A whopping 16 teams make the NBA playoffs—more than half of the league. Result: Sometimes the field is a little weak.
The 1985-86 was Michael Jordan’s second in the NBA, and the second time he took the Bulls to the playoffs…despite a broken bone in his foot that allowed him to play in just 18 games all season. Result: The Bulls put up a record of 30-52, in part because of the super-dominant Boston Celtics (67-15) and L.A. Lakers (62-20)—with two teams winning all those games, all the other teams lose. Jordan was back to full health by the time the playoffs started, where the Bulls eked in with the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. Jordan scored a record 63 points in the second game of the first round series, but the Bulls were still swept by the Celtics, 3 games to 0.
The 1988 San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs won the eighth seed in the Western Conference at 31-51, only because the teams below them were so bad, including the 17-65 L.A. Clippers and 20-62 Golden State Warriors. Despite defensive superstar Alvin Robertson, the L.A. Lakers defeated the Spurs 3 games to 0. If only the Spurs had had their 1987 #1 draft pick, David Robinson…but he was still finishing up a stint in the Navy.
The 1953 Baltimore Bullets
In the early NBA, eight of the league’s 10 teams made the playoffs, and the eighth team in the 1952-53 season happened to be the 16-54 Baltimore Bullets. They’re still the worst team in American professional team sports to reach the postseason. (They were dispatched 2 games to 0 by the New York Knicks.)
The 1999 New York Knicks
Since the playoffs moved to a 16-team format in 1984 (eight per conference), only five times has the #1 seed been knocked out in the first round by a #8 seed. And only once has that #8 seed gone all the way to the finals. In the strike-shortened 1999 season, the #8 Knicks took the #1 Miami Heat to five games, and Allan Houston sank a long shot with 0.8 seconds left. The Knicks then inexplicably swept the #4 Atlanta Hawks, and then beat Indiana in the conference finals, even without injured superstar Patrick Ewing. The Cinderella story ended in the Finals, where they lost to the Western Conference’s #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs.