On Hot Starts

I chose to skip the conventional NBA preview because there is not a ton to say about the outcome of the 2018-19 season.  The Warriors are prohibitive favorites and there is no apparent rival on equal footing at this point.  This is not to say that such a rival might not emerge or that the Warriors’ dominance is a bad thing.  Still, drama is low.

Instead, I wanted to do a quick walkthrough of hot starts.  Currently, Milwaukee Bucks are 7-0 and, statistically, the class of the NBA (a 16.36 SRS!).  It’s a bit early to anoint Milwaukee as a legit title contender but I wondered how each franchise hottest starts turned out.  Without further ado, here is the best start for each NBA franchise since 1989-90 and how those teams ended up.  For each franchise to qualify a detailed review, a team must start at least 5-0 (anything less is not really a meaningful streak).  Without further ado, here is the list, by franchise, in reverse order:

14.  Bobcats/Hornets (Charlotte): Never had a three game streak to start a season

13.  Wizards: two teams tied at 3-0

 Magic: three teams tied at 3-0

12.  Suns: two teams tied at 4-0

 Nets: two teams tied at 4-0

 Spurs: three teams tied at 4-0

 Clippers: three teams tied at 4-0

11.  Cavs, 2016-17: 5-0 (51-31, lost in NBA Finals)

 Heat, 2011-12: 5-0 (46-20, won NBA Finals)

 Kings, 1995-96: 5-0 (39-43, lost in first round)

 Nuggets, 2009-10: 5-0 (53-29, lost in first round)

10.  Raptors, 2018-19: 6-0 (to be determined…)

 Jazz, 1998-99: 6-0 (37-13, lost in second round)

 Grizzlies, 2014-15: 6-0 (55-27, lost in second round)

 Timberwolves, 2001-02: 6-0 (50-32, lost in first round)

9.  Bucks, 2018-19: 7-0 and counting (to be determined….)

 Knicks, 1993-94: 7-0 (57-25, lost in NBA Finals)

8.  Celtics, 2007-08: 8-0 (66-16, won NBA Finals)

 Pelicans/Hornets (New Orleans), 2010-11: 8-0 (46-36, lost in first round)

 Pistons, 2005-06: 8-0 (64-18, lost in Conference Finals)

7.  Pacers, 2013-14: 9-0 (56-26, lost in Conference Finals)

6.  76ers, 2000-01: 10-0 (56-26, lost in NBA Finals)

 Thunder/Sonics, 1993-94: 10-0 (63-19, lost in first round)

5.  Hawks, 1997-98: 11-0 (50-32, lost in first round)

  Lakers, 1997-98: 11-0 (61-21, lost in Conference Finals)

  Blazers, 1990-91: 11-0 (63-19, lost in Conference Finals)

4.  Bulls, 1997-98: 12-0 (69-13, won NBA Finals)

3.  Mavericks, 2002-03: 14-0 (60-22, lost in Conference Finals)

2.  Rockets, 1993-94: 15-0 (58-24, won NBA title)

1.  Warriors, 2015-16: 24-0 (73-9, lost in the NBA Finals)

It’s fairly hard to believe that the Charlotte franchise(s) have never been able to piece together a real winning streak to start a season.  On the other hand, the routinely great Spurs never start too hot and it hasn’t hurt them.

Starting out 5-0 means a team is a 100% lock to make the playoffs so far too.  There were a few teams that didn’t parlay the hot starts into great seasons.  Of the 5-0 starters, the 1995-96 Kings finished under .500.  Only one other team of the group won less than 50 games in an 82-games season (the 2009-10 Hornets).  The 1997-98 Hawks are also an interesting data point in disappointment.  A team built around Mookie Blaylock, Steve Smith, and Dikembe Mutombo had a great start at 11-0 and limped to a 39-32 finish and a first round loss.  For the most part, however, a 5-0 start or better means a deep playoff run.  13 of those teams made, at least, the Conference Finals thereafter.

So past history tells us that both the Bucks and Raptors look set up to make deep playoff runs.  Of course, past performance is not a guarantee of future success.  The Bucks were supposed to be pretty good but are seemingly playing a bit over their heads.   Should be an interesting case study for Giannis & Co…

Leave a Reply