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The best team for every NBA franchise

Magic Johnson after the Lakers defeated Boston Celtics,
Detroit Pistons team owner Bill Davidson holds the
LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks
Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan holds the ball
San Antonio Spurs David Robinson, right, and Tim

The NBA is by far the youngest of the four most prominent North American sports pro leagues, but three-quarters of a century still is plenty of time to make history, and memories.

Each of the 30 current franchises has had its moments – some many more than others, of course – and left fans with seasons to cherish. But which of those seasons was the very best for each team?

For some, that is easy: The Pelicans have won more than 50 games only once, when they still were the Hornets. For others, like the Lakers, it’s tricky. That’s OK. Feel free to disagree, or argue. There are no right or wrong answers here, other than for the Pelicans.

1972-73 KNICKS

The argument: History has been kind to the 1969-70 Knicks, and rightly so, what with their famously unselfish style of play, dedication to defense and status as the first champions in franchise history.

But ask the players of that era which team was their best and most will say without hesitation what Walt Frazier himself once told Newsday: It was 1972-73.

That was the Knicks’ second and still most recent championship team, and it featured a little something that the ’69-70 team lacked: Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, one of the best players of his era.

When Monroe arrived in a trade in 1971, most fans wondered how he would co-exist in a shared backcourt with Frazier. Pretty well, as it turned out.

That ’72-73 team won 57 games in the regular season, leading the NBA with 98.2 points allowed per game, then beat the Bullets in five games and the Celtics – who were 11 games ahead of them in the regular season – in seven.

That set up a third Finals against the Lakers in four years. After splitting the first two series, the Knicks cruised in the third, winning it in five games. Willis Reed was the Finals’ MVP, averaging 16.4 points and 9.2 assists.

Five Knicks averaged more than 15 points in the series as the Knicks dropped Game 1 then won four in a row, clinching it, anticlimactically, on the road in Wilt Chamberlain’s final career game.

Honorable mentions are in order for teams such as 1952-53, which went 47-23 and lost in the Finals for the third year in a row; 1992-93, which won 60 games and lost an epic conference final to Michael Jordan’s Bulls; and ’93-94, which reached the Finals against the Rockets and had two chances to win it all in Houston but lost both.

Head coach: Red Holzman

Record: 57-25, won NBA championship

Hall of Famers:  Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas

Home:  35-6

Road:  21-18

Neutral: 2-1

Vs. East: 33-13

Vs. West: 24-12

Pre All-Star: 39-12

Post All-Star: 18-13

Winning streak: 11

Losing streak: 3 (Twice)

Most points scored: 139 (Nov. 29 at Philadelphia)

Fewest points scored: 74 (Dec. 1 at Milwaukee)

Most points allowed: 127 (Nov. 4 at Golden State)

Fewest points allowed: 80 (twice)

IN THE PLAYOFFS

Conference Semifinals: def. Baltimore, 4-1

Conference Finals: def. Boston, 4-3

NBA Finals: def. Los Angeles, 4-1

1973-74 NETS

The argument: Many fans best remember the 1975-76 Nets who traveled a complicated playoff path to a victory in the championship round over the Nuggets at Nassau Coliseum in the final game in ABA history.

But the ABA was a wounded entity by then, on the verge of absorption into the NBA.

What the Nets did in a healthier, 10-team ABA in 1973-74 was more impressive, with Julius Erving headlining for a strong supporting cast that featured dynamic rookie Larry Kenon.

Kenon averaged 15.9 points and a team-best 11.5 rebounds, and fit in nicely alongside Erving (27.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists), Billy Paultz (16.4 points, 10.2 rebounds) and “Super” John Williamson (14.5 points).

Others who played meaningful roles included John Roche, Brian Taylor, Mike Gale and Wendell Ladner.

But Erving was the transcendent superstar, playing in his first season on his native Long Island after a trade with the Squires.

The Nets somehow lost nine games in a row early in the season and were 4-10 on Nov. 10. From that point on, including the playoffs, they were a neat 63-21.

They blew through the playoffs against the Squires, Colonels and Stars with a 12-2 record. They led the finals 3-0 before the Stars salvaged one game and allowed the Nets to win the title on their home court.

