The fourth round voting is now live. Click here to vote on the two semifinal matchups.
Last week, we at SB Nation began our quest to uncover the best NBA team to never win a title. We laid out some critical ground rules — one team per era, and teams that won a title in the same era were not permitted to enter. We came up with 64 teams in NBA history and split them into four different “divisions,” each classifying (to the best of our ability) the way in which they fell short.
If you missed all that, take some time to check it out by clicking on these links. We put a lot of work into these pieces. Chances are they’ll answer any question you have about why your favorite historical team is or isn’t involved in this exercise.
But we’re far from done. Now, we need your help in picking one non-champion to rule all the non-champions. Click this link to sign up for SB Nation FanPulse and vote on the semifinal round of our Titleless tournament.
We’ll be running this all week before crowning a final “champion” Friday.
The current status of the bracket
Again, here’s the link to vote on the matchups. We’ve tallied nearly 7,500 votes in the first three rounds.
(1) 1996-97 Utah Jazz vs. (2) 2001-02 Sacramento Kings
(1) 1994-95 Orlando Magic vs. (2) 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks
So what happens now?
Each day, we’ll ask you to vote on the matchups using our FanPulse survey. There are five rounds and five days this week, so each day will bring a new round. We’ll update you all with the results on this page.
To prevent ballot-box stuffing by more popular fanbases or other shenanigans, we have added two checks to the system. In addition to fan voting, we will also do the following:
- Run a simulation of a seven-game series for each matchup on WhatifSports.com. The higher seed will have home-court advantage.
- I’ll make my own picks for each matchup without looking at the survey results.
If — and ONLY if — both contradict the FanPulse vote, the result will be overturned. Otherwise, the FanPulse vote carries the day.
What’s happened so far?
(1) 1996-97 Utah Jazz def (5) 2017-18 Houston Rockets
FANPULSE VOTE: Jazz (78.1 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Rockets in 7
SIMULATION: Jazz in 5
The public’s animosity for James Harden goes deeper than I expected. Houston beat the 90s Sonics last round in spite of the fan vote and then took the widest defeat of this round.
I liked this matchup for them because they have more options to handle Karl Malone than the Jazz do to stop James Harden. But the simulation vehemently disagreed, giving Utah the series in five games. The first two were tight, with Utah winning by five in Game 1 and then surviving Game 2 after a Byron Russell three-pointer sent the game into overtime. But the Jazz handled the Rockets in Game 3 in Houston and then blew them out by 31 in the Game 5 clincher.
(2) 2001-02 Sacramento Kings vs. (6) 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers
FANPULSE VOTE: Kings (53.7 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Kings in 7
SIMULATION: Blazers 5
This was the most even matchup in the tournament and almost … almost … went the other way. I had no clue how to separate the two great Rick Adelman-coached teams that seemed like mirror images of each other, so I went with the home court and picked Sacramento. The simulation went the other way: Portland stole Game 1 on a Clyde Drexler three with 19 seconds left and crushed the Kings the rest of the way.
That put the onus on the FanPulse survey, which the Kings won by 101 votes.
(1) 1994-95 Orlando Magic def (5) 1981-82 Philadelphia 76ers
FANPULSE VOTE: Magic (66.6 percent)
EXPERT PICK: 76ers in 6
SIMULATION: Magic in 7
I didn’t like this matchup for the Magic. They have nobody to guard Julius Erving, unless Horace Grant played the series of his life. Meanwhile, I figured Caldwell Jones and Maurice Cheeks could bug Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. That’s why I went with Philly. I figured the FanPulse vote would favor the more recent team, which it did. So it came down to the simulation.
The simulation spit out a hell of a series. Philly stole Game 1 in Orlando, outscoring the Magic by nine in the fourth quarter. The Magic won the next three to go up 3-1, overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit to swipe Game 4. Philly then won an ugly Game 5, then got 34 points from Andrew Toney to take Game 6 and tie the series. Game 7 was close, but Shaq (37 and 17) outplayed the Doctor (14 points on just 6-16 from the field) in Orlando’s nine-point victory. Erving surprisingly had a pedestrian series, never going above 30 points in any of the games.
