One of the interesting prospects of the 2013-2014 NBA Season is having both the Boston Celtics (almost definitely) and the Los Angeles Lakers (still inconclusive) miss the playoffs, ending a six-year streak for the C’s and an 8-year streak for the Lakers, although for both teams, it’s far from being the longest streak in franchise history.
Surprisingly, the two most successful franchises in NBA history don’t hold the record to the longest playoff streak for an NBA team, with a team that has won the title only three times in its existence claiming the top spot. The San Antonio Spurs are the active leaders, needing a few more seasons (seven to be exact) in order to break the record.
Philadelphia 76ers – 22
The Philadelphia 76ers were actually the Syracuse Nationals from 1946 to 1963. If you include the NBL days, the 76ers began their franchise history with 25 consecutive playoff appearances, but we’ll let the first three years go. As the Nationals, they reached the NBA finals three times, finally winning the title in 1955, beating the Pistons in 7 games, with a game 7 that has raised concerns about the legitimacy of the series. They won the NBA title again in 1967 as the Philadelphia 76ers, and the streak ended in the 1971-1972 season, when Wilt Chamberlain was already with the Lakers.
Portland Trail Blazers – 21
The Portland Trail Blazers began their playoff streak in 1983 with Jim Paxon and Calvin Natt leading the team. The peak of their streak came from 1990-1992, when they reached three consecutive conference finals, making it all the way to the final in 1990 (losing to the Detroit Pistons) and in 1992 (losing to the Chicago Bulls), with Clyde Drexler eventually leaving to the Rockets to win an NBA title. The streak ended in 2004.
Utah Jazz – 20
The Utah Jazz made 20 consecutive postseasons from 1984 to 2003, with the streak ending once Stockton retired and Karl Malone went to the Lakers. This team made three conference finals (1992, 1994, 1996) before finally reaching two consecutive NBA finals, losing to the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and 1998.
Boston Celtics – 19
The Boston Celtics’ golden era began in 1950, but the real story began in 1957, when they won the first of their 17 NBA titles. In 1959 began a streak of eight consecutive NBA championships, usually beating the Lakers. In 1968 and 1969 they added two more titles, against the Lakers as well, in two historic series, before giving the postseason a rest for a couple of years.
Los Angeles Lakers – 17
The Lakers began their streak in the 1976-1977 season, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar entering his second season with the team. It took him a few more years and one Magic Johnson to finally win titles with the Lakers, ending up winning five (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-88) and reaching four more NBA finals, the last of them in 1991. They missed the playoffs for the first time in almost 20 years in the 1993-1994 season.
San Antonio Spurs – 16
The Spurs hold the longest active streak in the NBA, beginning their playoff success in 1998, Tim Duncan’s rookie season. Teaming up with David Robinson and Gregg Popovich, they won the NBA title in 1999 and again in 2003, with Ginobili and Parker joining them by then. Robinson retired, but the newly formed big three added two more NBA titles in 2005 and 2007, reaching the Finals once again in 2013.
Detroit Pistons – 14
The Pistons began their longest streak in franchise history when they were still the Fort Wayne Pistons, changing to Detroit in 1957. The streak began in 1949, and included making the finals two consecutive times in 1955 (Syracuse) and the Philadelphia Warriors (1956).
New York Knicks – 14
The Knicks began their longest playoff streak in franchise history in 1988, with Mark Jackson helping Patrick Ewing making the postseason for the first time. The 1990’s were the kindest to the Knicks, reaching two NBA finals: First in 1994, losing to the Rockets in 7 games, and then again in 1999, losing to the Spurs. They had two more conference finals defeats along the way (1993, 2000), and the streak ended in 2002.
Chicago Bulls – 14
The Bulls’ streak of 14 playoff appearances began with Jordan’s rookie season and ended the year after his second retirement. In between, with Pippen, Grant, Rodman and Kukoc helping along the way, the Bulls won six NBA titles in eight seasons, never needing a game 7 to clinch the title, or never losing in the NBA finals as well.
Phoenix Suns – 13
The Phoenix Suns made 13 consecutive appearances from 1989 to 2001, beginning with two consecutive conference finals, losing to the Lakers and the Blazers, and peaking with a finals appearance in 1993, as Charles Barkley led the team to their best season in history (62-20), losing to the Chicago Bulls in six games.
Milwaukee Bucks – 12
With players like Sidney Moncrief and later Ricky Pierce, the Milwaukee Bucks reached the postseason for 12 consecutive seasons, most of them with Don Nelson at the helm, reaching the conference finals three times, and winning at least 50 games 7 years straight (1981-1987). Their streak ended in the 1991-1992 season.
Washington Wizards – 12
During their streak of 12 consecutive postseason appearances, the franchise was called the Baltimore (until 1973), Capital (until 1974) and Washington Bullets, beginning the streak in 1969, on the way winning the NBA title in 1978 and losing in three more finals.
Dallas Mavericks – 12
The Dallas Mavericks began their streak in 2001, lasting until 2012, ending this season, probably because of Dirk Nowitzki’s injury early on (they still finished at .500). On the way, they made two NBA finals, both of them against the Miami Heat, losing in 2006 but getting revenge and redemption in 2011.