Newsday reported that in the chaos afterward one, then two, then three young men hung from the rim on the north end, seeking a souvenir.

They got it, but in the process the backboard shattered, leaving glass on the court and ending the plans for an on-court trophy presentation.

Honorable mentions are in order for the 2001-02 and ’02-03 teams led by Jason Kidd that reached back-to-back NBA Finals, losing to the Lakers in four and Spurs in six.

Head coach: Kevin Loughery

Record: 55-29, won ABA championship

Hall of Famers: Julius Erving

Home: 55-29

Road: 31-11

Vs. East: 29-15

Vs. West: 26-14

Pre All-Star: 34-20

Post All-Star: 21-9

Winning streak: 9

Losing streak: 9

Avg. points: 109.4

Opp. points: 104.0

Most points scored: 134 (Nov. 28, San Diego)

Fewest points scored: 83 (Dec. 19, Kentucky)

Most points allowed: 131 (Jan. 16, Carolina)

Fewest points allowed :82 (Dec. 19, Kentucky)

IN THE PLAYOFFS

Conference Semifinals: def. Virginia, 4-1

Conference Finals: def. Kentucky, 4-0

ABA Finals: def. Utah, 4-1

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

CELTICS, 1985-86

Coach: K.C. Jones

Record: 67-15, beat Rockets (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton

The argument: You might think it would be difficult to choose from among many great Celtics teams – including several in the 1960s and early ‘70s and the 2007-08 “Big Three” team of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

But no. This is the one, led by Bird’s 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists as part of an all-Hall of Fame frontcourt alongside Parish and McHale. Walton came off the bench in his last full season.

They were 17-2, 38-8, 50-11 and 64-13, then got serious in the playoffs – going 15-3 to win the title.

76ERS, 1966-67

Coach: Alex Hannum

Record: 68-13, beat Warriors (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker

The argument: Before Michael Jordan’s 1990s Bulls, many considered this the gold standard of NBA dominance – a team that started 46-4 and never faced an elimination playoff game against the Royals, Celtics and Warriors.

Chamberlain put up halfway decent numbers for his hometown team, averaging 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists, and was backed by an elite support staff including Greer, Walker and Cunningham.

All due respect to the “fo’, fo’, fo’” 1982-83 champs that featured Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, and to the 2000-01 NBA finalists led by Allen Iverson.

RAPTORS, 2018-19

Coach: Nick Nurse

Record: 58-24, beat Warriors (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: None (yet)

The argument: There is not one, at least not against this team.

Even though the previous season’s Raptors won one more regular-season game, the playoffs had been a persistent struggle until the team traded for a reluctant Kawhi Leonard and North Babylon’s Danny Green from the Spurs.

Leonard averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in his one regular season in Canada, aided by the likes of Green, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka.

Then Leonard improved his averages to 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in the playoffs, including a Game 7 buzzer-beater against the 76ers in the conference semifinals.

CENTRAL DIVISION

BULLS, 1995-96

Coach: Phil Jackson

Record: 72-10, beat SuperSonics (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Famer players: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman

The argument: With Jordan in his first full season back from baseball and Rodman on board, this was the peak of the Bulls’ 1990s dynasty.

Their 72 regular-season victories and 15-3 romp through the playoffs only begin to explain their dominance.

They led the league in points per game and were tied for second in points allowed. Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.3 points, Pippen 19.4, 6.4 and 5.9.

Rodman averaged 14.9 rebounds and Tony Kukoc 13.1 points, mostly off the bench.

From late November to early February, the Bulls had a 31-1 stretch.

BUCKS, 1970-71

Coach: Larry Costello

Record: 66-16, beat Bullets (4-0) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson

The argument: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. have been gaining the past two seasons, but for now there is no question which Bucks team is tops.

In 1970-’71 they led the NBA in scoring with an average of 118.4 points and were third in points allowed at 106.2.

Lew Alcindor, soon to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was regular season and Finals MVP. He averaged 31.7 points, 16.0 rebounds in the regular season.

