Basketball is a game of momentum. Throughout the course of a game, or a season, a team can get hot and overcome a deficit on the scoreboard with ease. On the other hand, sometimes things go from bad, to worse, to much, much worse.
As much fun as it is to watch a team on a winning streak, several lovable losers in the history of the NBA couldn’t seem to catch any breaks, and losses piled up as their struggles mounted.
In this article, we will look at teams who set records for the most consecutive losses in NBA history and speak a little bit about their struggles as we examine some of the worst all-time teams in the Association’s record books.
Tied for 9th: Houston Rockets - 20 Games (2021)
The first team we’ll look at is also the most recent addition to the list, the 2021 Houston Rockets. In their first season without James Harden, and immediately following the resignation of their coach Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets lost 20 straight in February and March.
They were eliminated from playoff contention mid-April and finished the season with just 17 wins.
Tied for 9th: Los Angeles Clippers - 20 Games (1994)
Not even a trade for the legendary Dominique Wilkins could keep the Clippers off this list, which spanned two NBA seasons. The Clippers lost their final 6 games of the 93-94 season, one in which they acquired Wilkins at the trade deadline, and then went on to lose their first 14 of the 94-95 season after Wilkins left for Boston in free agency.
The 94-95 season was also their first in Anaheim, which makes this the longest losing streak to span two cities.
Tied for 9th: Dallas Mavericks - 20 Games (1993)
Would you believe it if I told you this team won more games than the previous year’s Mavericks? Despite this losing streak of 20 and another streak of 16 losses, the 93-94 Mavs would end with 13 wins, two more than the 92-93 squad.
With a paltry 3-40 record at the end of January, this era was one of the darkest in Mavs’ history.
Tied for 9th: New York Knicks - 20 Games (1985)
The Knicks lost the final 12 games of the 84-85 season and the first 8 of the 85-86 season, good for 20 games and another tie for 9th on this list. As is the case with many of these streaks, this one is in large part due to a key injury.
The streak began on March 23, 1985, just two days before star forward Bernard King was lost to injury for the season.
Tied for 9th: Philadelphia 76ers - 20 Games (1973)
In the NBA, there are 82 regular season games today, just like there were way back in 1973, and the 76ers managed to only put a single digit in the win column. The 72-73 76ers might be one of the worst teams of all time, winning just 9 games. Their 73 losses are an all-time record that may never be broken.
This team was reeling after trading Wilt Chamberlain, and they lost 34 of 35 games at one point.
8th: Detroit Pistons - 21 Games (1980)
The Pistons lost the final 14 games of the 79-80 season and the first 7 of 80-81, landing them in sole possession of 8th on this list.
Their coach was fired just 12 games into the 79-80 season, and while he wasn’t around for the losing streak, a series of bad trades he orchestrated laid the groundwork for the streak. That coach eventually found a role in TV, and if you’re a fan of the college game, you probably recognize his name: Dick Vitale.
Tied for 5th: Vancouver Grizzlies - 23 Games (1996)
1996 was the first season for the Grizzlies in the NBA, and like many other expansion teams, they struggled out of the gate. The Grizzlies and Raptors both joined the Association in ‘96, becoming the first Canadian teams in the league since 1947.
The inaugural Grizzlies squad had losing streaks of 19 and 23 during the season, and fan interest in Vancouver never took hold. Just five years later, the Grizzlies would relocate to Memphis, TN.
Tied for 5th: Denver Nuggets - 23 Games (1997-98)
Denver’s struggles in the 97-98 season were a product of tough injury luck, and the team set the mark for one of the worst winning percentages of all time at one point in the season, posting a 2 – 38 record at the end of their 23-game losing streak.
Although the Nuggets were perhaps at their darkest point in franchise history, not all was lost for Denver sports fans as the Broncos appeared in back-to-back Super Bowls in 97 and 98.
Tied for 5th: Charlotte Bobcats - 23 Games (2012)
The 2012 season, shortened by a lockout, didn’t feature a full 82 games, but the ‘12 Bobcats might just be the worst NBA team of all time.
With a final record of 7 – 59, their .106 winning percentage is the worst of all time. Despite drafting future star Kemba Walker before the season started, the Bobcats were eliminated from playoff contention in March. Even the great Michael Jordan, the team’s owner, received boos from the home crowd during the season’s final game.
4th: Cleveland Cavaliers - 24 Games (1982)
The 1981-82 Cavs would lose their final 19 games of the season, and the 82-83 squad started off with 5 losses to earn them the 4th spot on this list.
While the team did improve from year to year, going 15 – 67 in 81-82 and 23 – 59 in 82-83, the Cavs were sold following the ‘83 season, and a new owner took over to attempt to rebuild the team.
Tied for 2nd: Cleveland Cavaliers - 26 Games (2010-11)
The 2010-11 season was a dark time in the Cavs history. The Golden Boy of Ohio left town to form the Big Three in Miami, and Cleveland’s first season without Lebron was a disaster.
James’ exit put the Cavs into rebuilding mode, and the young squad struggled mightily. Their streak of 26 losses from December to February is the second longest of all, and they finished the season with a 19 – 63 record.
Tied for 2nd: Philadelphia 76ers - 26 Games (2014)
The 76ers drafted Michael Carter-Williams in the first round of the 2013 draft. Carter-Williams went on to have a solid campaign and was named Rookie of the Year for the 2013-14 season.
Despite this, these 76ers would set a then-record with 26 straight losses and finish the season with just 19 wins. But with a young star in Carter-Williams, things had to be looking up for the franchise, right? Our next entry in this list would suggest otherwise.
1st: Philadelphia 76ers - 28 Games (2015)
The 76ers are responsible for the top two losing streaks in the history of the NBA and accomplished this unenviable feat in back-to-back seasons.
The 2014-15 76ers were without star draft pick Joel Embiid due to injury and lost their first 17 games of the year. Michael Carter-Williams would be traded for additional draft picks, and the losses continued to pile up.
Philly lost their last 10 games of the 14-15 season and the first 18 of the 15-16 season, earning them the longest losing streak of all time. Their 17 and 18-game losing streaks to start consecutive seasons are among the worst starts in NBA history as well.
Breaking the Streak
The 76ers and Cavaliers are the current kings of the losing streak, sweeping the top four spots. Whether it’s poor trades, injuries, or bad luck, losing streaks are a part of the game in the NBA.
Do you think the current record of 28 games will ever be broken? While it seems unlikely, the NBA’s pattern of “tanking” for draft picks opens the door for another historically bad team to take the court in the future.