An NBA team’s dominance and success is usually measured by the number of championships they have won. However, another angle that can be used to observe a team is to look at how many times they have gotten close as well. They say the world only remembers the winners; well, in the NBA, all the eventual losers were winners at some points.
What team has won the most NBA Conference Finals? The Los Angeles Lakers have won the most NBA Conference Finals, with 19 series wins. The Lakers also hold the most number of NBA Conference Finals appearances, with 24 appearances, giving them a 82.6% series win percentage in the NBA Conference Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers also have won 17 NBA championships, tied for most alongside the Boston Celtics.
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How have the Los Angeles Lakers won so many NBA Conference Finals series?
The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most successful franchise in NBA history, and their record of most NBA Conference Finals wins is one of many supporting arguments in this claim. Their success is also consistent: the Lakers have won at least one NBA Conference Finals in every decade going back to the 1970s. What has allowed them to be so consistently successful?
The Lakers as a franchise have been able to hit on a winning formula: they are located in a major media market, Los Angeles, one of the biggest cities in the US. Being a very attractive destination, the Lakers have always been able to grab star players via free agency and trades, as well as star coaches. They are also run by a competent front office and an active ownership group, the Buss family, with legendary owner Jerry Buss at the helm for a long time. They have been able to draft and develop world-class talent consistently in their history.
The Lakers have many major stars in their history: George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and so many more. The Lakers have also had all-time great coaches such as Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. A combination of great players, genius coaches, active owners and front office has meant that the Lakers have a rich history full of success. They are the joint holders of the most NBA championships; they have been in the Conference Finals more than any other team, and rarely lose when they get there.
Why do the Boston Celtics only have 10 NBA Conference Finals wins?
The Boston Celtics have “only” won 10 NBA Conference Finals, however, they have won 17 NBA championships. This may jump out as incorrect: how can a team win more NBA Finals than Conference Finals? Take the Lakers for example above, they have won 19 Conference Finals but have appeared in 32 NBA Finals. The reason why the Celtics & Lakers have less Conference Finals wins compared to Finals appearances comes down to the changes in league and playoff format throughout NBA history.
The Conference Finals were introduced for the 1970-71 NBA season. Before that, the NBA was split into divisions rather than conferences. Once the league began to grow, the NBA decided to introduce conferences; this also caused a slight change in the playoff format, leading to the creation of the Conference Finals.
How did this affect the Boston Celtics? Well, Boston won 11 of its 17 titles before the 1970-71 season, meaning that they won a majority of their championships before the concept of the Conference Finals even existed. Since then, they have won 10 NBA Conference Finals, and 6 NBA Finals. The discrepancy may jump out as contradictory, especially when compared to the Lakers, who have won the same number of championships but more Conference Finals than the Celtics. However, the historical context gives clarity to the numbers.
To simplify the data slightly we could just look at who has made the most NBA Finals. They have existed every year the league has been contested.
Top 10 NBA Finals Appearances by Franchise
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Up to and including Warriors vs Celtics 2022
What teams have never won the NBA Conference Finals?
There are two teams that have had the displeasure of never having made the NBA Conference Finals: the Charlotte Hornets and the New Orleans Pelicans. The Hornets have been one of the worst NBA teams in the last 20 years, consistently occupying the bottom of the league. Prior to that, they spent some years in the playoffs but never for long. Meanwhile, the Pelicans are the NBA’s newest team, and while they have yo-yoed between the playoffs and the lottery in their short history, they have yet to make it as far as the NBA Conference Finals.
What teams have never won the NBA Conference Finals?
This list consists of 6 teams: the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Sacramento Kings. Of these teams, the Nuggets have lost 4 times in the NBA Conference Finals.
What teams have won the NBA Conference Finals but not the NBA Finals?
Maybe even more disappointing than never winning the Conference Finals is to win the Conference Finals but never win the NBA Finals. A total of 5 teams have had this unfortunate record to their names: the Orlando Magic, the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns, the Indiana Pacers, and the Brooklyn Nets.
The Phoenix Suns have the worst luck of the bunch, having lost in the NBA Finals 3 times: once to the Celtics in 1976, once to the Bulls in 1993, and most recently to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021. On the other hand, the Indiana Pacers lost their lone Finals appearance in 2000 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Utah Jazz are infamously remembered as the team on the losing end of back-to-back NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998 thanks to Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. Like the Jazz, the Brooklyn Nets (then the New Jersey Nets) lost back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 (lost to the Lakers) and 2003 (lost to the San Antonio Spurs). The Orlando Magic lost in the NBA Finals twice: once to the Houston Rockets in 1995 and once to the Lakers in 2009.
The Lakers have consistently been in the Conference Finals, and have been very successful to boot. While other teams like the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz have not been as successful, its worth appreciating those teams despite their ultimate disappointment. Many may say that only winners are worth remembering, but that would be disregarding of some very good basketball teams.