The top 10 NBA teams of the 2000’s that didn’t win a championship
by Andrew Kennedy
This past decade also saw three players experience more success than any others: Shaquille O’neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.
O’neal won one regular season MVP, three Finals MVP’s and was part of four championship teams in the decade appearing in five NBA Finals in all.
Bryant won an MVP and a Finals MVP and won four championships while playing in six Finals series.
Duncan won two MVP’s in the regular season and in the NBA Finals and took home championships in the three trips he made to the NBA Finals.
But there were a lot of other good teams that might not be remembered because they were unlucky enough to cross paths with O’neal, Bryant and Duncan in their primes.
Here is a list (in chronological order) of the 10 best teams that did not win it all in the 2000’s.
10. 1999-2000 Portland Trailblazers (59-23)
Portland was just a quarter away from making it to the NBA Finals despite a roster that was built with a lot of post-prime players including Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith, Detlef Schrempf and Arvydas Sabonis.
They had the second best record in the league and earned a two-seed in the Western Conference.
Rasheed Wallace led the team in scoring (16.4 PPG) and was the only All-Star selection on the team. Pippen, Smith, Sabonis and Damon Stoudamire all also averaged double-figure scoring for the season.
In Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Blazers led the 67-win Lakers 75-60 with 10:28 to play before going ice cold and missing their next 13 shots while the Lakers went on a 15-0 run and eventually tied the game.
Los Angeles put the nail in the coffin when Kobe Bryant lobbed a pass to Shaquille O’neal that he put through with a thunderous dunk to give the Lakers an 85-79 lead with 40 seconds to play.
The Lakers won the game 89-84 in what became the biggest fourth quarter meltdown in a Game 7 in NBA history. The Lakers went on to beat Indiana in six for the title.
9. 2000-2001 Philadelphia 76ers (56-26)
Philadelphia started the season perfect in their first 10 games and went on to receive the number one-see in the Eastern Conference come playoff time.
Allen Iverson was peaking as one of the best players in the league and all of his teammates bought into it. Iverson led the league in scoring (31.1 PPG) and won the MVP, one of many awards taken home by the 76ers that season.
In what seemed to be a team of destiny, Philadelphia not only had the league’s MVP but the Coach of the Year in Larry Brown, Sixth Man of the Year in Aaron McKie and Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo who they acquired with a midseason trade shipping away All-Star Theo Ratliff and Toni Kukoc.
Philly’s run through the playoffs was as exciting as it gets. In the second round they were matched up with Toronto and emerging star Vince Carter. Carter and Iverson would put on one of the greatest duels in NBA playoff history trading 50-point performances and both draining a barrage of three-pointers.
The 76ers got past the Raptors in seven games and then did the same to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 76ers became the huge underdog when faced with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. But Philly didn’t back down, at least in Game 1.
The 76ers won a dramatic first game in the series 107-101 in overtime with Iverson pouring in 48 points.
But that would be the only bright spot for Philadelphia in the series as they dropped the next four games to Los Angeles, losing in five.
8. 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings (61-21)
By the time 2002 rolled around, Sacramento and Los Angeles were forming one of the fiercest rivalries in the NBA.
The Kings had won a franchise-best 61 games in the regular season and were the top seed in the Western Conference.
Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic were both named to the All-Star team. Webber averaged 24.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG and 4.8 APG for the season while Stojakovic was second on the team in scoring at 21.2 PPG and led the team with 129 three-point makes on the year.
They met Los Angeles in a Conference Finals that featured four extremely memorable games.
Game 4 ended Vlade Divac tipping out a rebound to Robert Horry who drilled a game-winning three-pointer as time expired for a100-99 Lakers victory.
In Game 5, Sacramento edged Los Angeles with a 92-91 defeat with Mike Bibby hitting the game-winning jumper.
In the controversial Game 6, the Kings lost 106-102 while the Lakers attempted 27 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Then in Game 7 Los Angeles went on to steal the series from the Kings with a 112-106 overtime victory that involved 19 lead changes and 16 ties.
7. 2003-2004 Minnesota Timberwolves (58-24)
Minnesota won a franchise-record 58 games this season and fielded a roster that included the NBA’s MVP in Kevin Garnett.
Garnett averaged 24.2 PPG, 13.9 RPG and 5.0 APG for the season. He wasn’t alone as the Timberwolves had three other viable scoring options in fellow All-Star Sam Cassell (19.8 PPG), Latrell Sprewell (16.8 PPG) and Wally Szczerbiak (10.2 PPG).
Minnesota beat the Kings in the Conference Semifinals in seven games before being matched up with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals.
Despite having home-court advantage, Minnesota would fall to a Lakers team made up of four future Hall of Famers in six games.
Bryant shredded the Timberwolves who were hampered by Cassell not being 100 percent for the series.
6. 2003-2004 Indiana Pacers (61-21)
The Pacers had the most wins in the league in 2004 with a franchise-best 61.
Ron Artest and Jermaine O’neal each made the All-Star team with Artest being named Defensive Player of the Year.
O’neal had his best season of his career averaging 20.1 PPG and 10.0 RPG. Artest averaged 18.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 3.7 APG.
The team still had Reggie Miller although he was well past his prime averaging just 10.0 PPG for the season but still leading the team with 134 three-pointers on the year.
At this time Indiana and Detroit were in the middle of one of the most heated, physical rivalries in the league. Fate would have it that they met in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Indiana had home-court advantage but a 72-67 Game 2 loss handed that right over to Detroit.
