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The Top 5 Teams of the Past Decade

Ranking the most dominant single seasons over the past 10 years. (Don’t worry, we limited ourselves to one Warriors team to make it interesting.)

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Basketball is (maybe, hopefully) on the horizon. To help reintegrate us to a life of Giannis hammer dunks, James Harden dribbling for 24 seconds, and 76ers fans yelling at you for some reason, we’re rolling out top-five rankings in 20 different categories. All rankings were voted on by The Ringer staff unless noted. For this list, each franchise could be chosen only once.

5. Houston Rockets, 2017-18

Record: 65-17
Net rating: 8.4
Finish: Lost in Western Conference finals

The 2017-18 Warriors weren’t as superb as the previous year’s version, but they were still the Warriors with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and friends. En route to a second consecutive championship, Golden State dispatched the Spurs and Pelicans in five games apiece, and swept the Cavaliers in the Finals. Yet in the conference finals, the Rockets posed a formidable speed bump.

In their first season playing together, Chris Paul and James Harden dispelled all doubts about two point guards coexisting with a single ball; Mike D’Antoni staggered his stars’ playing time so “for 48 minutes we have a Hall of Fame point guard on the floor,” and the team flourished. Harden won MVP and his first scoring title, and the Rockets pushed Moreyball further than ever before, becoming the first team to take at least half of its shots from 3-point range. (Before that season, the 2016-17 Rockets were the only team ever to exceed 40 percent.)

The Rockets won 65 games and led the league in net rating, then cruised to the conference finals and took a 3-2 lead against the mighty Warriors. If Paul hadn’t missed the final two games of the series with an injury suffered in the waning moments of Game 5, or if the Rockets hadn’t missed an unfathomable 27 3-pointers in a row in Game 7—even without Paul, they led the winner-take-all contest by double digits in the second half—the Rockets very well could have advanced. They probably should have advanced.

Alas, they’ll have to settle for being named the fifth-best team of the 2010s, ahead of several actual championship victors, instead.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, 2015-16

Record: 57-25
Net rating: 6.3
Finish: Won NBA championship

Here’s a team that successfully eliminated the Warriors, albeit with some help from a Draymond Green suspension. We all know the highlights: LeBron’s block, Kyrie’s shot, a 3-1 comeback, and the end to the city of Cleveland’s lengthy title drought.

But the Cavaliers were a rampaging force before the Finals, too. They won their first two playoff rounds in sweeps, then steamrolled the Raptors in the conference finals. (Toronto took two games in the series, but Cleveland’s four victories came by an average of 28.5 points per win; the closest margin was 19 points.) Their plus-9.5 net rating in the playoffs ranks fourth in the decade, behind the first two Warriors teams with Durant and the next team on this list. And again, they beat the 73-win Warriors. There might not be a more impressive singular achievement from any team in the decade.

3. San Antonio Spurs, 2013-14

Record: 62-20
Net rating: 8.1
Finish: Won NBA championship

Here’s a stat: Even while losing a game, the Spurs outscored Miami by 70 points in the 2014 NBA Finals. That’s the record for most lopsided championship round in league history.

Here’s another stat: The Spurs won 12 different games by at least 15 points that postseason. That’s also a record.

And here’s a visual from that spring, symbolic of the Spurs’ balletic system, to accompany the numbers:

The 2013-14 Spurs were on a mission after their Finals heartbreak the previous summer, and they fulfilled said mission in style: with four certain future Hall of Famers, a 19-game win streak in the regular season, and a succession of playoff romps on the way to a title.

2. Miami Heat, 2012-13

Record: 66-16
Net rating: 8.2
Finish: Won NBA championship

Oh look, another LeBron James team that won an instant-classic seven-game Finals with an outrageous comeback. At 66-16, the 2012-13 Heat were the best team in franchise history, and it wasn’t all that close, with James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh at the peak of their collective powers after learning each other’s tendencies for three seasons. Coach Erik Spoelstra had learned, too, and fully unveiled the Bosh-at-center strategy that catapulted the Heat to the stratosphere. (Udonis Haslem started most playoff games, but the top seven players in playoff minutes were the big three, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Norris Cole. Mike Miller also stepped in for Haslem for the last four games of the Finals.)

The Heat didn’t have an easy go of the playoffs, pushing to a seventh game against both Indiana in the conference finals and San Antonio in the Finals. But like the 2015-16 Warriors, they might have expended too much energy in the regular season pushing for a record: in Miami’s case, a 27-game win streak that’s the second longest in league history.

The chief highlight, of course, came in the Finals comeback, and ranks among the most memorable shots the league has ever produced. Mike Breen, take it away.

1. Golden State Warriors, 2016-17

Record: 67-15
Net rating: 11.4
Finish: Won NBA championship

What happens when a team wins a record number of regular-season games and then, thanks in large part to an unprecedented salary cap spike, replaces Harrison Barnes with the best individual scorer in the league? It produces arguably the greatest single season in NBA history.

The team’s regular-season point differential (plus-11.6 per game) is the fourth best in league history, behind the 1971-72 Lakers, 1970-71 Bucks, and 1995-96 Bulls. Its playoff mark (plus-13.5 per game) is second best, behind only those Bucks. And its playoff record (16-1) is the best ever, with only a loss in Game 4 of the Finals besmirching the perfect slate. (The 2000-01 Lakers and 1982-83 76ers also lost just one playoff game apiece, albeit in shorter postseason structures.)

With Curry, Durant, and Klay Thompson all averaging 22-plus points per game, the Warriors might have had the best offense in league history—and that offense improved in the playoffs despite the superior competition. Golden State certainly benefited from Kawhi Leonard’s injury in Game 1 of the conference finals—the Spurs led by 23 when Leonard left—but it’s not as if its other opponents were slouching: The defending champion Cavaliers went 12-1 in the Eastern playoffs, coasting to their third consecutive Finals, only to be obliterated by the Warriors in the next round.

Had this list allowed for multiple Warriors teams, they might have placed three or four in the top five for the decade. But narrow it down to one, and the choice is still clear. Given the specific constellation of circumstances that led to the Golden State dynasty and Durant’s inclusion, we might never see another team as dominant as the 2016-17 Warriors.

Also receiving multiple votes: 2018-19 Raptors, 2010-11 Mavericks, 2009-10 Lakers, 2012-13 Thunder