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Top 10 Teams in NBA History

photo by Steve Lipofsky, 1997, CC 2.0

The NBA has produced some legendary teams in its 70-plus seasons. They span different eras and represent contrasting styles of play, but the teams on this list all share one thing in common: their greatness is timeless. The rules for this list are few. First, a team must have dominated its competition. Second, a team must have won the NBA championship for the season it is chosen. Finally, only one entry is allowed per team. A franchise may have multiple entries, but the majority of the roster must be different for each team.

1) 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 72-10

The 95-96 Bulls hold the NBA record for the most wins by a championship team with 72. Their domination was consistent all season long, as they had nine regular season winning streaks of five games or more. Chicago was equally effective on both offense and defense, leading the league in scoring at 105.2 points per game, and finishing third in points allowed with 92.9. The Bulls' point differential of 12.3 is tied for first in NBA history.

Head Coach Phil Jackson’s famed triangle offense featured league MVP and scoring champion Michael Jordan (30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists), versatile All-NBA forward Scottie Pippen (19.4 pts, 6.4 reb, 5.9 ast) and Sixth Man of the Year Toni Kukoc (13.1 pts, 4.0 reb, 3.5 ast). On defense, Chicago was led by three members of the All-Defensive First Team: Jordan, Pippen and NBA rebounding champ Dennis Rodman (14.9 per game).

The Bulls’ relentless charge continued into the postseason, as Chicago went 15-3 en route to the NBA championship. Jordan was named Finals MVP, averaging 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists in six games against the Seattle Supersonics. Four members of the 95-96 Bulls are in the Hall of Fame: Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Jackson.

2) 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, 69-13

The greatness of the 71-72 Lakers was defined by two numbers: 69 and 33. Their 69 wins set an NBA record that stood for 24 years, and their streak of 33 consecutive wins is a mark that still stands today. The explosive Lakers led the league in scoring with 121 points per game, and their point differential of 12.3 is tied for first in NBA history.

The high-powered offense was led by All-Star guards Jerry West (25.8 points, 9.7 assists) and Gail Goodrich (25.9 pts, 4.5 ast), forwards Jim McMillian (18.8 pts, 6.5 reb) and Happy Hairston (13.1 pts, 13.1 reb), and legendary center Wilt Chamberlain (14.8 pts, 19.2 reb).

After winning the Pacific Division by 18 games, the Lakers went 12-3 in the postseason, including beating the NBA’s last two champions on their way to the title, the Milwaukee Bucks in the Western Conference Finals and the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. Chamberlain won Finals MVP, averaging 19.4 points and 23.2 rebounds. Four Lakers from the 71-72 team are enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Chamberlain, West, Goodrich and Elgin Baylor, who played nine games in his final season.

3) 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers, 68-13

The 76ers did something no NBA team had done since 1958: beat the Boston Celtics in the postseason. After setting a league record with 68 wins, Philadelphia beat Boston in the Eastern Division Finals, snapping the Celtics’ historic eight-year championship streak. The 76ers then started their own title streak by beating the San Francisco Warriors in the Finals.

The Philadelphia attack was led by four Hall of Famers, none bigger than Wilt Chamberlain, who had one of the best seasons ever by a center. The NBA MVP averaged 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and shot 68.3 percent from the field. Supporting Chamberlain were All-Star guard Hal Greer (22.1 pts, 5.3 reb, 3.8 ast), All-Star forward Chet Walker (19.3 pts, 8.1 reb) and second-year forward Billy Cunningham (18.5 pts, 7.3 reb).

The 76ers were an unstoppable force in 66-67, starting the season 46-4 and finishing the regular season with eight winning streaks of five games or more. Philadelphia led the NBA in scoring at 125.2 points per game, point differential at 9.4, and was third in points allowed at 115.8.

4) 1985-86 Boston Celtics, 67-15

The 85-86 Celtics are arguably the greatest of the franchise’s record 17 championship teams. The 67-win Celtics featured four Hall of Famers in their starting lineup (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson) and a fifth off the bench (Bill Walton).

