After losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals to close out the 2020-21 season, the Phoenix Suns played like a team on a mission during the regular season and finished the 2021-22 campaign with the best record in pro basketball at 64-18. While impressive, that regular-season record did nothing to help Phoenix in the playoffs as they were bounced from the postseason in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Dallas Mavericks.
This season, the Celtics are following Phoenix’s blueprint as they are tops in the league at 20-5 after falling to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in six games to end last season. Should Boston follow the Suns’ lead to perfection and finish the season with the best record in the league before losing in the second round of the playoffs, they obviously won’t be NBA champions — but they’ll still get a trophy.
In an announcement about changes and alterations that have been made to the NBA’s end-of-season awards, the league revealed that the team with the best regular-season record will now be given the Maurice Podoloff trophy in recognition of their effort. (Podoloff was the NBA’s first commissioner.)
While it’s nice the league will be handing out even more hardware than ever before — the Joe Dumars Trophy will go to the winner of the NBA Sportsmanship award, the Twyman-Stokes Trophy will go to the NBA Teammate of the Year, the Red Auerbach Trophy will go to the NBA Coach of the Year winner and there is also a reworked trophy for the NBA Executive of the Year — a trophy for winning the most games in the regular season that isn’t accompanied by the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy for achieving victory in the NBA Finals is fairly meaningless. The goal in pro sports isn’t to win games, it’s to win championships.
The last team to capture the wins title during the regular season and the NBA title in the playoffs was the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors. The Warriors went 67-15 that season, a year after going 73-9 and losing in the NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In fact, looking at the list of teams who have had the best regular season in the NBA before winning it all, there is a fairly decent history of the regular-season champ hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June so it makes sense for teams to try and win as many games as they can in order to get a higher seed and guarantee themselves home-court advantage through the playoffs. But winning games in the regular season is just a means to an end and that end is the Larry O’Brien, not the Maurice Podoloff, Trophy.