How the top seed fared in recent NBA playoff history originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Phoenix Suns were head and shoulders above the rest of the NBA in the 2021-22 regular season.
After falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in last year’s Finals, the defending Western Conference champions have returned with an even stronger team.
Led by Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the Suns snatched a franchise record and league-best 64 wins, eight wins ahead of the NBA‘s next best team. Phoenix finished in the top five in offensive and defensive standings while posting the highest net rating. They were also the best team at home and on the road, going 32-9 in Phoenix and 32-9 away from the Footprint Center.
Now the Suns enter the 2022 NBA playoffs as the number one seed and seek to become the 14th team to win the championship a season after losing in the Finals.
But how many times has the league’s top regular-season team won the Larry O’Brien Trophy in recent history?
Who was the last seed to win the NBA Finals?
It’s been a few years since the top seed was the last team to make the NBA playoffs. The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were the last team to accomplish the feat, going 67-15 in the regular season before defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.
Since then, the four overall No. 1 seeds have all fallen short of one championship. The 65-win Houston Rockets in 2017-18 lost to the Warriors in the conference finals as Golden State went on to repeat as champions.
The Bucks were the league’s best regular-season team in each of the next two seasons, posting a combined record of 116-39. But Milwaukee lost in the 2019 Conference Finals to eventual champion Toronto Raptors and in the 2020 Conference Semifinals to the Miami Heat.
Last year, the Utah Jazz went an impressive 52-20 in a shortened season before being stunned by the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals.
How often does the best regular season team win the NBA Finals?
In the past 20 years, only six No. 1 seeds overall have won it all: the 2016-17 Warriors, the 2014-15 Warriors, the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs, the 2012-13 Heat, the Boston Celtics 2007-08 and Spurs 2002-03.
The 2015-16 Warriors, who had 73 wins, were the only overall seed in that span to lose in the NBA Finals, squandering a 3-1 lead over the Cavs. A total of eight teams saw their seasons end in the Conference Finals and three were eliminated in the second round.
Meanwhile, the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls, who won 67 in 2006-07, went 50-12 in a lockout-shortened season, failed to qualify for the first round. The Mavs were upset by the Warriors “We Believe” and the Bulls lost to the Philadelphia 76ers after Derrick Rose suffered a torn ACL in Game 1.
Here’s a full rundown of how the top seed has fared over the past 20 playoffs:
2020-21: Utah Jazz (52-20), lost in the conference semifinals
2019-20: Milwaukee Bucks (56-17), lost in the conference semifinals
2018-19: Milwaukee Bucks (60-22), lost in the conference final
2017-18: Houston Rockets (65-17), lost in the conference final
2016-17: Golden State Warriors (67-15), won the NBA Finals
2015-16: Golden State Warriors (73-9), lost in the NBA Finals
2014-15: Golden State Warriors (67-15), won the NBA Finals
2013-14: San Antonio Spurs (62-20), won the NBA Finals
2012-13: Miami Heat (66-16), won the NBA Finals
2011-12: Chicago Bulls (50-16), lost in the first round
2010-11: Chicago Bulls (62-20), lost in the conference final
2009-10: Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21), lost in the conference semifinals
2008-09: Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16), lost in the conference final
2007-08: Boston Celtics (66-16), won the NBA Finals
2006-07: Dallas Mavericks (67-15), lost in the first round
2005-06: Detroit Pistons (64-18), lost in the conference final
2004-05: Phoenix Suns (62-20), lost in the conference final
2003-04: Indiana Pacers (61-21), loss in the conference final
2002-03: San Antonio Spurs (60-22), won the NBA Finals
2001-02: Sacramento Kings (61-21), lost in the conference final