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NBA AM: The Best All-Time Regular Season Teams

These are the top 10 regular season teams of all-time, but how many actually won the NBA title?

Joel Brigham

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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.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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