More than half of the NBA makes the playoffs each year; something you’d think would make for a lot of long playoff streaks for individual franchises. With the bar set so low, it’s somewhat of a shock that only a handful of teams have a meaningful stretch of years where they’d made the playoffs without having a bad year pop up. The league is notorious for a lack of parity, which makes it extra strange.
But there are indeed a handful that have strong records of consecutive seasons in the NBA Playoffs. Unlike teams that start well and end up falling apart, these NBA teams are consistently the top talent, and each of them is playing or played for an NBA Championship in the 2016–17 playoffs. We have the eight NBA franchises with the longest active playoff streaks.
8. Toronto Raptors – 4 years
Under the leadership of head coach Dwayne Casey, the Toronto Raptors have seen the longest stretch of consecutive playoff appearances in franchise history. Okay, so four straight seasons isn’t really impressive, but this franchise has only been around since 1995–96. The Raptors have drafted well, bringing in Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, and others while making shrewd moves to pick up other quality players such as Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick Patterson.
Toronto’s playoff streak started in 2013–14 with a 48-34 season — their first over-.500 year since 2006–07. Unfortunately the Brooklyn Nets bounced them out of their first-round series in seven games, despite Toronto taking a 3-2 series lead after Game 5. The Raptors lost again in the first round the following year, this time to the Washington Wizards.
However, in 2015–16, they had their best season in franchise history. The Raptors went 56-26 that year, taking the No. 2 seed in the East and beating the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat en route to their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. But LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — the No. 1 seed in the East — was too much for them; Toronto lost the series in six games. The Raptors made the playoffs again in 2016–17; this time as the No. 3 seed with a 51-31 record.
7. Portland Trail Blazers – 4 years
The Portland Trail Blazers don’t frequently miss the playoffs. Historically, they’ve made the postseason 33 times in the last 44 seasons, including the last four consecutive years. From 1983–2003, the Blazers made the playoffs 21 consecutive times — a modern NBA record. For all that hard work, though, the franchise has won just a single NBA championship. It came in their first ever trip to the playoffs in 1976–77, which means they’ve had 32 consecutive postseason trips end in disappointment.
For the current team, Portland has done a great job piecing things together despite losing star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency two seasons ago. Homegrown players such as Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Allen Crabbe currently lead the team, with strong additions around them in Jusuf Nurkic, Maurice Harkless, and Al-Farouq Aminu.
Portland went 54-28 in 2013–14, beating the Houston Rockets in the first round in six games before succumbing to the San Antonio Spurs in five games in the second round. They were 51-31 the following year, but the Memphis Grizzlies knocked the Blazers out in five. In their first season without Aldridge, Lillard and McCollum led Portland to a 44-38 record and an upset victory of the Los Angeles Clippers. But they lost in the second round to the Golden State Warriors. This season, they snuck into the postseason with a 41-41 record as the eighth seed in the West.
6. Houston Rockets – 5 years
In 2011–12, the Houston Rockets missed the playoffs and finished the year 34-48. It was just their first under-.500 season since 2005–06 and their third losing season since 2000–01. They made a franchise-altering trade leading into the next season, dealing Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and draft picks for 23-year-old guard James Harden. Five years later, and they haven’t missed the playoffs since.
The Rockets built up that 2012–13 team around Harden, point guard Jeremy Lin, forward Chandler Parsons, and free agent center Omer Asik. Dwight Howard came and went over the years, but Houston continues to add quality pieces around Harden to keep them competitive. They brought in innovative head coach Mike D’Antoni for the 2016–17 season. His idea of moving Harden to the point guard has worked miracles.
After losing in the first round the first two years with Harden, the Rockets made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2014–15. But that series wasn’t particularly close, with the Golden State Warriors beating Houston in five games on their way to an NBA Championship. Things fell apart the following year, and the Rockets just barely kept their postseason streak alive with a 42-40 record. This year, they finished 55-27 and are the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
5. Golden State Warriors – 5 years
It’s hard to look at the Golden State Warriors these days and realize that this franchise once had the longest playoff drought in the NBA. In fact, from 1994–95 through 2011–12, the Warriors made the playoffs a grand total of one time. At least that one was memorable, though; Golden State nabbed the eighth seed in 2006–07 and knocked off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks.
But along came a guard named Stephen Curry, a legacy player and son of former sharp-shooting Charlotte Hornet Dell Curry. He was drafted No. 7 overall in 2009. By 2012–13 the Warriors had built up a core around him that was good enough to make the playoffs. Along with Klay Thompson, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, and rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green, Golden State went 47-35, upset the Denver Nuggets in round one, and lost to the San Antonio Spurs in round two.
