As the first quarter of the NBA concludes, the NBA Contenders emerge. Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, has a long-held opinion that a team’s identity is revealed after 20 games.
He is correct. And championship candidates are generally identified after 20 games.
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Consider this the conclusion of the first quarter of the season. That’s very much where the NBA is right now, with clubs approaching the 20-game milestone. There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but NBA Contenders 20 games has proved to be more than enough of a sample size for deciding which teams have a real chance at a title virtually every time.
The figures prove that. The teams are aware of it as well.
Phoenix coach Monty Williams said, “We look at 20 games.” “It may be extended out a little if you have ailments, but your identity and who you are are very much fixed.” You’ve been through the league to some extent at NBA Contenders. You have a concept of who you are, where you need to grow, your numerical strengths, and the players have a fairly good notion of what type of team you’re going to be.”
In 2005-06 the NBA Contenders, Miami had the league’s 13th-best record after 20 games; the Heat finished 10-10, but few realized Riley was set to return as coach at the time. In 1997-98, Chicago, winners of five of the league’s past seven championships at the time, was 11th in the NBA after 20 games; the Bulls seemed bored and finished 12-8.
That is the only time an eventual NBA Contenders champion did not have a record in the top ten at that point in the season. (To be fair, there were a few seasons without ten teams in the early days, but go with it.)
This is awful news for many clubs right now.
Through 20 games, none of the previous 16 champions had a record lower than the fifth-best.
Golden State has the best record through 20 games last season. The best records through 20 games are the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors and the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors had the best record through 20 games in 2014-15 and 2016-17.
They all won championships.
That’s great news for the Boston Celtics, who are on pace to have the best record in the NBA after 20 games this season. That’s bad news for the Warriors, who are 8-10 and 11th in the West while being within striking distance of everyone. That’s also bad news for the Heat, who completed last season with the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference but are presently 7-11 with a number of important players out.
“We need to find out what it takes to win and what everyone has to do differently and more consistently,” NBA Contenders Golden State guard Stephen Curry said. “Forget the track record; you can’t even find a sustained period of success when habits emerge and we’re feeling good about ourselves.” We’re still looking and chasing a little.”
The Celtics aren’t chasing anything. They’re one of those being pursued. In the league’s first 76 seasons, the club with the best record after 20 games has won the championship 34 times.
“You have to be able to make each other better whether you have the ball or not,” said Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla, NBA Contenders who has gone from being an assistant coach to being in charge after Ime Udoka’s suspension to being the coach of a team that is a popular pick to win the NBA title in less than two months. “And our players are committed to improving each other whether they have the ball or not.” It’s entertaining to see.”
The Celtics should be the first club to not rule anybody out at the NBA Contenders. Last season, they went 10-10 through 20 games and reached the NBA Finals, where they were defeated by Golden State in six games.
Furthermore, rallies from the middle to the top have occurred in the past.
The 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs were ninth in the league after 20 games; the 1998-99 Spurs were eighth, and both teams went on to win championships. The Bulls finished 10th in the league after 20 games in Michael Jordan’s first championship season, 1990-91.