NBA Playoffs

Nuggets' loss to Timberwolves continues concerning trend for defending NBA champions

The last five NBA champions failed to reach the conference finals the following season

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The road to repeat in the NBA is a difficult one.

From the Bill Russell Celtics to the Michael Jordan Bulls and Kobe-Shaq Lakers, there have been some dynastic runs in which teams have won multiple championships in a row.

Since the turn of the century, four teams have successfully repeated as NBA champions. The Golden State Warriors are the most recent team to defend its title, doing so with Kevin Durant in 2017-18.

Injuries and an unforgettable playoff run from Kawhi Leonard in Toronto played a role in preventing a Golden State three-peat in 2019. It's been a tough run for defending champions ever since, and the Denver Nuggets are the latest victim.

After cruising past the Lakers in the first round, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Co. lost consecutive home games to open their second-round battle against the Minnesota Timberwolves. They showed their championship mettle over the next three games to take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 in Minnesota. From there, the Timberwolves proceeded to send the 2023 champions packing with a Game 6 demolition and a 20-point comeback on the road in Game 7 Sunday night.

The Nuggets' demise is not uncommon among recent NBA champions. Of the last five champions, none have reached the conference finals -- let alone the NBA Finals -- in the following season:

YearChampionNext season result
2019Toronto RaptorsLost to Celtics in second round (4-3)
2020Los Angeles LakersLost to Suns in first round (4-2)
2021Milwaukee BucksLost to Celtics in second round (4-3)
2022Golden State WarriorsLost to Lakers in second round (4-2)
2023Denver NuggetsLost to Timberwolves in second round (4-3)

The Timberwolves are joined by the Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers as the NBA's final four in 2024. One will walk away with the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2024, and that team will then have to overcome recent history to get back to the conference finals in 2025.

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