Based on their current winning percentages, both the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs (who faced off against one another last night, ironically) should technically be considered two of the top three regular season teams of all time.
That’s probably good news for at least one of those organizations because heading into this season, 23 of the top 50 all-time regular season teams did ultimately win the NBA championship later that year.
In other words, to say that Golden State’s quest for 73 wins or San Antonio’s quest for a perfect single-season home record could be wearing those organizations out emotionally to the point where a ring may prove elusive is unfair. Plenty of teams have weathered the grind of breaking massive records like this. Obviously the Chicago Bulls won the title the year they set the regular season record, as did the 1972 L.A. Lakers before them and the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers before them.
Taking that into consideration, here’s a look at the 10 best regular season teams in league history (not including this year, which is still in flux), and how things ended up for them following their grueling campaigns in pursuit of all those victories. There’s plenty of gold at the end of those rainbows, but also a surprising amount of disappointment.
#6T – 2014-15 Golden State Warriors (67-15) – What better place to start than with the team that won the championship last year and only has lost nine games since that point? In 2014-15, the Warriors won just a ton of contests, starting 10-2 and eventually winning a franchise-record 16 games in a row, as well as 19 in a row at home at one point. Eventual MVP Stephen Curry broke the record for three-pointers made in a season (a record he broke again this season, for what it’s worth), while other Warriors smashed records of their own. Klay Thompson broke the NBA record for most points in a quarter with 37, Steve Kerr set the record for most wins ever by a rookie head coach, and the team shattered the record for three-pointers made by a team in a season (dropping in 525 for the year). Golden State won the championship last spring rather handily, toppling LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 and giving the franchise its first title in four decades.
#6T – 1985-86 Boston Celtics (67-15) – Depending on who you ask, this particular group could be considered the most gifted top-to-bottom NBA roster in league history, and their outstanding regular season performance is a big reason why. Larry Bird put together arguably the finest season of his career that year, averaging 25.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 6.8 APG and two SPG over the full season. It was enough to earn him the league MVP in 1986, while Bill Walton, who played a career-high 80 games, was named Sixth Man of the Year. The roster also featured Robert Parrish, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson, the latter of which was given the NBA Finals MVP that year for his defensive efforts. Boston won the title in six games, the last championship of the Bird Era.
#6T – 1991-92 Chicago Bulls (67-15) – Coming off of the franchise’s (and Michael Jordan’s) first-ever championship in 1991, the Bulls proved to be one of the more motivated defending NBA champs in league history. A big part of the team’s leap that year was the development of Scottie Pippen, who averaged 21 PPG while also putting up more assists and rebounds than Jordan for the first time in his career. Jordan, for his part, won his sixth consecutive scoring title and his third MVP trophy that season, all of which was enough to slingshot them into a tough Eastern Conference playoff picture that wrapped up with the Bulls winning a second title, this time at the expense of the Portland Trail Blazers.
#6T – 1999-00 L.A. Lakers (67-15) – With Kobe Bryant retiring at the end of the season, it’s a perfectly appropriate time to wax nostalgic on what has to be considered the best top-to-bottom team of his career. He still was pretty clearly second-fiddle to MVP Shaquille O’Neal that year, but a team that featured both those guys in their primes, as well as elite role players like Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Ron Harper and Derek Fisher, understandably coasted through an insanely successful regular season. O’Neal was a force, leading the league in both scoring (29.7 PPG) and field goal percentage (.574) on the way to his first championship. He’d win three more, but it never would come as easy it did at the turn of the century.
#6T – 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks (67-15) – Only two of the top 10 regular season teams of all-time failed to win a championship, and this particular Mavericks squad was one of them. After having won 60 games the season prior, the ’06-’07 Mavericks absolutely ran through the league as an encore performance, led by MVP Dirk Nowitzki’s monster season in which he averaged 24.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG and 3.4 APG while shooting a career-high 50.2 percent from the field. He also topped 40 percent from deep and 90 percent from the charity stripe, making him only the fourth player in league history to join the 50-40-90 club. Unfortunately, with such a huge lead in their division, Avery Johnson chose to rest a lot of his key players down the stretch, which led to one of the biggest playoff upsets in NBA history. Rusty from their collective layoff, the Mavs dropped their first-round matchup to Baron Davis and the Golden State Warriors – spoiling Nowitzki’s best season as a pro.
#4T – 1972-73 Boston Celtics (68-14) – To be the winningest team in any franchise’s history is an honor, but to put up more regular season wins than any other team in Celtics history is particularly special. That’s what the 1972-73 Celtics did in a regular season that saw Dave Cowens win MVP, Tommy Heinsohn win Coach of the Year and John Havlicek, Paul Silas and Don Chaney all earn appearances on either the All-NBA First Team or Second Team. Unfortunately, this crew didn’t even make the Finals, losing to the eventual champion New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals but even with the disappointment it’s still hard to argue with the success of 68 wins.
#4T – 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers (68-13) – Coming off an offseason coaching change that saw the team welcome 43-year-old Alex Hannum to the head of the frontlines, the talented Sixers took his new approach to playing and turned it into one of the best seasons any team has ever strung together. This was a Wilt Chamberlain team (and one of the years in which he would win MVP), and he made a league-record 68 percent of his shots and knocked down a league-record 875 free throws. He scored 24 PPG, led the league in rebounds and blocks, and set a record in assists for centers with over eight per game. The efforts of legends like Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham and especially Hal Greer can’t be overlooked, either, as they all chipped in to orchestrate what some consider to be the best basketball team in the history of the game. Wilt only ever got two rings in his career, and this crew landed one of them.
#2T – 1971-72 L.A. Lakers (69-13) – This, of course, was the other time that Wilt Chamberlain won a title. This time, he did it as a member of the Lakers. There really is no question that he was the best player on that team, though Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Jim McMillian all had great seasons, as well. Chamberlain, West and Elgin Baylor all had come into the season having dealt with injury issues in years past, but new head coach Bill Sharman got the most out of his aging squad and broke what was then only a five-year-old record for the most wins in an NBA regular season. Baylor retired only nine games into the record-setting campaign, but McMillian picked up his slack and helped the team put together a record 33-game win streak, a mark that still stands today. It only took them five games to dismantle the Knicks in the NBA Finals, solidifying them as one of history’s all-time greatest basketball teams.
#2T – 1996-97 Chicago Bulls (69-13) – While Steph Curry and the Warriors continue to chase the No. 1 team on this list, they already have solidified themselves as the second-best regular season team in NBA history at the very worst, something that comes at the behest of the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, who would, of course, go on to win the championship in 1997. Everything that made the 72-win Bulls great the year before also made this team great, which is why this season really was a continuation of the previous year’s dominance. Before 2016, the top two regular season teams in league history were put together by essentially the same group of guys in back-to-back campaigns. That’s beyond ridiculous and one of the many, many reasons guys like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are in the Hall of Fame.
#1 – 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10) – A little over halfway through the 1994-95 season, Michael Jordan returned to basketball after a brief hiatus into the world of baseball, and it didn’t end well for him. His Airness looked older, out of shape and out of practice, and the Chicago Bulls fell to the Orlando Magic in the playoffs that year – the first time Jordan had tasted any measure of postseason defeat since 1990. The next year he came out firing on all cylinders, leading an NBA team to 70 wins for the first time in league history and of course returning the Bulls to their mantle as NBA champions after a two-year reprieve. This was Dennis Rodman’s first season with the team and Jordan’s first full year with Toni Kukoc, though truthfully it was Jordan and Pippen that made that magic year come together. So far, their record still stands.
Here are the trends we take away from this assemblage of greatness: Of the 10 best teams in NBA regular season history, eight of them featured the league MVP and eight of them would go on to win the NBA championship.
In any context, an 80 percent chance of achieving something is undeniably strong, but there’s a wrinkle this year; those odds are worsened for both the Spurs and Warriors since they both appear likely to finish among the top 12 regular season teams of all time. That’s never happened before, and it means that, despite history, neither has greater than a 50 percent chance of winning the title.
And that’s what is truly remarkable about this NBA season, that two teams are doing this rather than just one. We already know that Stephen Curry is going to win MVP, but if history is any indication, either the Warriors or Spurs are headed for another championship this summer.
NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins
Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.
Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.
By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.
Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.
On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.
Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.
Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?
That may be pricisely the case here.
Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.
We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.
For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.
In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.
Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.
That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.
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With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.
The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.
At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.
In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.
Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.
Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.
Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.
And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.
NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”