Following Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Pacers, Knicks guard J.R. Smith left no question that he’s worried about the direction of his 3-8 team.
“Like you say, it’s too early to panic, but me, personally, I’m panicking. I don’t like this,” Smith said to reporters after the game. “If we’re going to be a championship-caliber team and call ourselves that, then we’ve gotta play like that. It can’t be no other way.”
With roughly 70 games left for each team before the unpredictable postseason, some might say that Smith is a bit premature. But when it comes to teams with championship aspirations, history indicates otherwise.
Since the 2000-01 season, only once has a team gone .500 or worse through 10 games and still made the NBA Finals. The Detroit Pistons started 5-5 in 2004-05 before regrouping and ultimately falling to San Antonio in the final round.
What’s more, no team has started below .500 and made the NBA Finals since the 1980-81 Houston Rockets, who staggered to a 4-6 record.
Most expected had already penciled in the Pacers and Spurs as playoff teams during the preseason. But considering each team is just months removed from falling in a Game 7 to the NBA champion Miami Heat, it’s an encouraging sign for fans to see eacah team avoiding a hangover to start the season.
That said, the slow-starting Knicks have a few factors potentially working in their favor.
New York plays in the Atlantic Division, where all five teams possess losing records. Aside from Toronto, which defeated the Wizards on Friday to maintain the division lead at 6-7, no team had even consecutive wins entering Saturday’s games, and three had at least four straight losses. As a result, New York was only two games out of first place.
Also, the Knicks are hampered by injuries to starters Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, much like the 3-9 Brooklyn Nets were without Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Brooks Lopez and Jason Terry for Friday’s 111-81 loss at Minnesota.
What’s more, the strength of schedule can vary greatly among teams through 10 games. The Pacers’ best start in 10 years was built against opponents with a combined record of 46-63.
Likewise, only one of the Trail Blazers’ first eight victories came against an opponent with a winning record. They defeated the Bulls, 98-95, on Friday to improve to 11-2, but that was the first test in a seven-game stretch that will also include Golden State, Indiana and Oklahoma City.
Perhaps then, those in Portland will know whether or not to pull out the panic button.
Record after 10 games for previous NBA finalists
2012-13: Miami (champion) 7-3; San Antonio (runner-up) 8-2
2011-12: Miami 8-2; Oklahoma City 8-2
2010-11: Dallas 7-3; Miami 6-4
2009-10: Los Angeles Lakers 7-3; Boston 8-2
2008-09: Los Angeles Lakers 9-1; Orlando 7-3
2007-08: Boston 9-1; Los Angeles Lakers 7-3
2006-07: San Antonio 8-2; Cleveland 7-3
2005-06: Miami 6-4; Dallas 8-2
2004-05: San Antonio 8-2; Detroit 5-5
2003-04: Detroit 6-4; Los Angeles Lakers 8-2
2002-03: San Antonio 6-4; New Jersey 7-3
2001-02: Los Angeles Lakers 9-1; New Jersey 7-3
2000-01: Los Angeles Lakers 6-4; Philadelphia 10-0
BY THE NUMBERS
Consecutive double-doubles in points and assists recorded by Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul to start the season through Thursday’s loss to Oklahoma City. Paul’s streak broke the previous record of 12 set by Magic Johnson in 1990-91.
Player efficiency rating of New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis entering Friday’s games, tops in the NBA according to Basketball Reference. Davis has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, averaging 21 points, 10.8 rebounds and four blocks per game.
“That’s not bad. Obviously I didn’t think when I first got here that 15, 16 years later, I’d be in the top 15 of scoring all-time, so it’s great.”
— Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki after passing Reggie Miller on Wednesday for 15th place on the all-time scoring list. Nowitzki entered Saturday’s game at Denver with 25,316 career points.
“I don’t want to be that group that says, ‘Okay, guys, let’s get to the second round and then we’re good.’ That’s too low for me expectation-wise.”
–Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers following a frustrating loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday.