With the 2015 Golden State Warriors on pace to win 69 games, it’s worth remembering that in the 82-game NBA era, nine teams have won 67 games or more in the regular season: The Chicago Bulls (on three occasions), Boston Celtics (twice), Los Angeles Lakers (twice), Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers. Only the 2007 Mavericks and 1973 Celtics failed to win the NBA title.
Dallas Mavericks, 2006-2007
The impressive road the Dallas Mavericks had made under Mark Cuban got them to the beginning of the 2006-2007 season following an NBA finals appearance, losing to the Heat after winning the first two games. That loss seemed to forge the final link in what the Mavs were missing to win the title, scorching through the league with a 67-15 record and Dirk Nowitzki winning the MVP. And in the first round of the playoffs? The one team that was able to force the Mavericks out of what worked well for them all season long, resulting in possibly the biggest first round upset in NBA history, with the Warriors winning in six games.
Los Angeles Lakers, 1999-2000
Believe it or not, combining Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant didn’t immediately turn into a home run for the Lakers. But after watching Jordan win some titles followed by Tim Duncan and David Robinson, the three-peat began as the Lakers won 67 games before a tough playoff that included beating the Blazers in 7 games (Western conference finals) before a six-game series with the Pacers that was closer than people tend to remember. Shaq won the regular season MVP and the Finals as well.
Chicago Bulls, 1991-1992
A year after winning their first NBA title, the Bulls delivered their best season of the first three-peat, as Michael Jordan carried a team with Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson and others to 67 wins in the regular season. Things weren’t smooth in the playoffs, including a tough conference semifinals against the Knicks and a six game conference finals against the Cavaliers. In the finals, the Blazers, an excellent team in the late 80’s and early 90’s that lost in two NBA finals, managed to drag it out for six games. Jordan won the regular season and Finals MVP, averaging 34.5 points per game in the playoffs.
Boston Celtics, 1985-1986
The Boston Celtics won three NBA titles from 1981 to 1986, but were at their best in the 1985-1986 season, winning 67 regular season games before a playoff run that included a sweep against the Bulls (including Jordan’s 63-point game), beating the Hawks (with Dominique Wilkins) in five games, sweeping Don Nelson’s Bucks in the conference finals and then beating the Rockets with a young Hakeem Olajuwon in six games. The lineup of Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ and Danny Ainge still might be the best in NBA history, or at least the best frontcourt. Bird won the regular season and Finals MVP.
Boston Celtics, 1972-1973
The 1972-1973 Celtics team, winning 68 games in the regular season, is still the winningest team to miss out on the NBA title, losing to the New York Knicks in the conference finals. That Knicks team advanced in a classic seven game series to the NBA Finals, beating the Lakers in five games. Dave Cowens of that Celtics team won the regular season MVP. A year later (and in 1976) he also got to win the NBA championship.
Philadelphia 76ers, 1966-1967
In 1967 Wilt Chamberlain finally won his first title ring. The 76ers, with Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and Chet Walker, stunned the Boston Celtics in the conference finals before a tough series against the Warriors with Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond. Chamberlain was the regular season MVP, and although there was no Finals MVP yet, his average of 22 points, 29 rebounds, 9 assists while shooting 58% from the field and probably posting quite a few quadruple doubles would have won him the award. Those 76ers won 68 games in the regular season.
Chicago Bulls, 1996-1997
A year after the best regular season in NBA history, the Chicago Bulls posted a 69-win regular season for only the third time in NBA history. The Jordan-Pippen-Rodman trio, backed up by Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper and coached by Phil Jackson had an easy time in the East with only two losses through the three series, beating the Bullets, Hawks and Heat before a final against the Jazz, ending in game 6 with a game winner from Steve Kerr off of a Michael Jordan assist. Jordan, averaging 31.1 points per game in the playoffs, won the Finals MVP for a fifth time.
Los Angeles Lakers, 1971-1972
The great Celtics dynasty of the 1960’s was over, and the Lakers, with Wilt Chamberlain in his older mode joining the ranks, were finally ready to win a first championship in Los Angeles (previously were in Minneapolis, winning five titles). That team won 69 regular season games, including 33 in a row, still an NBA record for consecutive regular season wins. Gail Goodrich, Jerry West, Chamberlain and Jim McMillan led the team to a sweep against the Bulls followed by a 4-2 win against the Bucks (with Abdul-Jabar) before a five game victory in the Finals against the Knicks. Wilt Chamberlain won the Finals’ MVP.
Chicago Bulls, 1995-1996
Jordan’s return in 1995 ended in playoff disappointment against the Orlando Magic. But Jordan switched back to #23, worked on a few moves so his age won’t get in the way and with the addition of Dennis Rodman, the Bulls set out to torch the record book, finishing with a 72-10 record, still the best regular season ever. In the playoffs, the Bulls lost just once before the NBA finals, beating the Heat, Knicks and finally the Magic in the conference finals, sweeping O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. In the NBA finals Gary Payton and the Seattle Supersonics made things difficult. Payton got under Jordan’s skin and was the first (although he wasn’t the only one guarding him) to keep Jordan under 30 points per game in a Finals series). It wasn’t enough against a transcendent player and team, winning the series in six games, starting another three-peat.