In a thrilling tussle for first place, the Raptors beat the 76ers on Wednesday to move atop the Atlantic Division. Losers of four straight, the 76ers had valiantly held control of the division until the juggernaut that is the 5-7 Raptors finally overtook them.
So far this season, the NBA’s Atlantic puts NFC East jokes to shame.
Philadelphia (5-8) and Boston (4-9) are supposed to be tanking, and they’ll probably start showing it soon enough, before they fall too far in the lottery. The two preseason favorites, Brooklyn (3-8) and New York (3-8), have been even worse. Toronto might actually win the division simply by valuing winning just a little and not being completely dysfunctional.
But could the division winner actually finish with a losing record?
Since the NBA expanded to its current six-division format for the 2004-05 season, division winners have won 69 percent of their games, the equivalent of 56 wins in an 82-game season. The worst division winners in that span – the 2005-06 Denver Nuggets and 2006-07 Miami Heat – went 44-38.
I’m pulling for a division winner with a losing record, because how fun would that be? But it’s probably early to get our hopes up.
We’re just 23 days into the season, though the Atlantic Division is guaranteed to be completely full of losing teams through at least day 28. But in 2005, 2006 and 2007 a division – the Atlantic each time if you’re looking for a pattern – had at least one day from day 40 on where all its teams held a losing record.
The deepest into the season a division has featured five losing teams came in 2005, when the Celtics led the Atlantic with a 27-28 record on day 115 of a 170-day season. Unfortunately for those of us hoping the 2013 Atlantic will make history, that season offers a grim reminder of how difficult the feat is to accomplish.
That year – despite all five of the Atlantic’s teams holding losing records on day 115 – a major of them finished with winning records.