Then came Steve Kerr, a brand-new head coach in 2014–15, and everything went up a notch. Since hiring Kerr, the Warriors have been the most consistently great team in the NBA. They won a championship in Kerr’s first year, set an NBA regular-season win record (73-9) in 2015–16, and signed Kevin Durant to attempt to take the team back to their third consecutive NBA Finals in 2016–17. With a 67-15 record and the top-seed in the West, they’re well on their way.
4. Los Angeles Clippers – 6 years
It wasn’t that long ago that the Los Angeles Clippers were the punching bag of the NBA. After making the playoffs in 1993–94 with a 41-41 record, Los Angeles went 12 consecutive seasons without finishing .500 at the bare minimum. They made the playoffs one time during that stretch, losing in a three-game sweep in 1996–97 to the Utah Jazz. While you could argue the merits of the Clippers’ title hopes these days, one thing is for sure: They’re no longer a punching bag.
Los Angeles drafted Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, then brought in head coach Doc Rivers, star point guard Chris Paul, and excellent role players such as J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Austin Rivers. They’ve made the playoffs six consecutive years, and we’re not talking about merely an also-ran. The Clippers view themselves as legitimate NBA Championship contenders.
Los Angeles has won 50 or more games in five consecutive seasons, and they’ve won three playoff series in the first five years of their six-year playoff run. They’ve lost to the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals during that stretch. And the road to the franchises’ fist Western Conference Finals will be tough this year. If they get past the Utah Jazz in the first round, they’ll likely have to face the Golden State Warriors.
3. Memphis Grizzlies – 7 years
The Memphis Grizzles were once an NBA punching bag too, although not for nearly as long as the Los Angeles Clippers. Originally the Vancouver Grizzlies at their inception in 1995–96, the franchise wouldn’t experience their first above-.500 season or playoff appearance until 2003–04. To top that off, they made the playoffs the next three years but didn’t win a single game.
But finally, after four seasons of toiling in the lottery, the Grizzlies won an NBA playoff game in 2010–11. They went 46-36 that season, making the playoffs as the No. 7 seed and shocking the world by taking down the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Not too bad, crossing off the first playoff victory and first playoff series victory in the same year — even if it did take 16 seasons.
The Grizzlies have made the postseason seven consecutive years, making one trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2012–13 before losing to the Spurs. Their core is mostly aging players, as Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, and several others on the team are on the wrong side of 30. They’ve made the playoffs yet again in 2016–17, facing off against their old rival, the Spurs, yet again in the first round.
2. Atlanta Hawks – 10 years
To the casual fan, it might be somewhat surprising to learn that the Atlanta Hawks have the second-longest active playoff streak. Indeed, the Hawks have battled in the Eastern Conference for 10 consecutive seasons. The last time Atlanta had to sit out the postseason was all the way back in 2006–07, when they finished 30-52. That team was led by Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Josh Childress; it had current Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue on the roster — at the age of 29.
The misleading thing about the Hawks’ playoff streak has been the idea that they’ve been a competitive franchise. They’ve made the postseason twice with records under .500 in those 10 years, and they’ve won their own division only once. That was Atlanta’s best season, when they finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, going 60-22 in 2014–15. The Hawks made their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since moving to Atlanta, but lost to the Cavs in a four-game sweep.
Despite starting 9-2 this year after signing center Dwight Howard as a free agent, the Hawks’ front office seems well aware of their standing as one of the most mediocre teams in NBA purgatory — not good enough to contend for a championship, not bad enough to get a high draft pick. They traded Kyle Korver, and they might be setting themselves up to say goodbye to star forward Paul Millsap in free agency. But they finished 43-39, keeping the streak alive.
1. San Antonio Spurs – 20 years
Is it at all shocking that the San Antonio Spurs land at the top of the list? The last time the Spurs missed the playoffs was 1996–97, when center David Robinson was limited to just six games and the team finished with a 20-62 record. To be clear, the last Spurs team to not play in the postseason involved Dominique Wilkins — a player drafted in 1982 — as their leading scorer. That poor season allowed San Antonio to secure the top pick in the draft, which resulted in Tim Duncan.
What’s even more fun? That bad year actually halted a seven-year playoff streak for the Spurs. From there, the rest is history. San Antonio paired a healthy Robinson with Duncan in 1997–98; they went 56-26 and made it back to the postseason. They won the franchise’s first NBA Championship in 1998–99 over the New York Knicks, and then won the title again in 2002–03, 2004–05, 2006–07, and 2013–14.
The 2016–17 season is San Antonio’s first without Duncan — who retired from basketball after a Hall of Fame career — since that fateful 1996–97 season. But the Spurs, led by MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, finished with the second-best record in the NBA at 61-21.
Considering the relative youth of their best and most important players, it’s a solid guess that they’ll end up breaking the Trail Blazers’ modern record of 21 consecutive seasons, as well as the all-time record of 22 straight years in the postseason, which is held by the Syracuse Nationals.