As the League continues to celebrate its 75th season, we’ve dedicated an entire special issue, SLAM Presents TOP 75 NBA Teams of All Time (shop here), to ranking the best 75 individual season teams ever. We argued and shouted at each other for a while, eventually deciding that our north star in these debates would be to look for the squads that dominated whoever it was they were playing against.
We know there will probably be some disgruntled fans out there, but we’ve come up with a list that we’re standing by. Here’s our top 66-75 best teams of all time:
75. 1997-98 Indiana Pacers
Coach: Larry Bird
Roster: Travis Best, Etdrick Bohannon, Austin Croshere, Antonio Davis, Dale Davis, Fred Hoiberg, Mark Jackson, Derrick McKey, Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin, Mark Pope, Jalen Rose, Rik Smits, Mark West
Yes, the ’97-98 Pacers lost a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series to the Bulls, but this was an extremely strong team. Indy was the next-to-last partner in Chicago’s “Last Dance,” but the Pacers won 58 games—second best in the East—and boasted a deep lineup led by the trio of sharpshooter Reggie Miller, 7-4 tower Rik Smits and do-everything forward Chris Mullin. The loss was disappointing, but the Pacers had plenty to be proud of.
74. 1994-95 Orlando Magic
Coach: Brian Hill
Roster: Nick Anderson, Darrell Armstrong, Anthony Avent, Anthony Bowie, Horace Grant, Geert Hammink, Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal, Tree Rollins, Donald Royal, Dennis Scott, Brian Shaw, Brooks Thompson, Keith Tower, Jeff Turner
In just their sixth year of existence, the Magic reached the Finals, thanks to the dynamic pairing of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Orlando posted the East’s best record and then outlasted the Pacers to win the conference. Shaq was unstoppable inside, and Hardaway dazzled all over. Add in Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott’s long-range shooting and Horace Grant’s steady interior game, and the Magic were quite strong, even if Houston did sweep them in the Finals.
73. 1986-87 Boston Celtics
Coach: KC Jones
Roster: Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle, Darren Daye, Conner Henry, Dennis Johnson, Greg Kite, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Fred Roberts, Jerry Sichting, David Thirdkill, Andre Turner, Sam Vincent, Bill Walton, Scott Wedman
A year after domination, the Celtics returned to the Finals once again, but lost to the Showtime Lakers in six. The usual cast was back for the conference title winners. Larry Bird was practically infallible, and Kevin McHale and Robert Parish plundered inside. Dennis Johnson ran the show, while Danny Ainge irritated everybody but Celtics fans. But Boston lacked a strong bench, and that’s why the ’86-87 edition was very good, but not a champion.
72. 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder
Coach: Scott Brooks
Roster: Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison, Daequan Cook, Kevin Durant, Derek Fisher, James Harden, Lazar Hayward, Serge Ibaka, Royal Ivey, Reggie Jackson, Eric Maynor, Nazr Mohammed, Kendrick Perkins, Ryan Reid, Thabo Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook
This was it. This was the last time the Thunder’s Big Three would be together, and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden almost got it all done. The Thunder won the West and made it to the Finals. They even won the first game against Miami before dropping four straight. Durant, Westbrook and Harden combined for 70 ppg in the series but couldn’t finish the journey and hoist a trophy.
71. 1992-93 Phoenix Suns
Coach: Paul Westphal
Roster: Danny Ainge, Charles Barkley, Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers, Richard Dumas, Frank Johnson, Kevin Johnson, Tim Kempton, Negele Knight, Dan Majerle, Oliver Miller, Jerrod Mustaf, Kurt Rambis, Alex Stivrins, Mark West
The Suns had reached the Finals before, in 1976, but fell to Boston. This time would be different, even if they were facing the Bulls. Phoenix had the NBA’s best record, the League’s best offense and Charles Barkley, acquired from Philly in a blockbuster. The Suns were deep and fast and fun. But when they lost Game 4 of the Finals to Chicago to fall behind 3-1, you knew it was over. And it was.
70. 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Pat Riley
Roster: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tony Campbell, Michael Cooper, AC Green, Magic Johnson, Jeff Lamp, Mark McNamara, David Rivers, Byron Scott, Mychal Thompson, Orlando Woolridge, James Worthy
There would be one more last gasp for Showtime, but this really felt like the end of an era. Sure, the Lakers won the Pacific, put up the most wins in the conference and reached the Finals after posting a perfect 11-0 playoff record. But the usual suspects—Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, etc.—were beat up by the same Detroit Bad Boys they had defeated a year earlier.
69. 2018-19 Toronto Raptors
Coach Nick Nurse
Roster: OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Lorenzo Brown, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, Jeremy Lin, Kyle Lowry, Jordan Loyd, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks, CJ Miles, Malcolm Miller, Greg Monroe, Eric Moreland, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson, Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
In Canada for just one year, Kawhi Leonard proved his absolute greatness. The Raptors had been good, but they weren’t championship good. No way. Then Leonard averaged 26.6. He hit a quadruple-doink jumper to beat the Sixers in the Eastern Semis. And Kyle Lowry brought the toughness, while Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam bumped and banged inside. The Trophy had never been north of the border, but Leonard made sure it got there.
68. 1961-62 Boston Celtics
Coach: Red Auerbach
Roster: Carl Braun, Al Butler, Bob Cousy, Gene Guarilia, Tom Heinsohn, KC Jones, Sam Jones, Jim Loscutoff, Gary Phillips, Frank Ramsey, Bill Russell, Tom Sanders
Bill Russell didn’t lead the NBA in points, rebounds or assists, but he earned his third MVP award for leading the Celtics to a League-best 60 regular-season wins and his (and Boston’s) fifth title. It was arguably his best statistical season—a career-best 18.9 ppg, along with 23.6 rpg—and he upped those averages to 22.9 points and 27 boards in the Finals to lift Boston from a 3-2 deficit to a 4-3 victory over the Lakers.
67. 1980-81 Philadelphia 76ers
Coach: Billy Cunningham
Roster: Maurice Cheeks, Doug Collins, Earl Cureton, Monti Davis, Darryl Dawkins, Julius Erving, Lionel Hollins, Ollie Johnson, Bobby Jones, Caldwell Jones, Steve Mix, Clint Richardson, Andrew Toney
It’s easy to forget how close the early ’80s Sixers came to dynasty status. There were Finals losses to L.A. in ’80 and ’82, and of course, before their eventual revenge in ’83. But the ’80-81 squad, led by Dr. J in his only NBA MVP season, was right there: They matched Boston’s 62 regular-season wins and took a 3-1 lead on the Celtics in the ECF before an epic Larry Bird-led comeback carried the Cs to the Finals.
66. 1984-85 Boston Celtics
Coach: KC Jones
Roster: Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Quinn Buckner, Rick Carlisle, ML Carr, Carlos Clark, Dennis Johnson, Greg Kite, Cedric Maxwell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Scott Wedman, Ray Williams
The ninth Celtics-Lakers Finals matchup would be the first from which Boston did not emerge victorious. You could almost call it an upset. Larry Bird claimed his second straight MVP award, and the Cs won a League-best 63 games, then cruised through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket before stomping the Lakers by 34 in Game 1. Kevin McHale averaged 26 points and 10.7 rebounds for the series, but Boston couldn’t slow the Kareem-Magic-Worthy trio and fell 4-2 to L.A.
Photos via Getty Images.