Robertson added 19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 8.2 assists at age 33 after being traded to Milwaukee by the Royals. Bobby Dandridge contributed 18.4 points and Jon McGlocklin 15.8.

CAVALIERS, 2015-16

Coach: David Blatt/Tyronn Lue

Record: 57-25, beat Warriors (4-3) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: None (yet)

The argument: Sure, LeBron James’ 2008-09 Cavaliers won 66 games. But how can we not choose a team that came back from a 3-1 Finals deficit against the Warriors – winning twice on the road – to win the Cavs’ first championship?

James was splendid, averaging 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the regular season, and had an elite sidekick in Kyrie Irving, with 19.6 points and 4.7 assists per game.

In Game 7 of the Finals, James made a big block and Irving made a big three-pointer.

Kevin Love averaged 16.0 points and 9.9 rebounds during the regular season.

PISTONS, 1988-89

Coach: Chuck Daly

Record: 63-19, beat Lakers (4-0) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, Adrian Dantley

The argument: The Bad Boys at their peak, capped by avenging a seven-game loss to the Lakers in the 1988 Finals by sweeping them in ’89 to end a 15-2 playoff run. The only losses were to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the conference final.

Thomas averaged 18.2 points and 8.3 assists, slightly behind the 18.4 points Dantley averaged before he was traded to the Mavericks for Mark Aguirre midseason.

Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Rodman provided frontcourt muscle in support of a sublime backcourt of Thomas and Dumars, with Vinnie Johnson providing scoring punch off the bench.

PACERS, 1999-2000

Coach: Larry Bird

Record: 56-26, lost to Lakers (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin

The argument: This is a tricky one, with several good candidates, including three ABA championship teams, the 1994-95 NBA finalists and a 2003-04 team that won 61 games.

But our pick is 1999-2000, an outfit that dispatched the Knicks in the Eastern Conference final before falling to a powerhouse Lakers team led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Jalen Rose (18.2 points) and Miller (18.1) were the scoring leaders. Rik Smits was the center. Dale Davis averaged 9.9 rebounds to go with his 10.0 points.

And Mullin averaged 5.1 points off the bench in his next-to-last NBA season.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

HAWKS, 1958-59

Coach: Andy Phillip/Ed Macauley

Record: 49-23, lost to Lakers (4-2) in division final

Hall of Fame players: Cliff Hagan, Bob Pettit, Ed Macauley, Slater Martin, Clyde Lovellette

The argument: Cases can be made for teams that won 60 games in 2014-15 and 57 each in 1986-87 and 1993-94, and for the franchise’s lone championship team in 1957-58.

But the ’58-59 team was better, going 49-23 after adding Lovellette to a team that already had four Hall of Famers.

Pettit averaged 29.2 points and 16.4 rebounds, and Hagan 23.7 and 10.9 for the league’s best defensive team. Lovellette averaged 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds.

How did those Hawks lose to a 33-39 Lakers team in the playoffs? Life is a mystery.

WIZARDS, 1974-75

Coach: K.C. Jones

Record: 60-22, lost to Warriors (4-0) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes.

The argument: Yes, we know. The 1977-78 team won the only NBA title in Bullets/Wizards history. But c’mon, that team went 44-38 and had a positive point differential of less than a point a game.

The pick here is 1974-75, a team that won 60 games behind Hall of Famers Unseld (9.2 points, 14.8 rebounds) and Hayes (23.0 points, 12.2 rebounds).

Phil Chenier averaged 21.8 points; former Knick Mike Riordan, who grew up in Great Neck, added 15.4.

Those Bullets beat the 60-win Celtics in the conference finals before getting swept in the Finals by Rick Barry’s Warriors.

HORNETS, 1997-98

Coach: Dave Cowens

Record: 51-31, lost to Bulls (4-1) in conference semifinals

Hall of Fame player: Vlade Divac

The argument: This team’s lineage is in the franchise that moved to New Orleans, but when the NBA returned to Charlotte it was decided that the old Hornets would count as part of the original franchise. Kind of like the NFL Browns, even though they moved to Baltimore. Confusing.

Glen Rice averaged 22.3 points to lead six players in double figures. Former Knick Anthony Mason added 12.8 points and 10.2 rebounds, and David Wesley 13.0 points and 6.5 assists.

This team recently returned to the spotlight as part of the Bulls’ roadkill in the ESPN series, “The Last Dance.”

HEAT, 2012-13

Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Record: 66-16, beat Spurs (4-3) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame player: Ray Allen

The argument: LeBron James used to play for the Heat. No, really. Ask your parents. And this team was the peak of his four-year detour to South Beach.

James averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists, and Dwyane Wade added 21.2, 5.5 and 5.1 during the regular season. Chris Bosh averaged 16.6 points and Allen 10.9.

Not that winning it all was easy. The Heat needed seven games to survive the Pacers in the conference final, then a season-saving, game-tying three-pointer from Allen in Game 6 of the Finals against the Spurs to make it out alive.

MAGIC, 2008-09

Coach: Stan Van Gundy

Record: 59-23, lost to Lakers (4-1) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame player: None (yet)

The argument: Props to the mid-1990s teams of Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Horace Grant, Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson, but we like ’08-09 a smidge better.

It was an odd, mix-and-match bunch headlined by Dwight Howard, who averaged 20.6 points and 13.8 boards.

His supporting cast featured Rashard Lewis (17.7 points), Hedo Turkoglu (16.8), Jameer Nelson (16.7) and Queens’ Rafer Alson, plus a reserve guard named Tyronn Lue who went on to a career of some renown as coach with a franchise on Lake Erie.

It was fun while it lasted, which was until the Finals, where Kobe Bryant’s Lakers ended the magic in five.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

NORTHWEST DIVISION

NUGGETS, 2008-09

Coach: George Karl

Record: 54-28, lost (4-2) to Lakers in conference finals

Hall of Fame player: Allen Iverson

The argument: The ABA teams of the mid-1970s were formidable, including a 65-win season in 1974-75 and a ’75-76 team with three Hall of Famers – Dan Issel, David Thompson, Bobby Jones – that lost to the Nets in the Finals.

But let’s go with Carmelo Anthony’s 54-victory ’08-09 team, which breezed by the Hornets and Mavericks in five games each before running into Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the conference final.

Melo averaged 22.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Chauncey Billups, acquired in an early-season trade for Iverson, added 17.9 points and 6.4 assists. J.R. Smith averaged 15.2 points.

JAZZ, 1997-98

Coach: Jerry Sloan

Record: 62-20, lost (4-2) to Bulls in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Karl Malone, John Stockton

The argument: Malone and Stockton were aging but still effective when Michael Jordan cruelly ripped away their best chance for a championship.

The Jazz dispatched the Spurs and Lakers in a total of nine games to qualify for the Finals in a season many fans have gotten to revisit this spring thanks to ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary.

You might recall a certain controversial play in Game 6 of the Finals when Jordan was being defended by Bryon Russell.

Malone averaged 27.0 points and 10.3 rebounds, Stockton 12.0 points and 8.5 assists, and future Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek 14.2 points.

THUNDER, 2011-12

Coach: Scott Brooks

Record: 47-19, lost (4-1) to Heat in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: None (yet)

The argument: Strong candidates, including the 1978-79 SuperSonics championship team of Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Fred Brown, and the 1995-96 Sonics led by Gary Payton that took the Bulls to six games in the Finals.

But when future generations examine this roster, they will be shocked to see Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook on the same team.

Durant averaged 28 points and 8 rebounds that season. Westbrook added 23.6 points and 5.5 assists, and Harden 16.8 points.

They won playoff series over the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs before losing to LeBron James’ Heat in the Finals.

TRAIL BLAZERS, 1976-77

Coach: Jack Ramsay

Record: 49-33, won (4-2) over 76ers in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame player: Bill Walton

The argument: Clyde Drexler’s early 1990s Blazers were formidable, highlighted by a trip to the Finals in 1992, where they fell to Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

But the 1976-77 and ’77-78 teams of Bill Walton retain a special place in franchise lore.