Atlanta Hawks – 11
The Hawks began their longest streak in 1963, when they were still the St. Louis Hawks, although a few years after their greatest seasons with Bob Pettit, which included NBA titles. During their 60’s and 70’s run, they never made the NBA finals, losing six times in what was then known as the Division finals.
Denver Nuggets – 10
The interesting thing about the Nuggets’ current streak of 10 consecutive playoff appearances is than except for one time (2009), they always got knocked out in the first round. George Karl has been their coach in all 10 appearances, with Carmelo Anthony being a part of the regular season success and postseason failure until the 2010-2011 season.
Indiana Pacers – 9
The Pacers had their most dominant period from 1998 to 2006, reaching the conference finals four times, and in 2000 finally making the NBA finals, with Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose leading the way, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Miller was part of that success in all but the final appearance, a year after he retired.
Minnesota Timberwolves – 8
All of the Timberwolves’ playoff appearances came with Kevin Garnett on the team, in a streak that began in 1997 and ended with their best appearance and only postseason without folding in the first round, as Garnett, the MVP, led the team (along with Sprewell and Cassell) to a 58-24 regular season record and the conference finals, losing to the Lakers in six games.
Oklahoma City Thunder – 8
The Thunder, as you all might remember, used to be the Seattle Supersonics, and the franchise’s most successful period in terms of making the postseason was in the happy 1990’s, with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp doing the damage on the court. They made the conference finals once, in 1993, losing to the Suns in 7 games in what might be the best non-finals series in NBA history, and made the NBA finals in 1996, losing to the Chicago Bulls in six games.
Sacramento Kings – 8
The Sacramento Kings made the postseason eight consecutive times between 1999 and 2006, with the 2002 conference finals, where many still believe the Lakers enjoyed criminal refereeing, being the best of that team, losing in seven games.
Houston Rockets – 7
The Rockets’ greatest period of success came in the 1990’s, with Hakeem Olajuwon at his best, with a 7-year streak between 1993 and 1999. The best came pretty quickly, with Jordan out of the NBA, and the title suddenly up for grabs. The Rockets beat the Knicks in 7 games to win their first title in 1994, and Clyde Drexler joined the dream in 1995 to sweep the Orlando Magic and Shaq in the finals.
Brooklyn Nets – 6
Still the New Jersey Nets at the time, they made the playoffs six consecutive times between 2002 and 2007, with Jason Kidd leading them to two NBA finals (2002, 2003), first losing to the Lakers and then to the San Antonio Spurs. Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter couldn’t help Kidd beat that benchmark.
Miami Heat – 6
The Miami Heat enjoyed a six-season playoff streak from 1996 to 2001, when Pat Riley took over the team and changed it almost overnight into a force in the Eastern conference, bringing Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning. That team had its best run in 1997, reaching the conference finals, losing to the Chicago Bulls in five games.
Orlando Magic – 6
It wasn’t all bad for Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy once. In fact, it was pretty impressive for a while, as the Magic reached the postseason six times from 2007 to 2012, including a finals appearance in 2009 and a conference final in 2010.
Cleveland Cavaliers – 5
The Cavs have two streaks of five playoff appearances. The first of them is from 1992 to 1996, with the Chicago Bulls standing in their way three consecutive times, including the 1992 conference finals. The second streak happened with LeBron James at the center of things from 2006 to 2010, reaching the NBA finals in 2007 (losing to the Spurs) and the conference finals (losing to the Magic) in 2009.
New Orleans Pelicans – 5
Jamal Mashburn was there on four of those playoff seasons, that began in 2000 when the team was still in Charlotte, continuing for two more years after the move to New Orleans.
Toronto Raptors – 3
For a moment, it looked like the Raptors were the next big thing in the NBA, especially after beating the Knicks in the playoffs in 2001. Their streak lasted three years (2000-02), but both Carter and McGrady soon left, and there hasn’t been much success there since.
Golden State Warriors – 3
It’s weird to think that a franchise like the Warriors, with an NBA title in 1975, doesn’t have more than three consecutive years of playoff appearances, but that’s what research has shown: three times as the Philadelphia Warriors, one more time as the San Francisco Warriors and two more times in the 1970’s as the Golden State Warriors.
Los Angeles Clippers – 3
The Clippers were still the Buffalo Braves when they reached the playoff for three consecutive times (1974-1976), led by Bob McAdoo, who won the MVP in 1975.
Memphis Grizzlies – 3
The Grizzlies have two streaks of three consecutive playoff appearances: First with Pau Gasol leading the team (2004-2006), swept in the first round three consecutive times. With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the frontcourt, they’ve been a little bit more successful, making the playoffs these past three seasons, winning a series (and even two) for the first time in franchise history, reaching the conference finals in 2013.
Charlotte Bobcats – 1
In 2010, the tandem of Gerlad Wallace and Stephen Jackson seemed like it was going to do some nice things for a number of years in Charlotte. Alas, that mini-success lasted only one year.