Familiar beginnings: LeBron James and 9-7 starts
Adrian Dy on Nov 21, 2018 02:18 PM
NBAE via Getty Images
When it comes to LeBron James, you always know what you're going to get. The four-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP has been the model of consistency, producing close to 25-7-6 whenever he hits the court. And you can always safely write him down for at least one ferocious slam and one OMG pass per game. But as he settles into the third team in his career, the LA Lakers, it's worth noting that James is consistent at one more thing: the way his squads start out.
Since leaving Cleveland back in 2010, James' first year with the Heat, his first year back with the Cavaliers, and now his first year with the Lakers have all began with 9-7 starts.
It's a unique statistical quirk for The King that highlights the fact that as great as James is, it often takes some time for him and his new team to gel.
Here's a closer look at those first years:
Miami Heat (2010-11)
Initial starting five: James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Joel Anthony, Carlos Arroyo
Initial bench: Udonis Haslem, Eddie House, James Jones, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
James, Wade and Bosh sent shockwaves throughout the NBA and the sports world in general when they decided to team-up. And in the aftermath of "The Decision" and the Heat's subsequent pep rally, where James infamously declared, "Not one...not two...not three..." the opening of the 2010-11 season drew plenty of eyeballs.
The trio however was wrecked pretty quickly, losing empathically to the Boston Celtics, who were reinforced by Shaquille O'Neal in the center, 88-80. They managed to rebound by winning four straight, but then lost 3-of-4, including an OT thriller to the Jazz, and a second thumping at the hands of the Celts. South Beach's finest then went 3-0, and then 0-3. They then defeated the 76ers to go to 9-7 on Nov. 26.
That initial Heat run was full of drama. Remember how it seemed like Erik Spoelstra was on the verge of getting fired with every loss? Remember waiting for Pat Riley to descend from the front office and return to the bench?
Oct. 26 - @ BOS, lost 80-88
Oct. 27 - @ PHI, won 97-87
Oct. 29 - vs ORL - won 96-70
Oct. 31 - @ NJN - won 101-78
Nov. 2 - vs MIN - won 129-97
Nov. 5 - @ NOH - lost 93-96
Nov. 6 - vs NJN - won 101-89
Nov. 9 - v UTA - lost in OT 114-116
Nov. 11 - vs BOS - lost 107-112
Nov. 13 - vs TOR - won 109-100
Nov. 17 - vs PHO - won 123-96
Nov. 19 - vs. CHA - won 95-87
Nov. 20 - @ MEM - lost 95-97
Nov. 22 - vs IND - lost 77-93
Nov. 24 - @ ORL - lost 95-104
Nov. 26 - vs PHI - won 99-90
Result: 58-24, 1st in the Southeast Division
Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-15)
Initial starting five: James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao
Initial bench: Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller
In the wake of James deciding to come home, expectations were a bit more realistic compared to his early Heat days. After all, instead of a star-studded trio with Wade and Bosh, the Cavs were a young squad with the likes of Irving and Waiters. An offseason trade then added Kevin Love, whom many realized, would need to adopt a Bosh-like role in order to fit in (and not fit out!).
Like the early tension with Erik Spoelstra, James found himself with someone not quite to his liking in the coach's seat in David Blatt, who had been hired prior to James deciding to return to The Land. That added an extra layer of "gotta get used to this" as Blatt needed to familiarize himself with the tactics and rule quirks of the Association.
Similar to the Heat, the Cavaliers lost their season-opener, falling in three of their first four contests, and needing OT to get that sole win. They proceeded to win four straight, then lost four straight. However, they got to 9-7 as part of a lengthy eight-game surge that propped them up at 13-7, before fatigue set in and dropped them to 19-20 in mid-January.
Oct. 30 - vs NYK, lost 90-95
Oct. 31 - @ CHI, won in OT 114-108
Nov. 4 - @ POR - lost 82-101
Nov. 5 - @ UTA - lost 100-102
Nov. 7 - @ DEN - won 110-101
Nov. 10 - vs NOP - won 118-111
Nov. 14 - @ BOS - won 122-121
Nov. 15 - vs ATL - won 127-94
Nov. 17 - vs DEN - lost 97-106
Nov. 19 - vs SAS - lost 90-92
Nov. 21 - @ WAS - lost 78-91
Nov. 22 - vs TOR - lost 93-110
Nov. 24 - vs ORL - won 106-74
Nov. 26 - vs WAS - won 113-87
Nov. 29 - vs IND - won 109-97
Dec. 2 - vs MIL - won 111-107
Result: 53-29, 1st in the Central Division
LA Lakers (2018-19)
Initial starting five: James, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee
Initial bench: Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley
With his mission of getting the Cavaliers a championship complete, James' next (possibly final?) destination was Tinseltown, accepting the challenge of returning the Lakers to glory.
Unlike his last Cavaliers stint, James opted to sign a four-year deal, locking him in for the foreseeable future. That meant that there was little initial pressure for management to deal away the team's young core for veterans. Instead, Magic Johnson and company assembled "the meme team," and trusted Coach Luke Walton to do his thing.
Things got off to a rocky start when the Lakers were burnt by Nik Stauskas of the Blazers. They lost their first three games, a run that included a testy face-off against the Houston Rockets, that resulted in Rajon Rondo being accused of spitting at Chris Paul and multiple suspensions.
Following an overtime loss to the Spurs though, the team has managed to settle into a flow, winning 9-4, including 4 of their last 5, to put them at that oh-so-familiar 9-7 record.
Oct. 18 - @ POR - lost 119-128
Oct. 20 - vs HOU - lost 115-123
Oct. 22 - vs SAS - lost in OT 142-143
Oct. 24 - @ PHO - won 131-113
Oct. 25 - vs DEN - won 121-114
Oct. 27 - @ SAS - lost 106-110
Oct. 29 - @ MIN - lost 120-124
Oct. 31 - vs DAL - won 114-113
Nov. 3 - @ POR - won 114-110
Nov. 4 - vs TOR - lost 107-121
Nov. 7 - vs MIN - won 114-110
Nov. 10 - @ SAC - won 101-86
Nov. 11 - vs ATL - won 107-106
Nov. 14 - vs POR - won 126-117
Nov. 17 - @ ORL - lost 117-130
Nov. 18 - @ MIA - won 113-97
Result: Anyone got a yellow and purple crystal ball?
No doubt, Lakers fans will likely settle for a similar ending to James' first forays in Miami and (back in) Cleveland. Despite 9-7 starts, those teams finished first in their division, and went all the way to the Finals (though James would always lose in his first year, he rebounded both times with championships in seasons #2).
Of course, another commonality that we didn't tackle go into depth here - both the Heat and the Cavaliers made some big roster changes between the start and end of the season. Miami needed veterans like Erick Dampier and Mike Bibby to round out their bench, while Cleveland swung trades that landed them Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and Timofey Mozgov. The Lakers have already started this, landing Tyson Chandler off waivers, a move that helped ignite their recent run of wins.
In any case, with just 16 games in the books, there's still a lot of ball to be played. And as with any team with James at the forefront, the Lakers are gonna be worth watching.
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