When people recall some of the best classic NBA teams, they think of the ‘85 Celtics, the ‘96 Bulls, or the ‘01 Lakers. However, some teams flew under the radar and didn’t get the recognition they deserved.
Here are my top three teams that dominated for a season but were forgotten by most basketball fans.
Milwaukee Bucks | 1970-71
In the 1970-71 season, just two years after the Boston Celtics ended their run of eight straight titles, the Milwaukee Bucks were the best team in the NBA. The Bucks ended the season with a league-best 66-16 record and went on to win the franchise’s only championship. What made this Bucks team so special is that they effectively won with only five players.
Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was the best player on the Bucks and in the entire league that season. He played just over 40 minutes per game and averaged 31.7 points and 16 rebounds en route to his first of six MVP awards.
As perhaps one of the greatest point guards in the history of the game, Oscar Robertson was the team’s leader and the ultimate playmaker. Robertson averaged 19.7 points per game and 8.2 assists that year.
On the wing, Jon McGlocklin was key to the Bucks’ success. The sharpshooter could knock down shots from anywhere on the court, scoring 15.8 points per game. If there had been a three-point line, he probably would have led the league in triples.
The forwards, Bob Dandridge and Greg Smith, were solid players. Dandridge was the Bucks’ secret weapon, adding 18.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Smith was a solid defender and an excellent rebounder for his size. He scored 11.7 points and grabbed 7.2 rebounds per contest.
The 1970-71 Bucks were one of the greatest teams in the history of the league, but unfortunately still live in the shadow of the Celtics’ long title run.
Miami Heat | 2005-06
When people think of the Miami Heat, they remember the four straight NBA Finals appearances with LeBron James from 2011-2014. Very few remember the Heat’s championship run and the emergence of Dwyane Wade in the 2006 playoffs.
The Heat went through many ups and downs in the 2005-06 season. After starting the season with an 11-10 record, head coach Stan Van Gundy resigned. But Pat Riley stepped in, and the season became promising. Miami finished the season with a 52-30 record and earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Detroit Pistons.
This Heat squad was full of studs. Dwyane Wade was by far the best player, scoring 27.2 points and adding 6.7 assists per game. Then there was Shaquille O’Neal and Antoine Walker down low. Together they averaged 32.2 points and 14.3 rebounds per game.
At point guard, the creative Jason Williams dished out passes to James Posey, who shot over 40% from beyond the arc. Miami also had two veterans in Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning, who provided the experience and leadership necessary to make a deep playoff run.
The Heat took down the Chicago Bulls in the first round, the New Jersey Nets in the Conference Semifinals, and the Pistons in the Conference Finals. It looked like Miami had finally cooled down once the Dallas Mavericks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead in the Finals, but Dwyane Wade had other plans. He scored 157 combined points in the next four games, leading the Heat a 4-2 series victory.
Wade was named Finals MVP, and the Miami Heat earned their first title as a franchise. The 2005-06 Heat were not one of the best teams of all time, but they caught fire in the playoffs and had a special championship run.
Houston Rockets | 1994-95
The Chicago Bulls were the franchise everyone was talking about in the 1990s. What people don’t recall is that the Rockets interrupted the Bulls’ title run by winning back to back championships in 1994 and 1995. The 1994-95 season was especially significant for Houston.
Hakeem Olajuwon was the main reason for the Rockets’ success. He was exceptional on both ends of the court, averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game. Just one year prior, Olajuwon won both the Most Valuable Player Award and Defensive Player of the Year Award in the same season, joining Michael Jordan as the only two players to do so.
Clyde Drexler was the second option on the team, though he would have been the go-to guy on most teams. He poured in 21.4 points per game throughout the season.
Forwards Otis Thorpe and Robert Horry could knock down big shots if given the opportunity. In addition, Vernon Maxwell was an aggressive defender and a capable three-point shooter. His hustle and energy on the court motivated the players around him.
Kenny Smith and Sam Cassell were two point guards who could shoot the ball at a high clip and dish to their open teammates. Smith started every game that season, scoring 10.4 points per game and shooting 43% from three. Cassell averaged a team-best 4.9 assists off the bench.
Despite being defending champions and having loads of talent, Houston ended the season with a record of 47-35 and the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Once the playoffs began, the Rockets caught fire and didn’t look back.
The Karl Malone and John Stockton-led Utah Jazz took the Rockets to five games in the first round. Houston then moved on to face the Phoenix Suns, winning the series in seven games. Next came the number one-seeded Spurs. The Rockets ended up stealing three games on the road and winning the series 4-2. The toughest challenge for Olajuwon and the Rockets awaited them in the Finals.
In the Finals, Houston faced the Orlando Magic and two of the best players in the league in Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal. But, surprisingly, the Rockets swept the Magic and won their second consecutive title, becoming the lowest seed in league history to do so. This Rockets squad deserves to be mentioned when discussing the greatest teams of the 1990s.