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Cleveland Cavaliers' 25-Game Losing Streak: Worst NBA Team of All Time?

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 31:  Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott looks on dejected during a game against the Miami Heat  at American Airlines Arena on January 31, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Jake WestrichSenior Writer IDecember 23, 2016

"Maybe next year" is Cleveland's battle cry.

Growing up 30 minutes south of the city referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake,” I can remember listening to the late, great Herb Score calling Indians games on the radio. His oral account of the game replaced stories read by my parents as the last voice I heard before bed.

The 1991 season was tough to stomach with Score ending each broadcast with something to the effect of, “The Cleveland Indians lose 7-2 to the Baltimore Orioles,” in his unique drawl. Cleveland lost 105 games that season.

Eight years later, the Cleveland Browns finished 2-14 in their first season back in the NFL. Thanks to Art Modell moving the Brownies to Baltimore under cover of darkness in 1995, “maybe next year” was four times as excruciating for the Dawg Pound.

Three years would pass before it was the Cavs' turn to preach “maybe next year,” following a 17-65 NBA campaign. But their decision to tank, improve a roster that consisted of Ricky Davis, Smush Parker and Bimbo Coles and acquire the No. 1 pick, was warranted with LeBron James set to join the NBA the following season.

LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland (because he’s made it clear he’s from Akron, not Cleveland) magnified “maybe next year” with the Cavs advancing to at least the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five of his first seven seasons. Following the Cavs' Game 6 loss to the Boston Celtics and exit from the 2010 NBA Playoffs, “maybe next year” was a nice thought, but not guaranteed.

The Cleveland sports scene was dealt a heavy blow following LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach. The Cavs' 25-game losing streak in 2010-11 has forced fans to refine their “maybe next year” into “maybe next game.”

The 2010-11 Cavs' nosedive into futility got to thinking: where do they rank among the NBA’s all-time worst teams? Using our NBA simulation engine, we created a round-robin tournament where they played nine of the NBA’s least impressive squads 51 times.

NBA's All-Time Worst - Round Robin - 51 Simulations
Team Win% Points Per Game
1970-71 Cavs72.9106.6
2009-10 Nets63.6104.1
1995-96 Grizzlies62.4103.4
1986-87 Clippers59.7105.1
1992-93 Mavericks46.3103.9
1972-73 76ers45.4100.6
1982-83 Rockets45.3102.0
2010-11 Cavs41.895.9
1997-98 Nuggets33.2101.4
2004-05 Hawks29.4102.5


Hanging high above the court at Quicken Loans Arena is a multi-million dollar scoreboard tagged “Arenavision.” Nestled between the high-definition scores of the Cavs and their opponent is an infobox for the mathematically challenged. “The Diff” informs the crowd as to how many points the Cavs are leading or, if you are referencing the 2010-11 season, Cleveland’s fourth quarter deficit.

To illustrate how the Cavs have derailed in a post-LeBron world, here are the Cavs’ average “diffs” while he was in Cleveland:

2009-10 - (+6.5) - second highest in NBA
2008-09 - (+8.9) - NBA best
2007-08 - (-0.4)
2006-07 - (+3.8)
2005-06 - (+2.2)
2004-05 - (+0.8)
2003-04 - (-2.6)

Then there is the “diff” new additions Manny Harris, Christina Eyenga, Alonzo Gee, and Ramon Sessions provide:

2010-11 - (-11.3) - NBA worst

On average, the Cavs are scoring 94.3, but allowing 105.5 points per game. This is nearly the reciprocal of the team’s output a season ago when they averaged 102.1 and allowed 95.6 ppg.

It’s Cleveland’s offensive ineptitude that forces the Cavs to the bottom of our round-robin results. Their 95.9 points per game was 4.7 fewer than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who many consider the worst NBA team of all time. Despite Fred Carter’s best effort, the Sixers could only muster nine wins that season thanks to a defense that surrendered 116.2 points per game.

With eight wins and a "diff" comparable to that Sixers squad (-11.5), the 2010-11 Cavs have joined the conversation as one of the NBA’s worst teams of all time.

The good news is there is always next year.

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