas next season. Erik Spoelstra’s defense and their depth and Big 3 led the league in wins before beating the Bucks, Bulls, and Pacers to make it to their third straight Finals.
They had a pretty tough past there, though, as the San Antonio Spurs were on the verge of clinching the title on the road in game 6 until Ray Allen hit one of the most clutch triples in NBA history. The Heat won in overtime, forced game 7 and won the Championship at home, with James being named both regular-season and Finals MVP.
12. 1997 Chicago Bulls
Record: 69-13, 15-4 Playoffs
The Chicago Bulls entered the 1996-97 season as the reigning champions. Moreover, they had just broken the record for most regular-season wins in NBA history, so there was a lot of pressure on their shoulders about whether they could stay at the top or not.
Adding Robert Parish to an already impressive roster with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, and Steve Kerr, the Bulls led the East once again and finished with the 1st seed of the playoffs.
The Bulls easily handled the Bullets (Wizards), Hawks, and Heat. Then, they had the toughest task of the year by facing John Stockton and Karl Malone in the NBA Finals but a clutch shot by Steve Kerr granted them their 5th Championship ever.
11. 1985 Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 62-20, 15-4 Playoffs
The Lakers were the strongest team of the ‘80s but still, it felt like they just couldn’t shake off their woes vs. the Celtics in the Finals. They were coming off a seven-game loss vs. Boston and had lost 8 straight vs. them at that stage.
It was pretty clear that the Lakers played with a chip on their shoulders throughout the whole season. They had the highest offensive rating in the league thanks to the contributions of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott, and Bob McAdoo, with six of their players averaging double-digits in points.
They swept the Phoenix Suns, beat the Portland Trail Blazers, and defeated the Denver Nuggets before having a shot at vendetta. Then, finally, they got the best of the Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics and won their 9th championship.
10. 1981 Boston Celtics
Record: 62-20, 12-5 Playoffs
The 1980-81 Boston Celtics were dealt a major blow when Dave Cowens retired right before the start of the season. Nevertheless, that wasn’t going to stop them from contending at the highest level and going back to their winning ways after 5 years without a championship.
Coach Bill Fitch, Nate Archibald, Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, and the young Larry Bird led the Celtics to the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference. Then, they swept the Chicago Bulls in the first round and beat Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers in the ECF.
The Celtics put the cherry on top of the sundae by beating the almighty Moses Malone and his Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. Cedric Maxwell was named Finals MVP despite Bird’s averages of 15.3 points,15.3 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game.
9. 2017 Golden State Warriors
Record: 67-15, 16-1 Playoffs
The Golden State Warriors were coming their record-breaking season and only got better by signing Kevin Durant. They wanted to get back at the Cavaliers in the Finals, so the rest of the league had to deal with the most overpowered squad in decades.
Durant only made a team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green even scarier. They set the records for best start to the playoffs (15-0), best playoffs record (16-1), more games won by 40+ points (3), most All-Stars (4), and most games without back-to-back losses (146), among many others.
The Warriors swept the Blazers, Jazz, and Spurs en route to the Finals. They got their payback vs. LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers and beat them in 5 games. Durant was named Finals MVP and Draymond Green was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
8. 2001 Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 56-26, 16-1 Playoffs
With a prime Shaquille O’Neal, a rising Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson’s command, the Los Angeles Lakers were the most dominant team of the early ‘00s. And while the 2000-01 team didn’t win as many games like the ones from 00 or 02, they’d still go down as the best team from that era.
The Lakers got the 2nd seed in the West despite Shaq missing 16 games due to injury. They Swept all of their opponents in their conference (Blazers, Spurs, and Kings) en route to facing the Philadelphia 76ers in the Finals.
Allen Iverson was the only player that could take a game away from them in the playoffs. Other than that, the Lakers never took their feet off the gas and completely demolished their opposition. Shaquille O’Neal was named Finals MVP for the second straight time after averaging 33.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.4 blocks per game.
7. 1972 Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 69-13, 12-3 Playoffs
The Los Angeles Lakers were sick and tired of leaving under the Boston Celtics’ shadow so they took it up to themselves to finally take the league by storm in 1972. Up to this day, they still hold the record of 33 straight wins.
This team had to deal with the tough loss of Elgin Baylor, who retired 9 games into the season due to a knee injury. Still, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Jim McMillan were more than enough to get the job done.
The Lakers had the best offensive rating and second-best defensive rating in the league. They swept the Chicago Bulls, beat the Milwaukee Bucks, and then got past the New York Knicks in 5 games in the NBA Finals. Chamberlain was named Finals MVP for the only time on his career and Jerry West won his only championship.