(2) 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks def (3) 2010-11 Chicago Bulls
FANPULSE VOTE: Bucks (57.4 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Bucks in 5
SIMULATION: Bucks in 4
Chicago’s simulation magic — the Bulls were 8-0 in simulated games to this point — ended with a giant thud. Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated the series, averaging nearly 28 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists a game while adding more than two steals and two blocks per contest. I also thought this was a brutal matchup for Chicago, and the FanPulse vote added insult to injury for Bulls fans.
WEST 2ND ROUND
(1) 1996-97 Utah Jazz def (8) 2004-05 Phoenix Suns
FANPULSE VOTE: Jazz (69.2 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Jazz in 7
SIMULATION: Jazz in 4
This felt like a titanic second-round matchup, and I agonized over my choice. In the end, I went with Utah because I figured the Jazz would roll out a smaller lineup to match up with the Suns and that Karl Malone would dominate inside.
I was stunned that the simulation result was so lopsided. Malone was fine, but the real key was that John Stockton (15 points per game, 11.75 assists per game) dramatically outplayed Steve Nash (12.25 PPG, 7.75 APG).
I was also surprised to see Utah win the fan vote so dramatically. Where was the Seven Seconds Or Less lobby??
(5) 2017-18 Houston Rockets def. (4) 1993-94 Seattle Supersonics
FANPULSE VOTE: Supersonics (65.5 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Rockets in 6
SIMULATION: Rockets in 6
Oh boy, it’s our first overturned result of the tournament! Let’s walk through how that happened.
I couldn’t decide if this was the best or worst possible matchup for the Rockets’ isolation style. On the one hand, how would James Harden and Chris Paul deal with the Sonics’ constant full-court pressure? Nobody defended them that way in 2018, so maybe they’d be thrown off. On the other hand, Houston was a low-turnover team and Seattle badly needed to force turnovers to play its style. After deliberating for a while, I decided in favor of the latter instinct and gave Houston the win.
The simulation played out in a similar fashion. The Sonics routed the Rockets in Game 1, holding them to 77 points, 33 percent shooting while pounding them on the glass. But Houston got itself together and won four of the next five, all by double digits. It was a feast or famine series.
That meant the collective support for the Sonics was overturned. Sorry, friends.
(6) 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers def. (3) 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder
FANPULSE VOTE: Blazers (60 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Blazers in 6
SIMULATION: Thunder in 7
This is the most surprising result of the tournament so far.
I thought Portland was a bad matchup for the Thunder, since they had Jerome Kersey to body Kevin Durant, Terry Porter to take advantage of Russell Westbrook’s roaming, and a deep bench to account for James Harden. That’s why I picked Portland to win.
The simulation nearly agreed, but the Thunder rallied from 3-1 down to win the series. Durant carried them to victory, dropping a 39-point, six-rebound, five-assist, four-block, four-steal line in Game 6 and a 30-6-8-4 line in Game 7.
I figured recent Thunder love would carry OKC to victory in the fan vote, but boy was I wrong. I didn’t know the Blazers had so many admirers.
(2) 2001-02 Sacramento Kings def (10) 1963-64 San Francisco Warriors
FANPULSE VOTE: Kings (74.3 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Kings in 5
SIMULATION: Kings in 6
No surprise here, though I would like to note that Wilt Chamberlain averaged 38 points and 22.5 rebounds per game in the simulation.
EAST 2ND ROUND
(1) 1994-95 Orlando Magic def (8) 2009-10 Orlando Magic
FANPULSE VOTE: ‘95 Magic (91.3 percent)
EXPERT PICK: ‘95 Magic in 6
SIMULATION: ‘95 Magic in 4
A number of folks (here’s one example) compared the 2010 Magic to the 1995 Houston team that swept the Shaq/Penny Magic in the Finals. I saw the logic, but ended up going the other way because Dwight Howard, even in 2010, wasn’t as skilled as Hakeem Olajuwon. The lopsided simulation and fan vote results seem to justify that decision.
(5) 1981-82 Philadelphia 76ers def (4) 1992-93 New York Knicks
FANPULSE VOTE: Knicks (56.9 percent)
EXPERT PICK: 76ers in 6
SIMULATION: 76ers in 5
Another fan vote overturned!
