The Most Dramatic Second-Half Turnarounds in NBA History

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 6, 2012

The Most Dramatic Second-Half Turnarounds in NBA History

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    If your team is floundering away at the bottom of the NBA standings, don't despair quite yet. Just like with these 10 teams, a dramatic second-half turnaround could soon take place. 

    But if your team is going to supplant even the 10th team in these rankings, they better start winning games quickly. 

    Winning games in the NBA is a hard enough task by itself. Vastly increasing performance during the middle of the year is even more difficult. 

    These 10 teams managed to accomplish both of those feats. 

    Read on to discover who they were and how they did so. 

How Were Turnarounds Evaluated?

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    Unfortunately, I have yet to find a single source in the vast realms of the internet that lists how teams performed before the All-Star break and after the All-Star break for each and every one of the many seasons in NBA history. 

    Because of that fact and because I wanted to make this completely objective and all-inclusive, I had to create that database myself. Using as a resource, I analyzed each and every one of the 1,266 seasons by NBA and BAA teams, ranging all the way from the very start of the league until this past season. 

    For each season, I found each team's record before the break and after the break. For 1951 and the years before it, because the All-Star Game wasn't a fixture at that point, I simply used the literal midway point. 

    Once all of those winning percentages were in place in my massive spreadsheet, I took the difference between them, subtracting the pre-All-Star break winning percentage from the post-All-Star break winning percentage. That number quantified the team's turnaround. 

10. 1984-1985 Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Before the Break: 16-33 (32.65 Percent)

    After the Break: 20-12 (62.50 Percent)

    Turnaround: 29.85 Percent

    George Karl (this isn't the last time you'll see his name in the top 10) took over the reins for the Cleveland Cavaliers at the start of the 1984-1985 season, but the results weren't very good at the beginning. Nine-straight losses to open and a 2-19 record aren't the ideal way to start a season. 

    But led by World B. Free, Phil Hubbard and Roy Hinson, the team slowly clawed its way back into contention. A winning record in both February and March made the unthinkable a distinct possibility. 

    Winning six-straight games in March and April helped mitigate the damage done by losing three of the season's final five games as the Cavs snuck into the playoffs, two games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for the final spot. 

    Not bad for a team that started the season off 2-19. 

9. 2006-2007 Philadelphia 76ers

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    Before the Break: 17-36 (32.08 Percent)

    After the Break: 18-11 (62.07 Percent)

    Turnaround: 29.99 Percent

    With Maurice Cheeks roaming the sidelines for the second year, the Philadelphia 76ers came out on fire, winning their first three games. But then the problems started. 

    After winning only two more games in 14 tries, Allen Iverson made a trade demand and the team deactivated him before shipping the high-scoring guard off to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two draft picks. At that point, the team had lost 12 in a row and was sitting anything-but-pretty at 5-19. 

    Andre Iguodala started to take over more and the new players became comfortable in their new digs as the team began to win more games. A seven-game win streak and an 18-11 record after the All-Star break weren't quite enough to make the push into the postseason, but it did set the table for a playoff run the following year. 

8. 1970-1971 Atlanta Hawks

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    Before the Break: 14-32 (30.43 Percent)

    After the Break: 22-14 (61.11 Percent)

    Turnaround: 30.68 Percent

    The loss of Joe Caldwell to the NBA and the adjustment to the strange playing style of Pete Maravich took a long time for the Atlanta Hawks to get over. 

    But once they accustomed to the flashy skills of the high-scoring, Pistol-nicknamed guard, they started to win games. Maravich and backcourt mate Lou Hudson formed an unstoppable duo and helped the team go on two different five-game winning steaks during the second half of the 1970-1971 season. 

    Once they made the playoffs, despite the first losing record since moving to Atlanta just prior to the 1968-1968 season, the Hawks fell to the New York Knicks in five games. 

7. 2003-2004 Miami Heat

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    Before the Break: 22-32 (40.74 Percent)

    After the Break: 20-8 (71.43 Percent)

    Turnaround: 30.69 Percent

    Pat Riley moved from the bench to the box as Stan Van Gundy took over the duty of pacing the sidelines and writing on clipboards for the Miami Heat. 

    An 0-7 start quickly turned into 5-15 and things weren't looking good for the team despite the addition of promising rookie Dwyane Wade, fresh off a title-winning campaign at Marquette. 

    But as Wade's comfort level grew, the team started winning more and more games. A 12-3 record in March nearly pushed them back onto the right side of .500 and continued excellence finally did the trick as the team from South Beach finished with a 42-40 record. 

    Once in the postseason, the Heat took down the New Orleans Hornets in seven games before falling to the Indiana Pacers in a six-game Eastern Conference semifinals series.  

