- HOME <> NBA History <> Advertise <> About US <> Write for us <> Press -

> General NBA info
> Awards
> Records
> Stats
> Player Facts
> Team Facts
> Other Leagues
> Message Board

The Underdogs of the NBA: The Three Lowest-Seeded Teams to Reach the Finals

In 2023, the Miami Heat became just the second eighth-seeded team in the history of the league to reach the NBA finals. They finished the regular season with a modest record of 44 victories against 37 losses, good enough for seventh place in the Eastern Conference and a qualification spot in the play-in tournament. There, they would lose their first game against the Atlanta Hawks and thus surrendered the seventh-seed spot, before beating the Chicago Bulls and claiming the eighth and final spot in the post season.

Once the postseason got underway however, the Heat made their doubters eat their words. They firstly dispatched the top seed and Larry O'Brien Trophy favorite Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding four games to one victory. A 4-2 victory over the New York Knicks in the conference semifinals set up a meeting with the heavily favored second seed Boston Celtics.

In that Eastern Conference finals, they would race into a 3-0 lead courtesy of the brilliance of Jimmy Butler. However, even Jimmy Buckets, the ultimate big game player, was powerless to resist as Jayson Tatum came powering back to tie things up at three games apiece. That set up a seventh-game decider at the TD Garden, and it was Butler who showed his class, top scoring with 28 points as the Heat secured a stunning 103-84 victory.

That would set up a mouth-watering NBA Finals showdown against the Western Conference top seed, the Denver Nuggets. In the end however, powered by giant Serbian center Nikola Jokić, the Colorado based outfit would secure four games to one series victory and claim a first ever NBA Championship in franchise history. If you are regularly following the best NBA odds, you'll have noticed that the Joker and Co. have been made the +475 favorites to retain their crown next season.

This article is dedicated to the Heat's heroic postseason campaign, and four other teams that managed to defy the odds and make it to the Finals despite their low seedings.

1999 New York Knicks
The 1999 New York Knicks made NBA Finals history by being the first eighth-seeded outfit to do so. Led by the trio of Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, and Latrell Sprewell, the Madison Square Garden side overcame numerous obstacles to reach the Finals. They defeated the top-seeded Miami Heat in the very first round of the postseason, and they later prevailed over the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals. However, it was their grueling Eastern Conference final seven-game series against Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers that truly defined their season, where they would eventually triumph by four games to two.

They would meet the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals, a team that had topped the Western Conference standings, amassing a stellar 37-13 record along the way. Despite being massive underdogs, the Knicks put up an excellent fight and managed to win two games. But it was the heavily favored Spurs that eventually emerged victorious, winning by four games to one and ending the Knicks' fairytale run.

1995 Houston Rockets
The 1995 Houston Rockets remain the lowest seeded team in NBA History to secure the Larry O'Brien championship trophy. The Texas=based outfit were merely the sixth seed in the Western Conference after building up a respectable record of 47 wins against 35 defeats. Their roster however was anchored by two future Hall of Famers in the form of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

In the playoffs they would first meet the third seed Stockton-Malone-led Utah Jazz, who were narrowly dispatched in a nail-biting five game series. Next up was a second seed Phoenix Suns side that featured Charles Barkley, and they too were brushed aside by four games to two in a seven-game series extravaganza. They would meet the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals and they held their nerve after being pegged back to two apiece, eventually triumphing by four games to tour.

In the NBA Finals, they would meet the Eastern Conference top seed, the Orlando Magic. Despite the Floridians being heavily favored thanks to their heavyweight duo of Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway, it was the Rockets who managed to come out on top, powering to a series whitewash and a second consecutive championship.

1981 Houston Rockets
The 1981 Houston Rockets were led by Moses Malone, who won the regular-season MVP award that year. The Texans were seeded down in sixth and actually had two more losses than victories throughout the course of the regular season. Once the postseason got underway, however, their fortunes were transformed, and they managed to upset the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs en route to the Finals. In the championship series, they were up against the Boston Celtics, who were among the NBA's dominant forces throughout that era, and the TD Garden side would ultimately prove why, winning a memorable series by four games to two.