Quite a few teams have jumped out to unexpectedly hot starts before the Christmas games, arguably the most surprising being the Portland Trail Blazers. They have a tall task coming up against the Clippers, Heat and Thunder, but for now they’re 23-5 and first in the West, just barely ahead of Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
For Portland to get to 20 wins before Christmas is quite an accomplishment and a sign of a favorable finish to the regular season. From 2000 to 2013, 30 teams out West have reached 20 wins before December 25, which averages out to about 2.3 teams per season. This season has been an exception, along with a few others. Take a look at the table showing each team in the West’s 20-win club over the last 14 years:
20 wins before Christmas
|Season||Team||W-L by 12/25||82-game record||West rank||Finish|
|1999-00||Los Angeles Lakers||22-5||67-15||1||Won Finals|
|Portland Trail Blazers||20-7||59-23||3||Lost Conf. Finals|
|2000-01||Utah Jazz||20-8||53-29||4||Lost First Round|
|Los Angeles Lakers||20-10||56-26||2||Won Finals|
|2001-02||San Antonio Spurs||20-5||58-24||2||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|Sacramento Kings||20-9||61-21||1||Lost Conf. Finals|
|2002-03||Dallas Mavericks||23-4||60-22||3||Lost Conf. Finals|
|Sacramento Kings||22-8||59-23||2||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|2003-04||Los Angeles Lakers||20-6||56-26||2||Lost Finals|
|Sacramento Kings||20-6||55-27||4||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|San Antonio Spurs||20-10||57-25||3||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|2004-05||Phoenix Suns||23-3||62-20||1||Lost Conf. Finals|
|San Antonio Spurs||21-6||59-23||2||Won Finals|
|2005-06||San Antonio Spurs||21-6||63-19||1||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|Dallas Mavericks||20-7||60-22||4||Lost Finals|
|2006-07||San Antonio Spurs||21-7||58-24||3||Won Finals|
|Dallas Mavericks||20-7||67-15||1||Lost First Round|
|Utah Jazz||20-8||51-31||4||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|2008-09||Los Angeles Lakers||23-5||65-17||1||Won Finals|
|2009-10||Los Angeles Lakers||23-4||57-25||1||Won Finals|
|Dallas Mavericks||20-9||55-27||2||Lost First Round|
|Denver Nuggets||20-9||53-29||4||Lost First Round|
|2010-11||San Antonio Spurs||25-4||61-21||1||Lost First Round|
|Dallas Mavericks||23-5||57-25||3||Won Finals|
|Utah Jazz||21-9||39-43||11||Missed Playoffs|
|Los Angeles Lakers||21-8||57-25||2||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||20-10||55-27||4||Lost Conf. Finals|
|2012-13||Oklahoma City Thunder||21-5||60-22||1||Lost Conf. Semifinals|
|Los Angeles Clippers||21-6||56-26||4||Lost First Round|
|San Antonio Spurs||21-8||58-24||2||Lost Finals|
|2013-14||Portland Trail Blazers||23-5|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||22-5|
|San Antonio Spurs||22-6|
|Los Angeles Clippers||20-9|
Captain Obvious says the average regular season records those teams finish with are often quite good. Only one team finished with less than 50 wins and the average 82-game record is just under 58-24. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see all four teams this year finish with 58 wins before the playoffs, fattening up in non-conference matchups in the process. No team with over nine losses by Christmas, however, has won over 58 or more games since Chris Webber and the 2002 Kings. The Clippers are probably out of luck, at least until they get J.J. Redick back.
Only one team missed the playoffs on that list: the Utah Jazz of 2011 who had a mess of a season. They’d lost Carlos Boozer the summer prior to the season and replaced him with Al Jefferson, who is now in Charlotte. Utah now has Richard Jefferson and his expiring contract. Will Utah replace him next summer by drafting another Jefferson?
But really, Utah went through major changes, also losing Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams while prolonging a total rebuild. None of the four 20-win teams this year match what Utah went through. Portland did have an active off-season, but to match Utah’s they’d have to ship LaMarcus Aldridge for, say, David Lee, then have Damian Lillard request a trade down the road. Not possible unless women and gambling issues go down, probably, or something.
Some other notables from the 20-wins-before-Christmas Club:
- Of the 29 20-wins-before-Christmas teams that made the playoffs, six lost in the first round.
- 15 teams made at least the Conference Finals. It’s basically a lock that one of the four this year makes it unless we have a Houston-Golden State matchup. Not likely, but nonetheless possible.
- 10 of the 13 seasons have featured a 20-wins-before-Christmas team represent the West in the NBA Finals.
Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and the Los Angeles Clippers are in a club that often entails success down the road, but a few teams have stumbled despite a hot start. Let’s see which starts were more on the fluky side and ones that were the real deal.
Until then, happy holidays. I need to wrap my presents now. Where’s the duct tape?