‘Twas the West’s 20 wins before Christmas

Richard Masoner | Flickr

Holiday spirit? (Richard Masoner | Flickr)

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 tall tasks 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 success across the entire 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. 2014 surpassed that mark with four total.

Below is a 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
2007-08
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
2011-12
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
34 teams   57.8-24.2

So 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 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? The Jazz also ended the season without 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. Hmm…

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 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. Where’s the duct tape?

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One thought on “‘Twas the West’s 20 wins before Christmas

  1. […] posts, check out drastic movements in the lottery over the last two months of the season and what 20 wins before Christmas means in the […]

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