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How important are the first 10 games in the pursuit of an NBA championship?

Ed Suba Jr/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Getting the season off to a good start is the first goal for all NBA teams. The last thing a team wants to do is start slowly and not be able to recover in time to get a playoff spot. Or, if a team is a title contender, getting off to a slow start could prevent them from securing the home-court advantage, thus potentially jeopardizing their title chances.

In the 16 years since 1999-2000, 19 teams started 10-0 or 9-1. In 2014-15, the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets each started 9-1. Memphis eventually lost in the Western Conference semis, while the Rockets were defeated by the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Of the qualified 19 teams (in their respective seasons):

  • Five made it to the NBA Finals; four won the title (2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers, 2007-08 Boston Celtics, 2008-09. Lakers and the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs).
  • Eighteen of the 19 finished above .500. The 2001-02 Milwaukee Bucks started 9-1, but finished the year with a 41-41 record.
  • Twelve of the 19 won 55 or more games. Six won 60-plus.
  • Eleven of the 19 made it to their conference finals.

Three franchises, the Lakers, Pacers and Spurs, each started  10-0 or 9-1 twice since the 1999-2000 campaign. The two teams that started 10-0 since 1999-2000 were the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers and the 2002-03 Dallas Mavericks. The 76ers lost in the NBA Finals; the Mavs lost in the Western Conference Finals following their 10-0 start.

In 2015-16, 11 of the 16 playoff teams started with at least six wins in the first 10 games. The Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee each started  5-5; Boston and Brooklyn were 4-6 (notice how these five teams are all from the Eastern Conference). The 16 playoff teams last year won an average of 6.4 games in their first 10 contests.

After the first couple of weeks in 2015-16, only two teams remain that can start going either 10-0 or 9-1 in their first 10 games: theWarriors are currently 8-0 and the Cavs, sitting at 6-1.

The reigning champion Warriors started off  8-2 on the way to claiming of their prize. Of the last 10 teams to win the NBA championship, six started with at least eight wins in their first 10 games, In fact, the last 10 champs won an average of 7.8 of their first 10 games in their championship run. Here’s a look at how many of their first 10 contests each of the past 10 NBA champions won.

  • 9: 2014 Spurs, 2009 Lakers, 2008 Celtics
  • 8: 2015 Warriors, 2012 Heat, 2007 Spurs
  • 7: 2013 Heat, 2011 Mavericks, 2010 Lakers
  • 6: 2006 Heat

Finally, 11 teams have started 10-0 since 1963-64. Of those 11, four went on to play for the title: 1965 Celtics, 1994 Rockets, 1997 Bulls and the 2001 76ers. The Celtics, Rockets and Bulls each won the championship.

Twenty teams that started the season 9-1 since 1963-64 made it to the NBA Finals. Seventeen of those 20 teams won the title. Of the 52 champions since 1964, 20 started the year either 10-0 or 9-1. Getting off to a great start, either 9-1 or 10-0, can be a great omen for NBA teams. Will it work for the Warriors or Cavs (if they get to 9-1 or 10-0 to start this season)?


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