This one, though, is more justified in my mind. I trusted Philly’s ability to hold Patrick Ewing down more than the Knicks’ ability to stop Julius Erving. The simulation agreed, with the 76ers winning the next four games after losing Game 1. The final four minutes of Game 2 are hilarious and on-brand. Philly won despite not hitting a field goal in the final four minutes.
The fan vote went New York’s way, but I attribute that to overrating teams from the 90s. The 76ers were better.
(3) 2010-11 Chicago Bulls def (6) 1997-98 Indiana Pacers
FANPULSE VOTE: Pacers (66.9 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Bulls in 6
SIMULATION: Bulls in 4
A third fan vote overturned! And this one might be the most painful.
I thought this was an awful matchup for the Pacers. They have nobody to stop Derrick Rose, whereas the Bulls have elite defenders (Luol Deng and Joakim Noah) to chase Reggie Miller and out-run Rik Smits. Plus, Indiana’s frontcourt might wasn’t much of an advantage against the Bulls’ tenacious group. That’s why I picked Chicago. The simulation emphatically agreed. (In fact, the Bulls are now 8-0 in the simulation.
Sorry, Pacers fans. Tormented by the Bulls again.
(2) 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks def (10) 1996-97 Miami Heat
FANPULSE VOTE: Bucks (68.8 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Bucks in 7
SIMULATION: Bucks in 4
I thought Miami’s defense might make life tough for Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the simulation and the fans disagreed.
WEST 1ST ROUND
(1) 1996-97 Utah Jazz def (16) 2014-15 Memphis Grizzlies
FANPULSE VOTE: Jazz (90.3 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Jazz in 5
SIMULATION: Jazz in 6
This one was fairly straightforward. The Jazz took a 3-0 lead in the simulation before blowing Game 5 at home in overtime, but finished things off in Game 6. Karl Malone averaged nearly 30 points and 11.5 rebounds in the series.
(8) 2004-05 Phoenix Suns def (9) 1997-98 Los Angeles Lakers
FANPULSE VOTE: Suns (84.7 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Suns in 7
SIMULATION: Suns in 7
I was stunned that the fan vote was so lopsided, because this was the toughest matchup on the board for me. Nobody on the Suns had any chance of stopping Shaquille O’Neal inside, yet the Lakers are particularly ill-suited to guarding the Steve Nash/Amar’e Stoudemire pick-and-roll. I figured this would go seven high-scoring games with all stars putting up outrageous numbers, and ultimately went with the home court in my decison.
That’s essentially how it played out in the simulation too. The home team won all seven games, and Phoenix slipped by in Game 7 despite 37 points and 17 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal
(5) 2017-18 Houston Rockets def (12) 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves
FANPULSE VOTE: Rockets (54.5 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Rockets in 6
SIMULATION: Rockets in 5
It’s a testament to the Minnesota voting body that the FanPulse margin was so close. I thought the series would be somewhat tight, but Houston had the edge. The simulation agreed, though the margin was closer than the number of games suggested. The Timberwolves stole Game 2 in Houston and only lost Game 4 on a Chris Paul buzzer beater. Kevin Garnett’s series averages: 28.2 points, 15 rebounds, 6.4 assists. Jesus.
(4) 1993-94 Seattle Supersonics def (13) 1994-95 San Antonio Spurs
FANPULSE VOTE: Sonics (86.5 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Sonics in 7
SIMULATION: Sonics in 5
I figured this series would be tight because the Spurs often played Seattle tough during this era, but the voters and the simulation disagreed.
(6) 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers def (11) 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers
FANPULSE VOTE: Trail Blazers (66.5 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Trail Blazers in 6
SIMULATION: Clippers in 7
It’s too bad the simulation didn’t come into play, because this was a wild series. After struggling in the first five games, Blake Griffin dominated Games 6 and 7. He dropped 40, nine, and three in a Game 6 home loss, then notched 37, 13, and three blocks in a 102-99 Game 7 win. Alas, I picked Portland, as did the voters.
