Ranking the 12 NBA teams without a title by who's closest to winning first championship

Twelve NBA teams have never won a championship.

A few who haven’t − such as the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder − have been close, reaching the NBA Finals at least once.

The Denver Nuggets, who have never won an NBA championship, are in the Finals for the first time with a great chance of capturing their first title.

The Nuggets have been the best team in the postseason with a 12-3 record, and they have the best playoff performer in two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

Here’s our rankings of the teams closest to winning their first NBA championship:

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Nuggets stars Nikola Jokic, left, and Jamal Murray have led Denver to the NBA Finals in search of their first championship.
Nuggets stars Nikola Jokic, left, and Jamal Murray have led Denver to the NBA Finals in search of their first championship.

12. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have never been to the conference finals, haven’t won a postseason series since 2002 and have just three playoff appearances since and none since 2016. Michael Jordan’s Hornets have a ways to go to become a title contender.

Best finish: They have reached the conference semifinals four times.

11. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have taken chances to win a championship since moving to Brooklyn from New Jersey − trying first with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett about a decade ago and then recently with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden. Harden was traded last season, and Irving and Durant were traded this season. Money doesn’t always buy a title.

Best finish: Lost to Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 Finals and San Antonio Spurs in the 2003 Finals. Like the Pacers, the Nets won titles (1974, 1976) in the ABA prior to joining the NBA in 1976.

10. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are amid an accelerated reboot with the emergence of Tyrese Haliburton, 23, and Bennedict Mathurin, 20, plus veterans Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. The mindset among ownership and the front office is to make moves that elevate the Pacers to contenders. But there’s some patience, too.

Best finish: Lost to the Lakers in the 2000 Finals. Before joining the NBA in 1976, the Pacers won three ABA titles.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and capable contributors in Naz Reid, Kyle Anderson, Jaden McDaniels and Taurean Prince, and as ownership changes hands from Glen Taylor to Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, there should be an infusion of spending and promises to improve.

Best finish: Reached the Western Conference finals in 2004, losing to the Lakers in six games.

8. Utah Jazz

The rebuild seems headed in the right direction post-Donovan Mitchell, but like the Magic, the Jazz are still behind too many teams in the West to make a push for a title, at least as the roster stands now.

Best finish: Runner-up to the Bulls in 1997 and 1998, losing both Finals in six games.

7. Orlando Magic

The Magic have been close, losing in the 1995 and 2009 Finals. With Shaquille O’Neal first and later Dwight Howard, they were not ready to win a title in those seasons. There’s something to work with in Orlando (Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr., Cole Anthony) but contention isn’t right around the corner.

Best finish: Runner-up to the Lakers in five games in 2009.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder is a team of the future with their talent, youth and future draft picks. They won 40 regular-season games to make the play-in tournament, where they lost to the Timberwolves for the No. 8 seed. They have an MVP candidate in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (fifth place) and up-and-coming Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, Lu Dort, Isaiah Joe and Aleksej Pokusevski.

Best finish: Runner-up to Miami in 2012.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

Time is running out on this group of Clippers fronted by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George who have been sidelined too often make a big enough impact when they’re on the court together.

Best finish: Lost to Phoenix in six games during the 2021 conference finals.

4. New Orleans Pelicans

Wouldn’t it be intriguing to see a healthy Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram for a full season? They were 23-12 two-plus months into the season, tied for first place with Denver. They have components that might be able to contend − if healthy.

Best finish: Lost twice in the conference semifinals (2008, 2018).

3. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies had the fifth-best record in the league this season with one of the youngest teams led by Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane. Memphis got in its own way this season, losing in the first round as the No. 2 seed to the seventh-seeded Lakers. There’s time to get it right.

Best finish: Lost to San Antonio in the conference finals in 2013.

2. Phoenix Suns

The Suns reached the Finals in 2021, letting go of a 2-0 series lead against the Milwaukee Bucks. They fell short of the conference finals in 2022 and, even after trading for Kevin Durant to put next to Devin Booker, the Suns lost in the second round this season. But any team with Durant and Booker remains a threat to win a title, especially if depth is added.

Best finish: Runner-up in 1976 (Celtics) 1993 (Bulls) and 2021 (Bucks).

1. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are at the door, making their first Finals appearance in franchise history. Injuries slowed the Nuggets for a couple of seasons, but they’ve been headed in this direction since they reached the conference finals and lost to the Lakers in the 2020 Orlando bubble.

Best finish: Lost in the conference finals five times, most recently to the Lakers in 2020.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ranking NBA teams never to win NBA Finals by closest to breakthrough