6. 1977-1978 New Jersey Nets

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    Before the Break: 9-42 (17.65 Percent)

    After the Break: 15-16 (48.39 Percent)

    Turnaround: 30.74 Percent

    This New Jersey Nets team somehow managed to do the unthinkable: post the worst record in the NBA during the 1977-1978 season and still make it into these rankings at No. 6. 

    Bernard King was most likely responsible for the second-half turnaround. A rookie out of Tennessee, King managed to average 24.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for his squad during his first year in the pros. 

    At least it was the last season playing in Piscataway's Rutgers Athletic Center. 

5. 1996-1997 Phoenix Suns

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    Before the Break: 17-31 (35.42 Percent)

    After the Break: 23-11 (67.65 Percent)

    Turnaround: 32.23 Percent

    Getting rid of Charles Barkley hurts, especially when you trade him for Mark Bryant, Chucky Brown and Robert Horry. 

    The 1996-1997 Phoenix Suns started the first season without Chuck by losing eight games in a row and watching as head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons stepped aside and was replaced by Danny Ainge. To make things right, the team traded for Jason Kidd, but he was immediately sidelined for six weeks after breaking his collarbone in his first game. 

    When Kidd returned, the team was sitting well short of the playoffs at 19-32. Then, they caught fire after one more disappointing 2-4 stretch.

    March came and went as the Suns won 12 games while losing just three and then went 7-3 in April to somehow post a 40-42 record and sneak into the playoffs.

    The Seattle SuperSonics knocked them out in five games, but hey, at least they got to make the exhilarating run to the postseason.  

4. 1974-1975 New Orleans Jazz

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    Before the Break: 4-34 (10.53 Percent)

    After the Break: 19-25 (43.12 Percent)

    Turnaround: 32.59 Percent

    Believe it or not (and you should believe it), but a team with Pete Maravich actually managed to roll into the All-Star break during the 1974-1975 season with a pitiful 4-34 record. 

    But to be fair, this was the team's inaugural season in the NBA. Boasting an opening day lineup of Pistol Pete, Stu Lantz, Walt Bellamy, Bud Stallworth and E.C. Coleman, the Jazz lost their first game 89-74 while posting the lowest point total of the franchise's first two decades. Ouch. 

    The team never really found a consistent rotation around Maravich and Bellamy, although they did have their share of bright spots, like a 10-5 mark in February. Despite the turnaround, they couldn't avoid a last place finish in the Central Division. 

3. 1976-1977 Chicago Bulls

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    Before the Break: 23-32 (41.82 Percent)

    After the Break: 21-6 (77.78 Percent)

    Turnaround: 35.96 Percent

    The ABA dispersal draft brought Artis Gilmore to the team just prior to the 1976-1977 season, but as their 23-32 start indicates, it took a while for him to gel with the rest of the members of the Chicago Bulls. 

    When the season ended though, Gilmore had averaged 18.6 points and 13.0 rebounds per game, and the Bulls had advanced to the postseason after a 20-game improvement from the previous year's campaign. 

    Despite losing 13 games in a row at one point, Chicago, led by Gilmore, rookie forward Scott May and Norm Van Lier, went 20-4 to close the season before falling to Bill Walton and the eventual champions, the Portland Trail Blazers, in the first round of the postseason. 

2. 2004-2005 Golden State Warriors

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    Before the Break: 15-38 (28.30 Percent)

    After the Break: 19-10 (65.52 Percent)

    Turnaround: 37.22 Percent

    There's a reason that Baron Davis is prominently featured on this slide. 

    The Golden State Warriors started the season off by dropping six games in a row and stumbled to a 3-12 start. Another stretch of games, one in which they won one of 16 contests, dropped their record to 15-38 at the All-Star break. 

    But then the management decided that enough was enough and traded for Davis, who immediately turned things around for the Dubs. With Davis on the squad, the team went 18-9 to close the season, finishing with at least a respectable record and avoiding a solo last-place finish in their division. 

1. 2004-2005 Denver Nuggets

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    Before the Break: 24-29 (45.28 Percent)

    After the Break: 25-4 (86.21 Percent)

    Turnaround: 40.93 Percent

    Despite laboring into the break with a 24-29 record, Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets somehow piled up 21 more wins than losses during the second half of the 2004-2005 season. 

    Melo and head coach Jeff Bzdelik struggled at the beginning of the season, but while the young All-Star in the making improved, Bzdelik was fired and replaced by interim coach Michael Cooper. Four wins and 10 losses later, Cooper was out too. 

    George Karl became the head coach shortly before the All-Star break and clearly inspired these Nuggets, including new addition Kenyon Martin, as they went 32-8 with Karl at the helm for the rest of the year. 

    With winning streaks of eight, six and 10 games to close the year, the Nuggets snuck into the Western Conference playoffs, where they'd fall to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. 


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