(3) 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder def (14) 2007-08 New Orleans Hornets
FANPULSE VOTE: Thunder (70.2 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Thunder in 6
SIMULATION: Thunder in 7
This was the simulation series of the first round. It went the distance, with Chris Paul dominating and none of the Thunder Big 3 having consistent series. The Hornets led Game 7 by one point with six seconds left, but Kevin Durant nailed a runner with six seconds left to give OKC the lead. New Orleans’ last chance ended when David West got swatted by Serge Ibaka, and OKC held on.
(10) 1963-64 San Francisco Warriors def (7) 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks
FANPULSE VOTE: Warriors (55 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Warriors in 6
SIMULATION: Mavs in 6
Fitting that the 2007 Mavericks choked against the Warriors in the first round.
(2) 2001-02 Sacramento Kings vs. (15) 1984-85 Denver Nuggets
FANPULSE VOTE: Kings (89 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Kings in 4
SIMULATION: Kings in 6
No surprises here.
EAST 1ST ROUND
(1) 1994-95 Orlando Magic def (16) 2001-02 Boston Celtics
FANPULSE VOTE: Magic (91.8 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Magic in 4
SIMULATION: Magic in 5
The classic 1 vs. 16 curb stomping.
(8) 2009-10 Orlando Magic def (9) 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
FANPULSE VOTE: Magic (52 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Magic in 6
SIMULATION: Cavs in 7
This was my favorite matchup because it closely mirrored an actual playoff series, won by the Magic in six games. Because so many consider the 2010 Magic the better of the two great Stan Van Gundy teams, and because I consider the 2009 Cavs a better team than the 2010 edition, my pick of Orlando in six was simple. The simulation, though, spit out something remarkable: LeBron James leading Cleveland back from a 3-0 deficit to win in 7 while scoring 47 points on the road in the Game 7 clincher. Who’s the GOAT now?
That meant the result came down to the closest FanPulse vote of the first round. Cleveland made a late charge, but it wasn’t quite enough.
(5) 1981-82 Philadelphia 76ers def (12) 2002-03 New Jersey Nets
FANPULSE VOTE: 76ers (67.1 percent)
EXPERT PICK: 76ers in 7
SIMULATION: 76ers in 6
Another straightforward result, though the Nets do seem to have a few bodies they could throw at Julius Erving.
(4) 1992-93 New York Knicks def (13) 2017-18 Toronto Raptors
FANPULSE VOTE: Knicks (86.4 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Knicks in 7
SIMULATION: Raptors in 6
The simulation really likes this Raptors team. I actually simulated this matchup a few weeks before just for S’s and G’s, and the Raptors won it then, too. The FanPulse voters see it differently.
(6) 1997-98 Indiana Pacers def (11) 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks
FANPULSE VOTE: Pacers (82.4 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Pacers in 6
SIMULATION: Hawks in 7
More wonky simulation results! Indiana took a 3-1 lead after waxing the Hawks in Atlanta in Game 4, then blew the next three games as Reggie Miller went silent. It ended up not mattering, though.
(3) 2010-11 Chicago Bulls def (14) 1968-69 Washington Bullets
FANPULSE VOTE: Bulls (75.5 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Bullets in 6
SIMULATION: Bulls in 4
Did I maybe make a bit of a homer pick in calling an upset? Probably, but I also didn’t think Chicago would have enough firepower to match Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson, Kevin Loughery, Wes Unseld, and Jack Marin. FanPulse voters disagreed, and the simulation results dunked violently on me.
(10) 1996-97 Miami Heat def (7) 1985-86 Milwaukee Bucks
FANPULSE VOTE: Heat (58.8 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Bucks in 5
SIMULATION: Heat in 7
I’m gonna attribute this result to recency bias, because those 80s Bucks teams were vicious and never get their due. In my mind, they were a clear favorite and a possible sleeper in this tournament. But the FanPulse voters disagreed, and they clinched their wish when Miami rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the simulation series. Thank Tim Hardaway for that — he averaged 25 a game in the series, including 35 in the Game 7 clincher.
(2) 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks. def (15) 1996-97 Detroit Pistons
FANPULSE VOTE: Bucks (70.5 percent)
EXPERT PICK: Bucks in 4
SIMULATION: Bucks in 6
The simulation had this as a 2-2 series after four games before normalcy returned. I’m not sure why it holds those Pistons in such high regard, but at least it got the right result in the end.