The ’77-78 team won 50 of its first 60 games and seemed destined to repeat as champs, but Walton broke his foot and the dream was derailed despite a 58-24 mark.

That leaves ’76-77, when Walton (18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds) and Maurice Lucas (20.2 points, 11.4 rebounds) patrolled the frontcourt while Lionel Hollins (14.7 points, 4.1 assists) ran the backcourt.

TIMBERWOLVES, 2003-04

Coach: Flip Saunders

Record: 58-24, lost (4-2) to Lakers in conference final

Hall of Fame player: Kevin Garnett

The argument: Slim pickings here, obviously, but the ’03-04 ‘Wolves were legit, winning 58 regular-season games and making a Lakers team that featured four Hall of Famers in Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone work for it in the conference final.

Garnett was in the middle of his prime that season, averaging 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Sam Cassell added 19.8 points and 7.3 assists and Latrell Sprewell averaged 16.8 points.

Cold Spring Harbor’s own Wally Szczerbiak was limited to 28 regular-season games because of injuries, but he averaged 11.8 points in the playoffs.

PACIFIC DIVISION

LAKERS, 1986-87

Coach: Pat Riley

Record: 65-17, beat Celtics (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy

The argument: So much to choose from, including 1949-50, 1971-72 and 1999-2000, none of which would be a wrong answer.

But 1986-87 was the height of the Lakers’ 1980s dominance, led by Magic, who averaged 23.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 12.2 assists.

Magic was only the start. Worthy averaged 19.4 points, Abdul-Jabbar 17.5 and Byron Scott 17.0. There was more: A.C. Green! Michael Cooper! Mychal Thompson! Kurt Rambis!

As often was the case in that era, the Lakers toyed with the West in the playoffs, going 11-1, before knocking off the defending champion Celtics in the Finals.

CLIPPERS, 2013-14

Coach: Doc Rivers

Record: 57-25, lost to Thunder (4-2) in Western Conference semifinals

Hall of Fame players: None (yet)

The argument: One could make a case for the 2014-15 team if one were inclined to care about such things when it comes to a historically inept franchise. But ’13-14 was plenty good.

Blake Griffin headlined a diverse roster, averaging 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists, and Chris Paul added 19.1 points and 10.7 assists.

Jamal Crawford averaged 18.6 points and J.J. Redick 15.2. Future Knick and Net DeAndre Jordan added 10.4 points and 13.6 rebounds.

The Clippers of the mid-2010s won more than 50 games five seasons in a row but never advanced past the second playoff round.

KINGS, 2001-02

Coach: Rick Adelman

Record: 61-21, lost to Lakers (4-3) in Western Conference final

Hall of Fame player: Vlade Divac

The argument: It would have been fun to pick the 1950-51 Rochester Royals, a franchise ancestor of the Kings that won the Finals over the Knicks with a guard named Red Holzman averaging 7.3 points.

But no. It’s these guys, eliminated in a controversial conference final against the Lakers. Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy later claimed a strangely officiated Game 6 was designed to force Game 7.

The Kings had seven players average more than 10 points during the regular season, led by Chris Webber’s 24.5 (plus 10.1 rebounds). Peja Stojakovic averaged 21.2 points and Mike Bibby 13.7 with 5.0 assists.

SUNS, 1992-93

Coach: Paul Westphal

Record: 62-20, lost to Bulls (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame player: Charles Barkley

The argument: It’s remarkable how many good teams of the 1990s were derailed by the Michael Jordan-era Bulls. This is one.

The ’92-93 Suns had the league MVP in Barkley and advanced past the Lakers, Spurs and SuperSonics before losing to Jordan in six.

They came home down 3-2 and had a chance to even the series but saw John Paxson make a three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left to win Game 6 for the Bulls, 99-98.

Barkley averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists that season. Dan Majerle added 16.9 points, Kevin Johnson 16.1 points and 7.8 assists.

WARRIORS, 2016-17

Coach: Steve Kerr

Record: 67-15, beat Cavaliers (4-1) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: None (yet)

The argument: The Warriors won three championships in the 20th century and three more in the 2010s, plus a season with a record 73 victories in the regular season that ended with a Finals loss to LeBron James’ Cavaliers.

