Of all the major professional sports, the NBA is the one where the best teams change the least frequently. Over the last few decades, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and San Antonio Spurs have been the most successful teams; a handful of other teams won championships as well. But during the regular season, other teams dominate the competition from time to time. Here are five recent instances of one-sided NBA matchups.
1. Denver Nuggets vs. Chicago Bulls
The Denver Nuggets haven’t exactly been an NBA powerhouse over the last 20 years. The Chicago Bulls, on the other hand, are a consistent playoff team, even making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. So it’s a little bit surprising to learn just how badly the Bulls have failed against the Nuggets in head-to-head matchups on the Nuggets’ mile-high home court.
Since Michael Jordan’s final season in Chicago in 1997–98, the Bulls have played the Nuggets in Denver 17 times — and lost 16 of those matchups by an average of 9.3 points per game. The biggest defeat came in November 2013, when Denver destroyed the Bulls by the score of 128-96. Generally, the Bulls play in Denver toward the end of an annual road trip they’re forced to take every November when the circus comes to Chicago. So, at least there’s somewhat of an explanation for their annual futility in the Mile High City.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks
This season, on November 8, the Atlanta Hawks went into Cleveland and beat LeBron James’s Cavaliers by a score of 110-106. It probably felt like a serious monkey coming off the collective back of the city of Atlanta, because the Hawks had struggled badly with Cleveland of late. Including two playoff series, the Hawks lost their last 11 consecutive games against the reigning NBA champs.
Cleveland swept Atlanta in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals, then lost all three games in the season series last year during the regular season. When the teams matched up again in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cavs won four games once again. In fact, the Cavs are now 12-0 against the Hawks in the playoffs if you go back to 2009. At least there’s a silver lining for Hawks fans: The team leads the all-time regular-season series against Cleveland 118-99.
3. Houston Rockets vs. New York Knicks
On November 18, 2004, the New York Knicks pulled out a 93-92 victory over the Houston Rockets. Forward Kurt Thomas led this team in scoring. Other notable names on the roster included Penny Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, and Tim Thomas. Since that victory, the Rockets and Knicks have matched up 22 times with Houston winning 20 of the games.
It’s about as one-sided as a matchup can get. The Rockets won eight consecutive games after that 2004 Knicks victory, then another streak of 11 straight. Houston averages 8.9 points more than New York over that stretch, with the largest margin of victory coming in a 131-103 win back in December 2012. As if it couldn’t get worse for the Knicks, the two teams have matched up twice in the postseason as well; Houston beat New York 2-1 in the 1975 Eastern Conference Playoffs, and again in seven games in the 1994 NBA Finals.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers
These kinds of streaks often go in cycles. For instance, the Los Angeles Lakers had a streak of 12 consecutive wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But it snapped all the way back in December 2009. Then, with a win in April 2011, the Thunder went on a streak in which they’ve won 17 of 21 regular season meetings with the Lakers; their overall record, including the playoffs, is 21-5.
Nick Young’s three-pointer in the final seconds of Tuesday evenings’ 111-109 Lakers victory snapped a streak of nine consecutive games that ranked Los Angeles losing to the Thunder. It shouldn’t be too surprising that the Lakers have struggled, as they’ve gone further into their rebuild in recent years while the Thunder have risen to the top level of talent in the Western Conference.
5. Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards
Back in April 2013, the Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards at home in Canada to snap a modest two-game, head-to-head winning streak that the Wizards had held. That propelled Toronto onto a streak in which they’ve beaten Washington in 12 of their last 13 regular–season matchups, including a current eight-game winning streak.
The good news for the Wizards is that in the midst of all of it, the two teams matched up against one another in the Eastern Conference’s first round back in 2015. The result: The Wizards swept Toronto in four games. For all the regular-season success the Raptors have had, they’d probably trade it in for a different result in that series.