How we got here:
We asked each of our 30 SB Nation NBA team communities to nominate one team from the original list of 64 to be their franchise’s representative in this final tournament of non-champions. (It’s an even 30 because a) Seattle is its own franchise, and b) Charlotte has no team to nominate.)
Here are the teams they chose:
ATLANTA HAWKS: 2014-15 team (Coach Bud era)
BOSTON CELTICS: 2001-02 team (Pierce/Walker era)
CHICAGO BULLS: 2010-11 team (Derrick Rose era)
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: 2008-09 team (LeBron Pre-Decision era)
DALLAS MAVERICKS: 2006-07 team (Dirk pre-Carlisle era)
DENVER NUGGETS: 1984-85 team (Doug Moe era)
DETROIT PISTONS: 1996-97 team (Grant Hill pre-injuries era)
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: 1963-64 team (Young Wilt)
HOUSTON ROCKETS: 2017-18 team (current Rockets era)
INDIANA PACERS: 1997-98 team (Reggie Miller era)
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: 2013-14 team (Lob City era)
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: 1997-98 team (Pre-Phil Jackson era)
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: 2014-15 team (Grit ‘N Grind era. Grizzly Bear Blues’ preference)
MIAMI HEAT: 1996-97 team (Alonzo Mourning/Pat Riley era)
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: 2018-19 team (current era)
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: 2003-04 team (KG era)
NEW JERSEY NETS: 2002-03 team (Jason Kidd era)
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS: 2007-08 team (CP3 era)
NEW YORK KNICKS: 1992-93 team (Patrick Ewing era)
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: 2011-12 team (Pre-James Harden trade era)
ORLANDO MAGIC: 1994-95 team (Shaq/Penny era)
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: 1981-82 team (Dr. J pre-Moses Malone era)
PHOENIX SUNS: 2004-05 team (Steve Nash era)
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: 1990-91 team (Clyde Drexler era)
SACRAMENTO KINGS: 2001-02 team (Chris Webber and friends era)
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: 1994-95 team (David Robinson pre-Tim Duncan era)
SEATTLE SUPERSONICS: 1993-94 team (Payton/Kemp/Karl era)
TORONTO RAPTORS: 2017-18 team (Pre-Kawhi Leonard era)
UTAH JAZZ: 1996-97 team (Stockton/Malone era)
WASHINGTON WIZARDS/BULLETS: 1968-69 team (Wes + Earl Monroe era)
To get to an even 16 in the East, I chose the two highest-ranked remaining clubs from that conference. They were:
Then, I re-seeded each remaining team in each conference.
Who did our team sites leave out?
There were 32 teams that I originally highlighted that did not qualify for the final tournament because our team sites picked another era in franchise history to represent them. In rough order of best to worst, they are:
- 2015-16 Oklahoma City Thunder
- 1992-93 Phoenix Suns
- 1961-62 Los Angeles Lakers
- 1999-00 Portland Trail Blazers
- 2003-04 Indiana Pacers
- 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs
- 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers
- 2012-13 Indiana Pacers
- 1975-76 Denver Nuggets
- 1985-86 Houston Rockets
- 1963-64 Cincinnati Royals
- 1989-90 Phoenix Suns
- 2007-08 Houston Rockets
- 1987-88 Dallas Mavericks
- 1988-89 Cleveland Cavaliers
- 1976-77 Los Angeles Lakers
- 1946-47 Washington Capitols
- 1986-87 Atlanta Hawks
- 1996-97 Houston Rockets
- 2008-09 Denver Nuggets
- 1971-72 Chicago Bulls
- 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers
- 2012-13 Golden State Warriors
- 2012-13 Denver Nuggets
- 2008-09 Portland Trail Blazers
- 1982-83 San Antonio Spurs
- 1996-97 Atlanta Hawks
- 2017-18 Boston Celtics
- 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers
- 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks
- 1975-76 Phoenix Suns
- 1990-91 Golden State Warriors
You can read more about those teams in these links: