In every game of sport, there’s a winner and a loser. And if there isn’t, then it’s not really a sport, soccer excluded. But, how often does the best team win? It can be argued that the best team always wins, since of course, they won.

That being said, some of the teams that don’t win are pretty good too. What we have below is a look at some NBA teams that were right on the cusp of being the best, but not quite. Consider them the best losers of the past three decades.

10. 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings
Regular Season Record: 61-21
Playoffs Record: 3-1 over Utah Jazz; 4-1 over Dallas Mavericks; lost to Los Angeles Lakers 4-3 in Western Conference Finals

Despite finishing the season with the best record in NBA, the talented Kings fell short to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic led the way with solid contributions from Vlade Divac, Doug Christie and Bobby Jackson. What sunk the team was Robert Horry and some Game 7 duds from the Kings, to say the least. I call it karma for the way Christie and his wife had their corny signals to each other as there is unsubstantiated proof that his testicles are still in her purse.

9. 1991-92 Portland Trail Blazers
Regular Season Record: 57-25
Playoffs Record: 3-1 over Los Angeles Lakers; 4-1 over Phoenix Suns; 4-2 over Utah Jazz; lost to the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in NBA Finals

The Blazers owned the best record in the Western Conference, second-best in the entire NBA, behind only the eventual champion Chicago Bulls. At this point, the Blazers were one of the elite NBA teams for a few seasons running, led by the backcourt duo of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. Jerome Kersey, Cliff Robinson, Kevin Duckworth and Buck Williams were the frontcourt muscle. However, it was the Bulls’ year and there was no stopping Michael Jordan, which will be a running theme for this post.

8. 2004-05 Phoenix Suns
Regular Season Record: 62-20
Playoffs Record: 4-0 over Memphis Grizzlies; 4-2 over Dallas Mavericks; lost to San Antonio Spurs 4-1 in Western Conference Finals

Sure, this team didn’t play defense, but considering they averaged 110.4 points per game (best in the Association by a lot, the second place Sacramento Kings averaged 103.7 PPG) and gave up 103.3 points per contest, that +7.1 points margin isn’t so bad. The eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs had a +7.8 points margin, so this Suns team was a legitimate title contender. But again, the lack of defense killed them. The Suns had the best record during the regular season, and were the only team with 60 or more wins. They also had the NBA MVP in Steve Nash, an unstoppable Amar’e Stoudemire, versatile Shawn Marion and more scoring punch from Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson. Alas, they weren’t able to score quite enough against the dynastic Spurs.

7. 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics
Regular Season Record: 63-19
Playoffs Record: Lost 3-2 to the Denver Nuggets in the first round

This is the first of two mentions of a first seed losing to an eighth seed, but we won’t mention the Miami Heat losing to the New York Knicks during the strike-shortened 1998-99 season because of the limited number of regular season games. After leading the league in wins, the Sonics seemed poised to challenge for the title, especially with that Jordan guy not around. Then they hit a brick wall against the Denver Nuggets. The best of five format in the first round during the time heightened the luck factor, but this series also produced one of the best moments in NBA playoffs history.

6. 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics
Regular Season Record: 64-18
Playoffs Record: 3-1 over Sacramento Kings; 4-0 over Houston Rockets; 4-3 over Utah Jazz; lost to Chicago Bulls 4-2 in NBA Finals

This Sonics team was strong, and if it was any other season, they may have claimed the NBA title. However, this was the year the Chicago Bulls won 72 games. They were a behemoth and everyone else were Lilliputians. Well, maybe the Sonics would be normal-sized men in comparison as they put up a solid fight in the Finals, especially after being down 3-0 in the series. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, both second team All-NBA members, didn’t go down quietly. But, down they went regardless.

5. 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks
Regular Season Record: 67-15
Playoffs Record: Lost 4-2 to the Golden State Warriors in first round

After a very close NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade the previous season, the Mavs looked amped to come back strong and claim what was rightly theirs. They steamrolled during the regular season, easily owning the best record while Dirk Nowitzki took home the MVP. However, if there was one team that had their number, it was the Golden State Warriors. The team from the Bay Area swept the regular season series 3-0, and eventually dashed any dreams of a title for the seemingly mighty Mavs.

4. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
Regular Season Record: 66-16
Playoffs Record: 4-0 over the Detroit Pistons; 4-0 over the Atlanta Hawks; lost to the Orlando Magic 4-2 in Eastern Conference Finals

If there’s any team on this list that truly believed they would win a title, it’s this one. In fact, they almost seemed like they felt entitled to it with their constant dancing and outrageous team poses. Of course, it’s hard to blame them too much since they finished the season with the best record in the NBA and swept teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs. LeBron James was the NBA MVP and was ridiculous on the court, but he wasn’t quite enough as the Cavs had no answer to Dwight Howard and his supporting cast that seemed to hit everything from the perimeter.

3. 1984-85 Boston Celtics
Regular Season Record: 63-19
Playoffs Record: 3-1 over Cleveland Cavaliers; 4-2 over Detroit Pistons; 4-1 over Philadelphia 76ers; lost to Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 in NBA Finals

The Celtics finished the regular season with the league’s best record. They had the league MVP in Larry Bird. They were coming off a title the previous year. In 1985, however, the rival Los Angeles Lakers took the championship. This team is basically just one example where you can flip-flop between the Celtics and Lakers that didn’t win a title for the Best Loser award during the 1980s. Both teams dominated during that decade, but there always had to be a loser.

2. 1992-93 Phoenix Suns
Regular Season Record: 62-20
Playoffs Record: 3-2 over Los Angeles Lakers; 4-2 over San Antonio Spurs; 4-3 over Seattle SuperSonics; lost to Chicago Bulls 4-2 in NBA Finals

This was supposed to be Charles Barkley’s year as he won the NBA MVP award and led the Suns to the best record in the NBA, all in his first season with the team. But, alas, Michael Jordan and the Bulls were there to c-block (championship-block, creeps) once again. The Suns also had Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, and Richard Dumas. Remember him? He was one of seven Suns that averaged double-digit points for the season, but this firepower wasn’t enough to stop Jordan and the Bulls from claiming the third straight title in their first series of three-peats. Thank you, series-winning John Paxson three.

1. 1997-98 Utah Jazz
Regular Season Record: 62-20
Playoffs Record: 3-2 over Houston Rockets; 4-1 over San Antonio Spurs; 4-0 over Los Angeles Lakers; lost to Chicago Bulls 4-2 in NBA Finals

This team had John Stockton and Karl Malone, both in the top three that ever played at their respective positions and both basically in their primes. The Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls in the previous year’s Finals and after tying with the Bulls for the regular season’s best record, the team from SLC were looking for revenge. It didn’t happen, again thanks to Michael Jordan and his memorable push-off shot over Byron Russell.

There were some other teams to consider, such as the 1993-94 Knicks, the 1999-2000 Trail Blazers, the 2006-07 Suns and other losing Lakers or Celtics teams during the 1980s, so feel free to chime in below or hit me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts.

Comments (23)

  1. great list. Definitely think the 1999/2000 blazers should be on there. They were basically one half away from the title, since Indiana was not gonna win against whoever came out of the west. I mean up 15 at the half in game 7 against the Shaq/Kobe/Phil Jackson Lakers. They just ran out of gas it seems like.

  2. It’s BJ Armstrong on the opposite side of the court from Paxson. Before the ball even gets near the basket he throws himself on to the ground! Now that’s faith in a team mate if ever I’ve seen it! ha

  3. i just generally love basketball-history-related lists. so yeah thanks and more lists please! always awesome

  4. Too early to say the Heat of last year? Ha just kidding.

  5. It’s too bad Rashad Lewis was on steroids during those playoffs or the Cavs might have won the whole thing.

  6. What about the orlando Magic? Nick anderson, penny hardaway, shaq… i think it was the year jordan returned? dont remember… now that was a good team.

    Love the list… But jordan didnt push off, Byron got crossed then flopped.

