Last week I wrote a piece titled “How important are the first 10 games in the pursuit of an NBA championship?” This week’s contribution will look at the other end of that journey… teams that start the NBA season either 1-9 or 0-10, and how such a miserable start can be a death sentence.
This season we have three teams that started 0-10 or 1-9: the Philadelphia 76ers started 0-10 (their second consecutive season with an 0-10 start), and the Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans who each started 1-9. It was the ninth straight season that at least one team had zero or one win in their first 10 games.
Let’s start with the 0-10 teams. Going back to the 1963-64 season, there have been 13 teams that have been winless after the first 10 games of the season. None of the 13 ended the season with the record over .500 although the 1996-97 Phoenix Suns ended that year 40-42 after losing their first 13 games. That team fired head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons after eight straight losses, and then hired Danny Ainge who led the team to a 40-34 record and a post-season appearance (they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Seattle Sonics). None of the other 12 teams that started 0-10 ended the year with more than 30 wins.
Here’s a look at the 13 teams (now 14 teams) that started the year 0-10. Also noted is their end-of-season record.
Team, year, season record
Cleveland Cavaliers 1970-71… 15-67 (first year of the franchise)
Philadelphia 76ers, 1972-73… 9-73
New Orleans Jazz, 1974-75… 23-59 (first year of the franchise)
Houston Rockets, 1982-83… 14-68
Miami Heat, 1988-89… 15-67 (first year of the franchise)Los Angeles Clippers, 1994-95… 17-65
Phoenix Suns, 1996-97… 40-42
Denver Nuggets, 1997-98… 11-71
Los Angeles Clippers, 1998-99… 9-41
Memphis Grizzlies, 2002-03… 28-54
New Jersey Nets, 2009-10… 12-70
Washington Wizards, 2012-13… 29-53
Philadelphia 76ers, 2014-15… 18-64
Philadelphia 76ers, 2015-16… ?????
The relative lack of success of those teams that started an NBA season 1-9 is as limited as those that started 0-10. In looking at teams that went 1-9 to start a campaign this century (1999-2000), only one team went on to win 40 or more games after starting 1-9 (there were 22 teams that started 1-9 from 1999-2000 to last season).
The 2004-05 Chicago Bulls, with Scott Skiles starting his first full season as the head coach, started that year 1-9. After going 2-13, the Bulls won 20 of their next 26 games and then ended the season by winning 15 of 19. These two stretches put the 47-35 Bulls in the playoffs where they lost in the first round to the Washington Wizards.
Of the other 21 teams, only two (the 1999-2000 New Jersey Nets and the 2010-11 Los Angeles Clippers) went on to win more than 30 games that season. Following are the teams that finished with the most wins after starting 1-9 since the 1999-2000 season.
47: Chicago Bulls, 2004-05
32: L.A. Clippers, 2010-11;
31: New Jersey Nets, 1999-2000
29: New York Knicks, 2009-10; Detroit Pistons, 2012-13
27: Toronto Raptors, 2005-06
26: Atlanta Hawks, 2005-06
25: Atlanta Hawks, 2000-01; Utah Jazz, 2013-14
23: Memphis Grizzlies, 2001-02; Oklahoma City Thunder, 2008-09
22: Minnesota Timberwolves, 2007-08
21: Chicago Bulls, 2001-02; Orlando, 2003-04; Los Angeles Lakers, 2014-15
20: Washington Wizards, 2011-12*
19: Los Angeles Clippers, 2008-09; Washington Wizards, 2008-09
18: New Orleans Hornets, 2004-05
15: Chicago Bulls, 2000-01; Minnesota Timberwolves, 2009-10
12: Chicago Bulls, 1999-2000
* Wizards were 20-46 in a short season
For the Nets, Pelicans and 76ers, history certainly does not give them much hope for a turnaround this season that will result in a playoff bid. That is, unless a coaching change or a couple of long wins stretches suddenly come into play.