But the ’16-17 team is difficult to argue against, including the fact it made a mockery of the NBA playoffs by going 16-1 against the Trail Blazers, Jazz, Spurs and Cavs.

The Warriors averaged 115.9 points behind Stephen Curry’s 25.3 (with 6.6 assists), Kevin Durant’s 25.1 (with 8.3 rebounds) and Klay Thompson’s 22.3. Draymond Green added 10.2 points and 7.9 boards.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

GRIZZLIES, 2012-13

Coach: Lionel Hollins

Record: 56-26, lost to Spurs (4-0) in Western Conference final

Hall of Fame players: None (yet)

The argument: The Grizzlies mostly have been awful throughout their history in Vancouver and Memphis, but they did win 50 or more games three seasons in a row in the mid-2010s, and this team was the best of that era.

They were built around a defense that led the NBA with 89.3 points allowed per game. But they did have scoring punch. Rudy Gay averaged 17.2 points, Zach Randolph 15.4, Mike Conley 14.6 and Marc Gasol 14.1.

Randolph added 11.2 rebounds a game and Conley 6.1 assists.

The conference final was a rout, though; the Spurs swept with little trouble.

PELICANS, 2007-08

Coach: Byron Scott

Record: 56-26, lost to Spurs (4-3) in Western Conference semifinals

Hall of Fame players: None (yet)

The argument: The Pelicans have won 50 games only once, so this seems like a good option. They still were known as the Hornets then, before Charlotte eventually got the Hornets nickname back. It’s complicated.

But they had their shot, leading the Spurs 3-2 in the conference final before dropping the last two games, including Game 7 at home. (The franchise has won one playoff series since.)

Chris Paul averaged 21.1 points and 11.6 assists in the regular season, David West 20.6 points and 8.9 rebounds, Peja Stojakovic 16.4 points and future Knick Tyson Chandler 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds.

ROCKETS, 1993-94

Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich

Record: 58-24, beat Knicks (4-3) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame player: Hakeem Olajuwan

The argument: No, we did not do this to bum out John Starks and/or Knicks fans.

Led by Olajuwan (27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists) and a balanced lineup, the Rockets were good enough to beat the Bulls even if Michael Jordan had not been busy playing baseball.

Otis Thorpe averaged 14.0 points and 10.6 rebounds, Vernon Maxwell 13.6 points and 5.1 assists, Kenny Smith 11.6 points and 4.2 assists and Robert Horry 9.9 points.

After dispatching the Jazz in five games, the Rockets were down 3-2 in the Finals then went back to Houston and, well, you know.

SPURS, 1998-99

Coach: Gregg Popovich

Record: 37-13, beat Knicks (4-1) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame players: David Robinson, Tim Duncan

The argument: Choosing among the Spurs’ championship teams is as difficult as choosing among Tim Duncan’s facial expressions. They are variations on a theme – that theme being Duncan.

But ’98-99 gets the nod, in part because facing the Knicks in the Finals is a tiebreaker of sorts.

Those Spurs featured one of the best frontcourt duos in history in Duncan (21.7 points, 11.4 rebounds) and Robinson (15.8 points, 10.0 rebounds). Sean Elliott added 11.2 points, Avery Johnson 7.4 assists.

They also had experience. Of their top eight in minutes played, Duncan was the only one under 30 years old.

MAVERICKS, 2010-11

Coach: Rick Carlisle

Record: 57-25, beat Heat (4-2) in NBA Finals

Hall of Fame player: Jason Kidd

The argument: The 2006-07 team that won 67 regular-season games then bombed out in the first playoff round is one of several strong Mavericks units that did not go all the way.

This one did, led by Dirk Nowitzki’s 23.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Jason Terry mostly came off the bench to average 15.8 points and an aging but still effective Kidd averaged 7.9 points and 8.2 assists.

Tyson Chandler averaged 10.1 points and 9.4 rebounds.

The Heat led the Finals 2-1 in LeBron James’ first season in Miami; the Mavs then won three in a row.

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