NBA

NBA Playoffs: Postseason streaks and droughts snapped in 2021

#Randle #Booker
(NBA Getty Images)

From the short offseason to players being ruled out due to health-and-safety protocols to nearly all the All-Star festivities being conducted in one day, the 2020-21 NBA season will go down in the history books as one of the shortest and most unique years.

The 72 games have been entertaining, to say the least, with players and teams breaking multiple franchise and all-time league records.

The exciting season has also resulted in the end of multiple playoff streaks and droughts.

Droughts

Phoenix Suns - 11 years

Heading into this season, the franchise's 11-year playoff absence was second only to the Sacramento Kings' 15 among the active droughts in the league. However, with the offseason they had last year, things were set to change drastically.

Adding arguably one of the league's best 'point guards' and leaders in Chris Paul along with a grizzled veteran in Jae Crowder to their young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, the Suns have majorly turned things around.

They've improved from a 19-63 record in the 2018-19 season to 34-39 last season and now 51-21, just shy of the league's best record in 2020-21.

The spectacular turnaround marks their first postseason appearance since 2010 when the Steve Nash led squad lost in the Conference Finals. Their 51 wins are also their most since 2010.

New York Knicks - 7 years

No. 3 on the league's longest active postseason droughts list heading into this season were the Knicks, who hadn't made it since 2013, and even this was laid to the rest.

Led by a career-year and All-NBA-worthy season from Julius Randle and the team's top-five defence, New York, one of the most illustrious franchises in NBA history, found their way back to the postseason

Playing 71 of the 72 games, while leading the league in total minutes played and minutes per game, Randle averaged career-highs in points (24.1), rebounds (10.2) and assists (6.0). In his seventh season, he's also made a career-best 2.3 3-pointers a game at a career-best efficiency of 41.1 percent.

Tom Thibodeau, the defensive mastermind who was hired by the Knicks as the head coach in the offseason, has raised the team's defensive rating to fourth-best in the league after ranking 23rd in the 2019-20 season.

That's resulted in the franchise improving from a record of 21-45 to 41-31. The 20-win improvement is among the franchise's best single-season turnarounds.

Streaks

Houston Rockets - 8 years

After the San Antonio Spurs' 22-year playoff streak was snapped with their absence in the 2020 postseason, the next-best was the Rockets' eight straight.

However, their time with the mantle of the league's best active playoff appearances streak would be short-lived as the franchise would undergo multiple changes below the ownership level in the 2020 offseason.

First, they didn't extend head coach Mike D'Antoni's contract and let him go. Then, Daryl Morey - the team's general manager who had led the team to 11 postseasons in 14 years - stepped down in November. A month later, Russell Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and then, less than a month into the 2020-21 season, the Rockets traded their disgruntled but long-time superstar James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

The final transaction among those was the nail in the coffin and definitively put the franchise into rebuild mode. After the Harden deal, early results including a six-game winning streak were promising but injuries or load management involving multiple key players in Wall, Victor Oladipo and Christian Wood put the team in a downward spiral which included a 20-game losing streak.

The 17-55 record, the league's worst in 2020-21, snaps the team's 14-year run of posting a winning record.

During their eight-year run, the franchise's best since winning back-to-back titles in 1995, the team lost to the eventual NBA Champions thrice (2015, 2018, 2020) and recorded two Conference Finals appearances in 2015 and 2018.

Toronto Raptors - 7 years

The 27-45 record in 2020-21 brings the curtains down on the franchise's greatest run which included an NBA Championship in 2019.

Despite losing Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in the offseason of 2019, the Raptors showed tremendous team play to win 53 games, the second-best tally in the league in 2019-20. However, after losing more free agents including veterans Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka over the 2020 offseason, Toronto's great run came to an end.

At the end of the day, there are no asterisks but the Raptors would be eligible if they were being given out considering the adversity they had to overcome all through this season, playing all season from the home base of Tampa, given the COVID-19 related travel restrictions between Canada and USA.

This also marks the first year that Masai Ujiri would be missing the postseason in his time as a leading executive in the league (2010).

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