Mediocrity has been a rarity for two of the NBA’s most storied franchises: The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Their accomplishments have been discussed several times like the 33 championships, 52 Finals appearances overall, and over 6,000 regular season victories between the two.
Only once in over 60 years have both teams either missed the playoffs or finished below .500 in the same season. That was in 1994, just the second season since Larry Bird’s retirement and two seasons before a brief comeback by Magic Johnson. That’s a rude awakening when I normally think of that decade ending only yesterday.
The 2006-07 season was the last time both teams came in with average expectations. The Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, Smush Parker, and Kwame Brown finished 41-41. Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson, a rookie named Rajon Rondo, and the Celtics limped to the finish line at 24-58, winning only 12 of their final 50 games. Their slump might’ve had something to do with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant being near-locks as 2007 NBA Draft participants. (For more 2007 nostalgia, check out a post I devoted to that entire year.)
2007 didn’t join 1994 where both teams missed the playoffs or finished below .500, but something else funky happened in the regular season and it was for the very first time in league history: A team won more games than the Celtics and Lakers combined. That team was the Dallas Mavericks.
If not for the title run in 2011, mentioning the 2007 version of Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks might sting than actually compliment. Even then, it’s worth noting there’s some degree of difficulty for a random team to win more than two other random ones, let alone the Celtics and Lakers. Last season, the two worst teams in the NBA last season, the Magic and Bobcats, combined for 41 wins. The tenth and 11th worst teams, Toronto and Portland, combined for 67. That 2007 Mavericks team is the last to match such an amount.
The likelihood of catching both the Celtics and the Lakers in underwhelming seasons and winning more than both of them combined speaks for itself. Dallas accomplished something nobody had done before despite opportunities for teams in the mid-90s, 2005, and 2006 to be the first to do so. Maybe Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 90s would’ve been the first, but that’s just one of several coulda-shoulda-wouldas with Jordan’s first retirement.
The mid-2010s may bring another opportunity for a team to join the likes of the 2007 Mavericks for multiple reasons: Injuries to the Celtics and Lakers’ franchise cornerstones in 2013, a haul of very average players for each team, both conferences being more beefed up at the top, and the tankapalooza that will lead up to 2014 NBA Draft. But the window to win more than the Celtics and Lakers combined could close after this season if the Lakers make a huge splash in free agency like they intend and Boston rebuilds successfully through a loaded draft.
For now though, the chance is there.
Hopefully joining the 2007 Mavericks in a rare regular season feat doesn’t come with their playoff disappointment as well. Though if anything crazy happens, teams that win more games than the Celtics and Lakers combined in a single season win a championship four years later. And 100 percent of the time.