6. 1989 Detroit Pistons
Record: 63-19, 15-2 playoffs
The Detroit Pistons of the late ‘80s were Michael Jordan’s kryptonite. In fact, there wasn’t a team in the league that was physical and tough enough to deal with the constant beating their bully defense gave their rivals.
I mean, there was a reason why these guys were called the Bad Boys. They literally tried to hurt their rivals every time they drove to the basket, but hey, it worked. Chuck Daly’s team finished first in the East and then swept the Celtics and Bucks before beating Jordan and the Bulls in 6 games.
They topped their great season by sweeping Magic Johnson and the Lakers in 4 games in the Finals. Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars (Finals MVP), Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, and Adrian Dantley were feared and despised around the league.
5. 1992 Chicago Bulls
Record: 67-15, 15-7 Playoffs
Michael Jordan had already made a statement. He beat Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals so now, he had to get back in the lab to let everybody know that he was the toughest man in town.
Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls took no prisoners on their pursuit for their second straight championship. They had the best record in the Eastern Conference and got easily past the Heat, Knicks, and Cavaliers in the playoffs.
Michael Jordan was named regular-season MVP and Scoring champion but he took it up a notch in the Finals. He was angry at people comparing him to Clyde Drexler, so he made sure the Blazers’ paid the price for it. He had one of the most iconic Finals performances ever by sinking 6 straight threes in Game 1 of the Finals and got the job done in just 6 games. Obviously, he was named Finals MVP.
4. 2016 Golden State Warriors
Record: 73-9, 15-9 Playoffs
The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are the only team featured on this list that didn’t win the NBA championship. They established countless NBA records, including the most regular-season wins in NBA history, passing the legendary 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
Stephen Curry was named the first unanimous MVP in the history of the game. He also won the Scoring title and led the league in steals on one of the most impressive seasons the league had ever seen. With Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green by his side, they beat the Rockets, Blazers, and Thunder in the playoffs.
The Warriors were on the verge of ending to their perfect season by hanging on to a 3-1 lead in the Finals vs. the Cavaliers. Sadly, they couldn’t contain LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and went on to lose 3 straight games. They still hold the record for most total wins in a season (88) but hey, you know what they say, it doesn’t mean a thing without the ring.
3. 1986 Boston Celtics
Record: 67-15, 15-3 Playoffs
If a franchise can brag about having some of the most dominant teams ever, that’s the Boston Celtics. But even amongst them, the one from 1985-86 stands out from the rest, as it’s the winningest team in franchise history and the third team with the most wins ever overall.
Led by Larry Bird, Bill Walton Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, this was the last great Celtics team before the Big 3 era. They had the best record in the league and then didn’t even swept in the playoffs, beating the Bulls, Hawks, and Bucks.
The Celtics put the cherry on top of the sundae by beating the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals behind Larry Bird’s averages of 24.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game. He was named Finals MVP, regular-season MVP, and Athlete of the Year, while Bill Walton won the 6th Man of the Year award.
2. 1987 Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 65-17, 15-3 Playoffs
The Los Angeles Lakers dominated the league in that decade like few teams on any major sports had done before. However, none of those Showtime Lakers entertained the crowd as much as the 1986-87 version.
Pat Riley and the Lakers had assembled a historically great team with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thompson, James Worthy, A.C Green, Byron Scott, and Kurt Rambis. Needless to say, they didn’t disappoint their fans whatsoever.
The Lakers were the best team in the West and then proceeded to handle the likes of the Nuggets, Warriors, and Sonics in the playoffs before beating their all-time rivals Boston Celtics in the Finals. Michael Cooper was named Defensive Player of the Year, while Magic Johnson won the MVP and Finals MVP award and led the league in assists.
1. 1996 Chicago Bulls
Record: 72-10, 15-3 Playoffs
If there’s ever a doubt that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, just take a look at what he accomplished with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, the greatest team in the history of the NBA, and arguably the most successful team in all major sports.
Jordan played his first full season after coming back from retirement and left things right where he left them. They set the record for most regular-season wins and the GOAT led them past the Heat, Knicks, and Magic in the playoffs.
It was like Michael had never left. In fact, it seemed like he had only gotten hungrier, angrier, and better. The Bulls put an end to their historically-great season by beating the Seattle Supersonics in 6 games. Jordan was named MVP, Finals MVP, and Scoring champion, while Toni Kukoc was named Sixth Man of the Year. The best part of it is that they were just getting started.