  7. good list. gotta disagree on the 2002 kings. i’d say the officiating of game 6 did that series in. worst in the history of the game.

  8. It’s too bad…ha..ha..

    Helmet display

  9. Turb0: Ralph Nader agrees with you, as do I.

  10. 1. 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns – enough said.

  11. Good list, but the 01-02 Kings should be way higher since they got totally robbed in game 6 of the WCF. I’m no crazy conspiracy theorist, but that was the closest thing to seeing any evidence of a game being rigged in all of sports. I also agree with Andre, Byron Rusell was a big dude, Jordan looks like he barely touched him and he flopped harder than Dwayne Wade when he misses a layup and tries to get the refs to give him a call lol

  12. the 2001/2002 Sacremento Kings beat the Sacremento Kings 4 games to 1 in the playoffs? Huh?

  13. kings were the REAL 01/02 champs anyways

  14. No 97-98 Pacers?! They took Jordan’s Bulls to 7 games that year were up in the 4th quarter of game 7. Utah lost to them in 6. Indiana would have beaten Utah if they won Game 7 of the 1998 ECF.

  15. @Matt Thanks for the catch. Fixed!

  16. @Dave Murphy: That was gold! :) Imagine if Paxson missed and the ball went towards BJ? Would be dead probably after the game….. hah

  17. 5/10 were of the Jordan era, 2/10 were screwed hard by unfortunate circumstances (02 Kings, 05 Suns). Cavs weren’t that good, 07 Mavs choked. 85 Celtics were great and just lost, much like the 2010 Celtics as it was to the Lakers. 2010 Celtics I think could beat a lot of teams on year but they had a shitty regular season record.

  18. To all those who don’t think MJ pushed off;

    Are you not seeing his left hand on the mans hip as he crossed him up? It may not be a stif-arm like the ones thrown by Adrian Peterson or Marshon Lynch last year v. the Saints, but it definitely helped create space.

    That said, MJ was a boss!

    The controversy is fun regardless.

  19. Please fire this fucking idiot. All of his lists are stupid, and the stupid items he includes are out of order, even in his stupid universe. He’s also a shitty writer, and he’s got a 14 year old fan’s understanding of the game.

  20. “I call it karma for the way Christie and his wife had their corny signals to each other as there is unsubstantiated proof that his testicles are still in her purse.”

    This is just bad writing. Not boring writing, or dumb writing (although it is boring and the idea put forth is stupid), but just a shit job of stringing words together. This is how the kids that complain endlessly about writing a 3 page paper write. I could care less about grammar, but when a sentence is so goddamned clunky, someone needs to do something about it.

    First off, it’s just dumb that Denny thinks that a dude who’s whipped deserves some kind of karmic justice.

    Second, he should be calling it karma “because of the way…”. I don’t say you’re a shit writer “for the way you write” but “because of the way you write”.

    Third, how the hell do you go from “I think it’s karma because of the goofy love signals that Christie and his wife had” to “as there is unsubstantiated evidence blah blah blah.”? Are you saying it is evidence? If so, say that it’s evidence.

    Fourth, that was one fucking sentence. I don’t know if you’re just friends with TBJ or if you gave Melas an airplane air-purifier or a magic new jack swing compilation, but you’re just not as good as the rest of the site. Maybe you can get better, but right now you just suck. You’re getting a lot of looks because you’re the guy making the lists, and lists are awesome, but I’d bet that more than half of the listening audience could write better lists, with better jokes, and they’d all have more consistent internal logic.

  21. ^^^^^^^^^^^^
    Finally, my Kelly Dwyer moment! Thanks for reading, The Context Fairy.

    Oh, but I will agree that I’m probably the weakest writer of the group… but I don’t mind being Christian Laettner on The Dream Team.

    Damn… I’m crying at my own insult.

  22. One of the late 70′s early 80′s Sixers teams should be on this list. The one that blew the lead against Portalnd or lost to the Lakers in the finals. They were really talented teams.

  23. My bad on the 70′s Sixers squad that lost to the Portaland Trailblazers forgot this was only the last three decades.

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