Despite only possessing a single NBA championship in their 50-year history in the league, the Portland Trail Blazers had many seasons with top-tier teams—some of which fell short of that championship aspiration when sheer luck matched them up with legends.
Which teams were the best in Blazers history?
5. 2018-19 Blazers
Were this year’s Blazers among the best teams in franchise history? They certainly made noise in the postseason. Star point guard Damian Lillard and Portland broke through the second round of the playoffs in their sixth consecutive trip only to lose in the conference finals to the Golden State Warriors in a sweep.
Despite winning only 53 games, context shows the Blazers facing a loaded Western Conference and finishing third, later beating Paul George and Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round (on an iconic buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Lillard) and a seven-game series against the Denver Nuggets that went to a fourth overtime in Game 3.
Alas, given the injuries that Warriors stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson would sustain, it’s fair to wonder how much competition Portland would have handed the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Finals.
4. 1999-2000 Blazers
A year removed from winning 70 percent of their games in the lockout-shortened ’99 season, the Blazers, led by Steve Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, Arvydas Sabonis, and a late-career Scottie Pippen, improved by going 59-23 in 1999-2000, and looking like real threats in the post-Jordan era.
In what was shocking Blazers news at the time, the arrival of Pippen and Smith helped polish a young roster that included Bonzi Wells, Jermaine O’Neal, and a first-time All-Star Wallace. The Blazers only lost two games combined in the first pair of playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz before stepping into the 2000 Western Conference Finals against Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the Lakers.
It took seven games for the Lakers to defeat the Blazers, with a late-game dunk from O’Neal for the five-point win in Game 7.
3. 1989-90 Blazers
The 1990 playoffs saw Portland emerge out of the regular season and get past the first round of the postseason for the first time since 1984-85 (Clyde Drexler’s sophomore season). While the Blazers reached the playoffs for 21 consecutive years from 1983-2003, it remains that until 1990, Portland was just first-round fodder for other Western Conference teams.
The 1990 Blazers lost in five games in the Finals in head coach Rick Adelman’s first full year. They lost to the repeat champion “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons. While the Blazers were no match for Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, and the back-to-back champs, Drexler finally arrived at a prominent stage after consecutive early exits.
2. 1991-92 Blazers
A year removed from setting a Blazers record, winning its most regular-season games (63) but getting bounced in the conference finals by the Lakers, Portland returned in 1991-92 ready to compete. One of the best defensive teams in the league, the Trail Blazers were led by Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, and bruising center Kevin Duckworth.
Portland exacted its revenge on the Lakers in the first round in 1992, winning the best-of-five in four games. They calmly took down the Phoenix Suns and won in six games against Karl Malone, John Stockton, and the Jazz in the conference finals.
Back in the NBA Finals, the Blazers fell victim to the league’s best player, Michael Jordan. Portland made it a contest, losing in six games, but nobody was stopping Jordan in his quest for a repeat title. Clyde averaged 24.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and more than a steal and block a game in that series—the closest he’d get to title town with Portland before asking for a trade to the Houston Rockets and winning one there.
1. 1976-77 Blazers
The best team ever has to be the only champion in Blazers history. The 1976-77 team is stuff of legends—the impossibly rugged frontcourt of Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas, the savvy playmaking ability of guard Lionel Hollins, and the head’s up play of Bob Gross and Dave Twardzik.
Before facing them in the 1992 NBA Finals, the Blazers bested the then–Western Conference Bulls in the first round of the 1977 playoffs, winning the three-game series following a 49-win regular season. They upset the Denver Nuggets in the conference semis. Then, they swept the top-seeded Lakers, featuring MVP center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and future Blazers All-Star Kermit Washington.
The Trail Blazers would go on to win the first post-ABA-NBA merger championship against the Philadelphia 76ers—starring forward Julius Erving. That series saw the Blazers defeat the best team in the East after starting the Finals down 2-0. Walton was crowned Finals MVP, averaging a near 20-20 a night in the six-game win.