The eventual NBA champion Pistons took the series in six in what was one of the lowest-scoring series in history. Ben Wallace thrived in the physical nature of play dominating the glass averaging 15.5 RPG for the series.
The rivalry didn’t soften at all for the two teams leading to the infamous “Malice at the Palace” the very next season.
5. 2004-2005 Miami Heat (59-23)
The Heat decided to give Dwyane Wade a little help in his second season in the league by trading for Shaquille O’neal before the start of the season.
The trade sent Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant packing but immediately proved to be worth it as the Heat emerged as a title contender.
They won 59 games behind a rejuvenated O’neal who averaged 22.9 PPG and 10.4 RPG and finished second in the MVP-voting behind Steve Nash.
Wade also had a breakout season after a very good rookie campaign averaging 24.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 6.8 APG.
The Heat were playing like the best team in the Eastern Conference all the way through the playoffs until Wade got hurt in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus Detroit.
The Heat still won Game 5 giving them a 3-2 series advantage but the damage was done and Wade did not play in Game 6 in an effort to rest him for a potential Game 7.
Miami was blown out 91-66 in Game 6 despite O’neal scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 boards.
In Game 7 Wade played 43 minutes but was not 100 percent. He scored 20 points but went 7-of-20 from the field watching his team lose 88-82 behind some late clutch free throws by Chauncey Billups.
4. 2005-2006 Dallas Mavericks (60-22)
The Mavericks were unfortunate to fall victim to one of the worst officiated NBA Finals in history.
The Mavericks were a very deep team led by Dirk Nowitzki who averaged 26.6 PPG while shooting 41 percent from three and 90 percent from the line for the season.
Dallas won 60 games but was the four-seed because of the new playoff format and ended up playing the one-seed 63-win Spurs in the second round.
The series went seven ending with a dramatic and-one drive by Nowitzki in overtime to send Dallas to the Conference Finals.
The Mavericks squeezed by Phoenix in six games despite some valiant performances by Steve Nash and went on to play Miami in the NBA Finals.
Dallas easily won the first two games of the series as they completely outplayed Miami and looked to be on their way to a 3-0 advantage before a 13-point lead with six minutes to play dwindled away.
Miami stole Game 3 with Gary Payton hitting a jumper with nine seconds left to give the Heat a 98-96 lead.
Dwyane Wade shot 18 free throws in Game 3 and scored 42 points, a sign of things to come.
Miami won the last four games of the series with Wade shooting a combined 73 free throws and setting an NBA Finals record for free throws attempted in a series.
Dallas looked lost and confused when it came to guarding Wade and never could figure it out losing in six.
Dallas’ playoff misfortunes did not end however as they were knocked out in the first round the following season by the Golden State Warriors despite winning 67 games in the regular season.
3. 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns (61-21)
After a run into the Western Conference Finals the year before without Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix was a healthy 61-win juggernaut poised for a championship run in 2007.
Steve Nash was coming off two-straight MVP’s and probably should have won a third straight this year but his friend Dirk Nowitzki won it instead.
Nash led the way averaging 18.6 PPG and 11.6 APG. Stoudemire led the team in scoring coming back from injury with 20.4 PPG as the Suns averaged a league best 110.2 PPG as a team for the season.
With Dallas winning 67 games, Phoenix got the two-seed and had to face off with San Antonio in the second round.
The Spurs shocked the Suns with a 111-106 Game 1 win on the road. Nash scored 31 points in the game before receiving an elbow right above his nose that made him bleed so much that he couldn’t return to the game and play in much of the final minute.
The Suns stalled offensively without Nash and lost home-court advantage because of it.
Then down 2-1 in the series looking to even it up in Game 4, Robert Horry checked Nash into the boards while he was running out the clock. An altercation ensued leading to Stoudemire and Boris Diaw leaving the bench and getting suspended for Game 5.
The Suns lost Game 5 and couldn’t get it together in Game 6 giving up 63 points to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili while Tim Duncan had a memorable performace of 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks.
2. 2007-2008 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)
The Lakers made it to the Finals while Kobe Bryant won his first ever MVP award.
The matchup could not have been sexier as the 66-win Boston Celtics awaited Los Angeles.
The Lakers added Pau Gasol late in the season and went from being a championship hopeful to championship favorite.
The Lakers would lose the first two games on the road to Boston, immediately putting themselves in a hole.
Los Angeles responded with an 87-81 Game 3 win and then dominated the first two quarters of Game 4 before falling apart.
Boston came back from 58-40 halftime deficit that was once 24 points in the first half to win Game 4 97-91, outscoring the Lakers 31-15 in the third quarter.
The Lakers won Game 5 but were then embarrassed at the Boston Garden in Game 6 losing by 39 points with the MVP shooting just 7-for-22 from the field.
1. 2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16)
The Cavaliers had the best record in the league and the best player and looked prime to bring the first ever NBA championship to Cleveland.
Then they met Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals and it was just a really bad matchup for them.
It was the LeBron James show and he had little to no help. Mo Williams did make the All-Star team alongside James but didn’t play like one when it mattered most.
Orlando shocked the Cavaliers with a Game 1 victory thanks to a three-pointer by Rashard Lewis with 14 seconds left to put the Magic ahead 107-106.
In the loss, James still scored 49 points but Dwight Howard countered with 30 points and 13 rebounds and Hedo Turkoglu scored 15 points and dished out 14 assists.
In Game 2 the Cavaliers needed a last-second three-pointer by James to beat Orlando 96-95.
Then Orlando defended their home court with wins in Games 3 and 4. The Magic eventually dismantled the Cavaliers with a 103-90 win in Game 6.