The Worst of the NBA Playoffs

May 10, 2019

As basketball’s postseason heats up, here’s a look into the teams that have historically fared quite poorly. 

Longest current playoff drought

The Sacramento Kings finished in ninth place in the Western Conference for the 2018-19 season, just barely missing out on one of eight playoff spots. That marked the 13th straight year that the team hasn’t advanced to the postseason. 

Longest all-time playoff drought

For decades, it seemed like the Los Angeles Lakers always made a deep run in the playoffs…while the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t come anywhere close to contending for a championship. Indeed, from 1977 through 1991 — 15 straight seasons — the Clippers didn’t reach the playoffs. 

Never won a title

The NBA’s history is dominated by “dynasties” — the same teams win championships year after year. In fact out of 30 teams in total, 12 have never won a title, including the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, and Orlando Magic.  

Never contended for a title

But at least those franchises made it to the Finals. The L.A. Clippers, Charlotte Hornets, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors, and Memphis Grizzlies have never gotten as far as the championship round. 

Longest time since a title

The Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks have both won championships…although for both teams, it was a very long time ago, and it was when they were located in different cities. The Kings, which has also had stops in Kansas City and Cincinnati, won it all in 1951 as the Rochester Royals. The St. Louis Hawks took the title back in 1958. 

Worst teams to advance

Since 1984, the NBA Playoffs have followed a 16-team, knockout-style tournament. In each conference, the team with the best record plays the team with the eighth best, and the second-best plays the number seven team, and it’s eventually whittled down. Only twice has a #8 team knocked off a #1 seed. The Denver Nuggets did it to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994, and the New York Knicks upset the Miami Heat in 1999, and then made an improbable run all the way to the Finals (and a loss to the San Antonio Spurs). 

Worst team to make the playoffs

The eight teams with the best records from each conference with the winningest records play in the postseason, and the lower-ranked teams often have a sub-.500 finish. The worst team to ever reach the playoffs in the 16-team format: the 1986 Chicago Bulls, who, despite the presence of Michael Jordan, finished 30-52. (The Boston Celtics swept them in the first round.)