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History Suggests That The NBA Title Will Most Likely Be Won By The Nuggets, Celtics, Timberwolves, Or Thunder

It took until the end of February, but we now have our list for the final 40/20 teams of the 2023-24 NBA season. If you are a fan of a franchise that has goals of winning a title, this is a pretty important group to find yourself in based on what NBA history has told us.

Before we dive more into that, I do want to quickly explain the significance of this rule and what it even is, in the event someone clicked on a 40/20 blog without knowing a thing about it (thank you!). Essentially, Phil Jackson, a guy who knows a thing or two about winning titles, declared that the "true contenders" in the league were teams that won their 40th game before their 20th loss. Now it's important to remember this very clear distinction when it comes to this rule. Hitting 40/20 does not guarantee you win the title. There have been plenty of teams to hit that mark and not win, most recently the 2022 Bucks, the 2022 Celts, and the 2021 Suns. It also does not guarantee a deep playoff run, as we just saw the 2022 Bucks lose in the first round last Spring.


But, if you want to win the whole thing, NBA history says you pretty much need to check that box. While there are always some exceptions here and there, it's become a pretty bulletproof way to narrow down where you can expect the title to come from.

Here is the list for 2023-24

Given what we've been watching all year, that list shouldn't surprise anyone. Those are easily the 4 best teams in the NBA this season, and it also goes to show just how tough the West is. In the East, the Cavs got close at 38-20 as did the Bucks at 38-21, but unfortunately getting close doesn't get you in. 

Of course, the only people that have a problem with the 40/20 rule are fans of teams who did not achieve it, but this is where the NBA history part comes in. Why should you even put any stock into this? What's the real difference between 40/20 and 38/20? Well, let's look at the last 44 YEARS of history (winner in bold, shortened seasons have an )

2022-23: Nuggets (40-18) vs Heat (40-34)

2021-22: Warriors (40-13) vs Celtics (40-27)

2020-21: Bucks (40-24) vs Suns (40-15)

2019-20: Lakers (40-12) vs Heat (40-22)

2018-19: Raptors (40-16) vs Warriors (40-15)

2017-18: Warriors (40-10) vs Cavs (40-29)

2016-17: Warriors (40-7) vs Cavs (40-16)

2015-16: Cavs (40-14) vs Warriors (40-4)

2014-15: Warriors (40-9) vs Cavs (40-25)

2013-14: Spurs (40-15) vs Heat (40-15)

2012-13: Heat (40-14) vs Spurs (40-12)

2011-12: Heat (40-15) vs Thunder (40-12)

2010-11: Mavs (40-16) vs Heat (40-15)

2009-10: Lakers (40-13) vs Celtics (40-21)

2008-09: Lakers (40-9) vs Magic (40-14)

2007-08: Celtics (40-9) vs Lakers (40-17)

2006-07: Spurs (40-18) vs Cavs (40-25)

2005-06: Heat (40-20) vs Mavs (40-11)

2004-05: Spurs (40-11) vs Pistons (40-23)

2003-04: Pistons (40-25) vs Lakers (40-21)

2002-03: Spurs (40-17) vs Nets (40-25)

2001-02: Lakers (40-17) vs Nets (40-23)

2000-01: Lakers (40-19) vs 76ers (40-14)

1999-00: Lakers (40-11) vs Pacers (40-19)

1998-99: Spurs (37-13) vs Knicks (27-23)

1997-98: Bulls (40-15) vs Jazz (40-16)

1996-97: Bulls (40-5) vs Jazz (40-15)

1995-96: Bulls (40-3) vs Sonics (40-12)

1994-95: Rockets (40-25) vs Magic (40-12)

1993-94: Rockets (40-15) vs Knicks (40-19)

1992-93: Bulls (40-17) vs Suns (40-11)

1991-92: Bulls (40-9) vs Trail Blazers (40-18)

1990-91: Bulls (40-14) vs Lakers (40-14)

1989-90: Pistons (40-15) vs Blazers (40-18)

1988-89: Pistons (40-16) vs Lakers (40-18)

1987-88: Lakers (40-9) vs Pistons (40-20)

1986-87: Lakers (40-13) vs Celtics (40-14)

1985-86: Celtics (40-9) vs Rockets (40-24)

1984-85: Lakers (40-16) vs Celtics (40-9)

1983-84: Celtics (40-12) vs Lakers (40-20)

1982-83: 76ers (40-6) vs Lakers (40-13)

1981-82: Lakers (40-17) vs 76ers (40-14)

1980-81: Celtics (40-9) vs Rockets (40-41)

1979-80: Lakers (40-17) vs 76ers (40-16)

Add it all up, and you have 93% of champs in the last 44 years hitting this mark. In that entire list, we had three instances of a shortened/unusual season. The 1999 lockout, the Bubble year, and then the shortened Covid season. That means in a normal, full 82 game season since 1979-80, there have been only 3 teams who have won the NBA title while not hitting the 40/20 rule


1994-95 Houston Rockets

2003-04 Detroit Pistons

2005-06 Miami Heat

That's it, that's the list. 

As you can see, it's possible for a non 40/20 team to make the Finals. That's happened a bunch of times. The problem there is they did not win the title. 

When it comes to these sorts of things, it all depends on what trend you choose to believe in. If you're someone who is a fan of a team that didn't hit 40/20 but you have a former MVP on your team, my guess is you have no problem buying into the trend that only a handful of teams have ever won a title without having an MVP on the roster.

So, buying into these things really may just depend on which trend fits your own personal narrative. 

If you combine both of those criteria, teams like the Denver Nuggets sure are sitting pretty. Not only did they check off the 40/20 box, they check off the MVP box as well. If SGA goes on a run and wins the MVP this year, OKC will do the same. If the MVP part of the equation truly does matter, that's not great news for the Celtics or Wolves. 

With only 25 or so games remaining in the regular season, at this point all I am praying for is health for everyone involved. This season has been too good, and the talent has been so balanced, we deserve a playoff run where all these true contenders are blessed with good health for a playoff run. Often times the health factor is the most important piece to winning an NBA title. You need to be good enough, you need some luck here and there, and most importantly you need health. 

So while you may not like it, the reality is the 2023-24 NBA title is most likely coming from one of DEN/BOS/MIN/OKC if you put any stock into the last 40+ years of NBA history. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some praying to do.