NBA playoffs: How the top overall seed has fared in recent playoff history

The Phoenix Suns were head and shoulders above the rest of the NBA during the 2021-22 regular season.

After falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in last year’s Finals, the reigning Western Conference champions came back as an even stronger-looking team.

Led by Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the Suns ripped off a franchise-record and league-best 64 victories, eight wins clear of the NBA’s next-best team. Phoenix finished top five in both offensive and defensive rating while posting the best net rating. They were also the best home and road team, going 32-9 in Phoenix and 32-9 away from the Footprint Center.

Now, the Suns enter the 2022 NBA playoffs as the top overall seed looking to become the 14th team to win the championship one season after losing in the Finals.

The Suns’ road back to the Finals begins with a first-round matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans, who emerged from the Play-In Tournament as the No. 8 seed. Should they get by New Orleans, Phoenix would face the winner of the Dallas-Utah series in Round 2.

But how often has the league’s best regular-season team gone on to capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy in recent history?

Who was the last top overall seed to win the NBA Finals?

It’s been a few years since the top overall seed was the last team standing in the NBA postseason. The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors were the last team to accomplish the feat, going 67-15 in the regular season before taking down the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.

The four No. 1 overall seeds since have all fallen short of a championship. The 65-win 2017-18 Houston Rockets lost to the Warriors in the conference finals as Golden State went on to repeat as champs.

The Bucks were the league’s best regular-season squad in each of the next two seasons, posting a combined record of 116-39. But Milwaukee lost in the 2019 conference finals to the 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 last 20 years, just six No. 1 overall seeds have gone on to win it all: the 2016-17 Warriors, 2014-15 Warriors, 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs, 2012-13 Heat, 2007-08 Boston Celtics and 2002-03 Spurs.

The 73-win 2015-16 Warriors were the lone top overall seed over that span to lose in the NBA Finals, squandering a 3-1 series lead to the Cavs. A total of eight teams had their season ended in the conference finals and three were bounced in the second round.

Meanwhile, the 67-win 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls, who went 50-12 in a lockout-shortened season, failed to make it out of the first round. The Mavs were upset by the “We Believe” Warriors and the Bulls lost to the Philadelphia 76ers after Derrick Rose went down with an ACL tear in Game 1.

Here’s a full look at how the top overall seed has fared over the past 20 postseasons:

2020-21: Utah Jazz (52-20), lost in conference semifinals

2019-20: Milwaukee Bucks (56-17), lost in conference semifinals

2018-19: Milwaukee Bucks (60-22), lost in conference finals

2017-18: Houston Rockets (65-17), lost in conference finals

2016-17: Golden State Warriors (67-15), won NBA Finals

2015-16: Golden State Warriors (73-9), lost in NBA Finals

2014-15: Golden State Warriors (67-15), won NBA Finals

2013-14: San Antonio Spurs (62-20), won NBA Finals

2012-13: Miami Heat (66-16), won NBA Finals

2011-12: Chicago Bulls (50-16), lost in first round

2010-11: Chicago Bulls (62-20), lost in conference finals

2009-10: Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21), lost in conference semifinals

2008-09: Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16), lost in conference finals

2007-08: Boston Celtics (66-16), won NBA Finals

2006-07: Dallas Mavericks (67-15), lost in first round

2005-06: Detroit Pistons (64-18), lost in conference finals

2004-05: Phoenix Suns (62-20), lost in conference finals

2003-04: Indiana Pacers (61-21), lost in conference finals

2002-03: San Antonio Spurs (60-22), won NBA Finals

2001-02: Sacramento Kings (61-21), lost in conference finals

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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