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NBA Teams to Never Make the Finals

Rob Joyce
May 30, 2019 - 1:29 pm
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Game 1 of the NBA Finals tips off on Thursday, and you’ll be shocked to hear that Golden State is once again playing for a championship. In the Finals for the fifth straight year, four more wins would give the Warriors a third straight title and fourth in that five-year span. They’re the old guard, but the opponent is a franchise that’s never been there before.

The Raptors made the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time ever in 2016, then after falling behind 2-0 this season, ran the Bucks out of the building for Toronto’s first-ever Finals appearance. That leaves only a half-dozen teams in the NBA that have never played on the game’s biggest stage:

Charlotte Hornets:

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The franchise owns the history of the original Hornets, the Bobcats and the current iteration of Buzz City, a stretch spanning back to 1988 (minus 2002-04). Just 10 times has the team reached the postseason, including just three times since the Bobcats were created. Seven of those times the team has been a first-round exit, while they’ve never advanced past the second round, and haven’t even won a playoff series since 2002.

Denver Nuggets:

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Technically the franchise has played for a league title before, losing the last ABA Finals series in 1976 to Julius Erving and the New York Nets. Since the merger, however, it’s been far more difficult. The team has made the playoffs plenty (though just once in the last six years), just three times has it advanced to the conference finals: in 1978 losing to Seattle and in both 1985 and 2009 to the Lakers. This past year, though, they won 54 games and made a run to Game 7 of the second round in the West.

Los Angeles Clippers:

(Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

They might be a mess right now, but you don’t need to tell Clippers fans that comparatively speaking, they can’t hold a candle to their Staples Center neighbors. While the Lakers have 31 conference titles and 16 championships, the Clippers have… seven trips out of the first round. As the Buffalo Braves the team won a single playoff round each year from 1974-76, then not again until 2006. Though the franchise has been to the playoffs in seven of the past eight years, it has never gotten over the hump into even the West Finals.

Memphis Grizzlies:

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Like the Raptors, the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies have been around since the mid-‘90s. While never winning more than 23 games in a season when in Canada, the franchise was in the playoffs within two years of moving to Memphis, but lost in the first round in three straight years from 2004-06. After a four-year absence, the Grizzlies again made the postseason each year from 2011-17, losing four times in the first round, twice in the second round, and in 2013 advanced to the first-ever Western Conference Final. They were swept by San Antonio.

Minnesota Timberwolves:

(Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

In the nearly three decades the franchise has existed it has only made the playoffs nine times, eight of which came consecutively from 1997-04, with Kevin Garnett. Famously, despite having a future Hall of Famer the TWolves only made it out of the first round once in that span, losing in six games to the Lakers in the conference finals in 2004. The only other time the franchise has been in the postseason was in 2018, ending in another first-round exit.

New Orleans Pelicans:

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Again, technically the team’s history as the Charlotte Hornets doesn’t belong to them (not that it would matter in this case), but it gives us the shortest window of any franchise. The team’s official history dates back to the 2002 New Orleans Hornets onward, including the two years split between New Orleans and Oklahoma City. That’s seven playoff trips in 17 seasons, most recently in 2018. Just twice (2007 & ’18) has the franchise advanced past the first round, losing both years in round two.

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