It’s only one game — an opening salvo in an 82-game campaign that serves mostly as a precursor to the postseason that follows. But with the weight of championship expectations bearing down on the Nets, it’s hard not to be concerned with what we’ve seen through the first 48 minutes.
Brooklyn opened its season on Wednesday with a shocking loss to the Pelicans, who outscored the Nets by 18 points in the first quarter en route to a 130-108 win. It wasn’t necessarily the loss itself that stunned those around the NBA, though it certainly wasn’t the first impression this team was hoping for after a messy summer. Instead, it was the historically lopsided margin that left many in disbelief.
Since 1995, just 31 teams had opened their season with a loss of at least 22 points. Only six of those teams had lost outright as home favorites, as the Nets (-3) did on Wednesday. Unsurprisingly, four of those six teams eventually went under their preseason win total, and only one of the six teams advanced past the first round.
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The lone exception was the 2016 Warriors, who entered the year as title favorites before losing their season opener by 28 points — which, ironically, came in Brooklyn star Kevin Durant’s first-ever game with Golden State. That team eventually ripped off 67 wins to claim the first of back-to-back titles in the team’s dynastic run. Yet these Nets, clearly, aren’t the ‘16 Warriors. And for that one success story, there are countless failures.
Like we mentioned before, just 31 teams in the last 27 years had lost by 22 or more in their season opener before Wednesday’s result. Outside of those ’16 Warriors, only one of the other 30 teams advanced past the first round of the playoffs (2004-05 SuperSonics), and a whopping 21 of them missed the postseason altogether. If you exclude the four teams with shortened seasons, the other 27 teams averaged just 32.9 wins on the year with 19 of them ultimately cashing the Under on their preseason win total.
That’s a staggering number of teams falling short of preseason expectation based on one result alone. And even though many of those teams entered the year with low expectations to begin with, it’s been a similar story for title contenders: of the six teams with a preseason win total of 48.5 or higher, five fell below that mark, and only the ’16 Warriors advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
That’s the ultimate fear with this group, which flamed out of last year’s postseason with an unceremonious sweep at the hands of the East-champion Celtics. That came before one of the most disastrous offseasons for a title contender in recent memory: Durant requested, then rescinded, a trade request that shook the entire league, before throwing shade on his coach and general manager ahead of the season.
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So should anyone be surprised this team was as disjointed as it was in Game 1? Brooklyn never looked right on Wednesday, falling behind 7-0 and trailing by as many as 26 in a game it never led. The only bright spot, fittingly, was Durant (32 points), who was the only Nets player to score more than 16 points.
He’s the only player on this roster who can relate to salvaging a season after such a crushing opening loss, too. Still, the Nets are a far cry from that Warriors squad he helped carry to a championship, both on the court and in the locker room. And over two decades of precedent suggest a long road ahead for this malcontent squad.