An NBA team must get a good start if it wants to make the playoffs. Sure, the NBA has a long season of 82 regular-season games but it helps if teams have the momentum right from the get-go because the competition is tough in the league.
In the history of the NBA, there have been many teams that started the year with at least 10 losses and we listed down the worst 10 for you. Among the teams on our list, only the 1996-97 Phoenix Suns made it to the playoffs, proving that a bad start can lead to a bad season.
Let’s take a look at the Top 10 worst starts to an NBA season:
1996-97 Phoenix Suns (0-13)
The 1996-97 season was Phoenix’s first without Charles Barkley. The Suns traded Barkley to the Houston Rockets for Sam Cassell and Robert Horry but they would end up trading both Cassell and Horry in a season that had plenty of in-season movement for the franchise.
The Suns started the season with 13 straight losses and they fired coach Cotton Fitzimmons after a 0-8 start. Danny Ainge replaced Fitzimmons. Ainge later had a confrontation with Horry that led to the latter’s ouster. Despite a turbulent year, the Suns became the first team in NBA history to make the playoffs after losing their first 10 games of the season. Not bad.
2002-03 Memphis Grizzlies (0-13)
The 2002-03 season was the Grizzlies’ 8th overall and the team’s second in Memphis. Sidney Lowe was fired after the team lost their first eight games and he was replaced by Hubie Brown who had not coached since 1988. Brown would lose his first five games as the Grizzlies’ coach before his team finally got in the win column with a win over the Washington Wizards on November 23rd.
Second-year center Pau Gasol led the Grizzlies with 19.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game while the team acquired sharpshooter Mike Miller in a trade where they parted with rookies Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek. However, this team would finish the year with a 28-54 record, sixth in the NBA’s Midwest division.
1949-50 Denver Nuggets (0-15)
The Denver Nuggets are a unique NBA franchise. They started as an amateur non-professional team that went semi-pro, then joined the biggest league in the nation, before returning to semi-pro and amateur status again. In 1949, the Nuggets joined the newly-created National Basketball Association and they didn’t have a good start.
Denver lost its first 15 games of the season and they would go on to finish with an 11-50 mark in the Western Division. They disbanded in 1950. During the 1950-51 season, the Denver Refiners joined the NPBL, a league made up of franchises that left the NBA. The Refiners moved to Evansville before the end of the season and Denver didn’t have a major sports team until the Broncos entered the NFL in 1960.
1970-71 Cleveland Cavaliers (0-15)
The 1970-71 season was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first season in the league and was also the first year of NBA basketball in Ohio. The Cavs set futility records during their maiden year as they would start the season with a record of 15 consecutive losses and they were 4-37 at the halfway mark. A strong December prevented them from becoming the worst regular-season team in NBA history.
Cleveland would finish with a dismal 15-67 record, finishing last in both the Central Division and the Eastern Conference. However, that was expected of them as the team didn’t even have players when the season officially started. Without scouting reports before the expansion draft, the team utilized NBA trading cards to form a ragtag team.
1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers (0-15)
The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers were the worst regular-season team in NBA history so it’s no wonder why they are on this list. The Sixers finished the regular season with a record of 9-73, setting the record for most losses in a single year. That record has been threatened much time, including by their 2015-16 version, but it has stood the test of time and is still the standard for losing in the NBA.
During the season, they set an NBA-record 20-game losing streak. The Sixers were 4-58 after that losing streak and at that point, they had lost 34 out of their last 35 games. They ended the year a record 59 games behind the Atlantic Division champions Boston Celtics. Their .110 losing percentage was the worst ever until the Charlotte Bobcats broke it with a .106 mark in 2012.
1994-95 Los Angeles Clippers (0-16)
This season was the Clippers’ first in Anaheim and their 25th overall in the NBA. The Clippers added Malik Sealy and Poor Richardson from the Indiana Pacers while adding Tony Massenburg in free agency. The team played their first two regular-season games in Japan. They lost both games and went on to lose their first 16 games of the season.
The Clippers’ highlight of the season was beating the Lakers on December 9th, for their second win of the year. The team would go on to finish last in the Pacific division with the worst record in the NBA at 17-65. The team’s best player was Loy Vaught who averaged 17.5 points and 9.7 rebounds.
1988-89 Miami Heat (0-17)
The Miami Heat were the first of two expansion teams to play in the state of Florida during a two-year period. The Heat made the 1988-89 season their inaugural year and the expansion included three other franchises in Charlotte, Minnesota, and Orlando. Miami selected Rony Seikaly with the 9th pick of the draft.
The Heat would lose their first game ever to the Los Angeles Clippers and that was followed by 16 more losses for a 0-17 start. They won their first game only on December 14th by defeating, well, the Clippers. Five games later, they picked up their first win. The Heat would finish their inaugural season with a record of 15-67, 13th overall in the Western Conference ( yes, West because the Heat was assigned to the Midwest division during their maiden year).
1998-99 Los Angeles Clippers (0-17)
1998-99 was the Clippers’ final season playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. The team picked first overall in the draft and they selected Michael Olowakandi. The team also signed Sherman Douglas, Troy Hudson, and Tyrone Nesby but the team got off to a bad 0-17 start under new head coach Chris Ford.
The Clippers went on to lose 30 out of their first 33 games and they finished the lockout-shortened season with a record of 9-41, last in the Pacific Division. Maurice Taylor, then a sophomore, led the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game.
2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers (0-17)
The Philadelphia 76ers picked Joel Embiid 3rd overall in the 2014 NBA Draft but he would miss the entire season with foot and back issues. The Sixers traded former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams for draft picks and the Sixers were in tank mode again during this season.
The team didn’t get their first win until December 3, 2014, and they lost their first 17 games to start the year. Offensively, the Sixers scored 100 or more points only four times during this period while they allowed opponents to reach 100 points 12 times. In one of these defeats, they lost by 53 points to the Dallas Mavericks. Philly would finish this season with a record of 18-64, the third-worst in franchise history.
2009-10 New Jersey Nets (0-18)
2010 was the Nets’ last season playing at the Izod Center and it was a season they will never forget. After losing to the Dallas Mavericks on December 2, 2009, the Nets became the first team in NBA history to start a season with 18 consecutive wins. The team fired Lawrence Frank after 16 games and Kiki Vandeweghe took over.
This team won five out of their last 12 games, their best stretch of the season, to finish with a record of 12-70. They became the fifth team in NBA history to lose at least 70 games during a season. They were also the third team in the history of the league to go 3-40 and were tied for the worst 50-game record in the history not just of the NBA but also of the NFL and MLB at 4-46.
2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers (0-18)
After starting the previous season with a 0-17 record, the Sixers’ woes continued in 2015-16 as they began the year with a 0-18 mark. Joel Embiid missed his second straight season with a foot injury and the Sixers looked lost more than ever. GM Sam Hinkie, the brains behind the “Trust the Process” slogan was fired after this team went 1-21.
They got their first win of the season against the Lakers in what was Kobe Bryant’s final game in Philadelphia but by then, they had set the NBA record for the longest losing streak. Because the team lost their last 10 games of the previous seasons, the Sixers lost 28 consecutive games before beating the Lakers. No team in the history of American professional sports had lost more than 27 games. The Sixers lost at least 12 consecutive games four-times and would finish with a record of 10-72, one better than their horrendous 9-73 record in 1972-73.