The balanced Celtics were efficient on offense and stingy on defense, leading the league with a point differential of 9.4. NBA MVP Bird (25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists), All-Stars McHale (21.3 pts, 8.1 reb, 2.0 blocks) and Parish (16.1 pts, 9.5 reb, 1.4 blk), and Sixth Man of the Year Walton gave Boston one of the most formidable front lines in history. The backcourt featured point guard Johnson (15.6 pts, 5.8 ast) and shooting guard Danny Ainge (10.7 pts, 5.1 ast).

Boston rolled through the regular season with five winning streaks of eight games or more, and finished 13 games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics’ dominance continued in the playoffs, as they went 15-3. In the Finals, they defeated the Houston Rockets as Bird nearly averaged a triple double (24.0 pts, 9.7 reb, 9.5 ast) on his way to Finals MVP.

5) 2016-17 Golden State Warriors, 67-15

The rich got richer in 2016 as the two-time defending Western Conference champion and 2014-15 NBA champion Warriors acquired four-time scoring king Kevin Durant. The result was no surprise, as the Warriors had one of the most dominant seasons in league history in 16-17.

Golden State was an offensive juggernaut, leading the league in scoring (115.9), field goal percentage (.495) and assists (30.4). On defense, the Warriors held their opponents to a league-low .435 field goal percentage. Their point differential of 11.6 is the fourth best in league history.

The Warrior attack was led by four All-Stars: guards Stephen Curry (25.3 points, 6.6 assists, .411 three-point percentage) and Klay Thompson (22.3 pts, .414 three-point percentage), and forwards Durant (25.1 pts, 8.3 reb, 4.8 ast, 1.6 blocks) and Draymond Green (10.2 pts, 7.9 reb, 7.0 ast, 2.0 steals). Green was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 16-17.

After winning 67 games in the regular season, the Warriors had perhaps the most dominant postseason ever. Golden State won its first 15 playoff games before losing one game to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. The Warriors finished the postseason with a phenomenal 16-1 record and 13.5 point differential. The newcomer Durant won Finals MVP, averaging 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

6) 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, 66-16

Led by MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the greatest point guard of his generation, Oscar Robertson, Milwaukee won the NBA championship in only its third year in the league. The Bucks buried their competition in 1970-71, finishing with a 66-16 record and regular season winning streaks of 20, 16 and 10 games.

Dominant on both offense and defense, Milwaukee led the NBA in scoring at 118.4 points per game and finished third in points allowed at 106.2. Their point differential of 12.2 is the third best in league history.

The Bucks lineup was versatile and dangerous, featuring 7’2” center Abdul-Jabbar (31.7 points, 16.0 rebounds), All-NBA point guard Robertson (19.4 pts, 5.7 reb, 8.2 assists), talented two-way forward Bob Dandridge (18.4 pts, 8.0 reb), sharp-shooting guard Jon McGlocklin (15.8 pts, .535 field goal percentage) and forward Greg Smith (11.7 pts, 7.2 reb).

Milwaukee crushed its competition in the postseason, going 12-2 with a 14.4 point differential. The Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals, with Abdul-Jabbar averaging 27.0 points and 18.5 rebounds on his way to Finals MVP.

7) 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers, 65-17

An NBA superpower in the 1980s with five championships and eight conference titles, the “Showtime Lakers” reached the peak of their powers in 86-87. The 65-win Lakers averaged 117.8 points per game, and led the league with a point differential of 9.3.

Los Angeles was deep and multi-talented with a starting lineup featuring point guard and NBA MVP Magic Johnson (23.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 12.2 assists), shooting guard Byron Scott (17.0 pts, .436 three-point percentage), All-Star forward James Worthy (19.4 pts, 5.7 reb), power forward A.C. Green (10.8 pts, 7.8 reb) and legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (17.5 pts, 6.7 reb). The bench was led by Defensive Player of the Year Michael Cooper.

After winning the Pacific Division by 16 games, the Lakers sailed through the postseason, going 15-3. Los Angeles defeated the eighties' other superpower, the Boston Celtics, in the Finals 4-2. Johnson was named Finals MVP with averages of 26.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 13.0 assists. Four members of the 86-87 Lakers are enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy and Head Coach Pat Riley.

8) 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, 65-17

Featuring one of the greatest lineups ever assembled, the 76ers ruled the NBA in 82-83. Philadelphia stormed to a 50-7 start that included an incredible 30-2 stretch from late December through February.

Led by MVP center Moses Malone (24.5 points, 15.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) and electrifying All-NBA forward Julius Erving (21.4 pts, 6.8 reb, 1.8 blk, 1.6 steals), the 76ers had two of the best to ever play the game. They were supported by the All-Star backcourt of Maurice Cheeks (12.5 pts, 6.9 ast, 2.3 stl) and Andrew Toney (19.7 pts, 4.5 ast). Leading the bench was defensive wizard and Sixth Man of the Year Bobby Jones.

The 76ers won a tough Atlantic Division by nine games over the Boston Celtics before embarking on a dominant playoff run in which they went 12-1. They avenged the previous year’s Finals loss by sweeping the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. Malone won Finals MVP, averaging 25.8 points and 18.0 rebounds.

Four players from Philadelphia’s 82-83 championship team are enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Malone, Erving, Cheeks and Jones.

9) 1964-65 Boston Celtics, 62-18

From 1957-69, the Celtics won 11 NBA championships, including a record eight in a row from 59-66. The 64-65 team represents the best of the Celtics dynasty. They had the NBA’s top defense, and their point differential of 8.4 was over five points better than the next closest team.

The Celtics’ roster was a collection of Hall of Fame legends, led by center and league MVP Bill Russell (14.1 points, 24.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists). At guard were All-Star and leading scorer Sam Jones (25.9 pts, 5.1 reb) and point man K.C. Jones (5.6 ast). Forward was manned by All-Star Tom Heinsohn (13.6 pts, 6.0 reb) and Tom “Satch” Sanders (11.8 pts, 8.3 reb). Versatile guard/forward John Havlicek (18.3 pts, 4.9 reb) gave Boston six Hall of Famers on its roster. Head Coach Red Auerbach gave them a seventh representative in the Hall.

The Celtics were dominant from day one, winning their first 11 games and starting 41-7. They won the Eastern Division by 14 games over the Cincinnati Royals before beating the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division Finals. In the NBA Finals, Boston beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1. Sam Jones led the Celtics with 27.8 points per game, and Russell averaged 17.8 points, 25.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

10) 2012-13 Miami Heat, 66-16

In 2010, reigning MVP LeBron James and All-Star Chris Bosh joined perennial All-Star Dwyane Wade to form a superteam in Miami. After two straight conference championships and an NBA title in 2012, the Heat added another future Hall of Famer, Ray Allen, in 12-13. The acquisition would prove to be huge for Miami.

The Heat got off to a sizzling 37-2 start that included a 27-game winning streak, the third-longest in NBA history. Miami won a league-high 66 games, and finished 22 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks in the Southeast Division.

James led the way for the Heat, averaging 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists en route to his fourth career MVP. Wade (21.2 pts, 5.0 reb, 5.1 ast, 1.9 steals) and Bosh (16.6 pts, 6.8 reb, 1.4 blocks) each had All-Star seasons for Miami, while newcomer Allen averaged 10.9 points and shot 41.9 percent from three-point range.

In the playoffs, the Heat went 16-7 on the way to their second straight NBA championship. In one of the most memorable Finals in history, Allen hit a key three-pointer against the San Antonio Spurs to save game six for the Heat, who would win in overtime. Miami then won game seven to secure the title. James was named Finals MVP, averaging 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists.

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