It was after halftime of the Lakers’ season opener against the Houston Rockets but before Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard came together in a shouting match that everyone wanted to believe was a quick summation of their entire tenure as teammates when we realized that Los Angeles wasn’t going to win the game. We had known that the Lakers were going to lose to the Rockets, of course, in that the Rockets are a team that is made up of good players and has a strong systemic identity — and the Lakers are decidedly not — but the vibe from the start of that third quarter onward just felt like defeat had taken up permanent residence in the Staples Center.
The Lakers, who would lose again to Phoenix the next night and look to do the same a lot this season, did not wind up losing by a particularly massive margin — the final score was just 90 to 108 — but it looked massive, and it got us to thinking: In the modern NBA, how much does a big opening night blowout really say about your team? Can you draw anything meaningful from the first in an 82-game season? Let’s take a look at the five biggest losses in the modern NBA (since the advent of the three-point line) and see what happened to the losers of each. All stats are provided by Basketball Reference.
5. 2009 Los Angeles Clippers
Before Blake Griffin, back when the Clippers were still in the throes of Donald Sterling’s toxic ownership, the Los Angeles Lakers were the undisputed kings of L.A., and the other L.A. team was nothing more than a jokey afterthought, the kind of team that Billy Crystal would buy ironic season tickets for. After the Lakers wound up beating them by 38 points, it confirmed it was business as usual for the team, which would go on to finish the year 19-63.
4. 1989 Charlotte Hornets
The original Charlotte Hornets are remembered for many things — Larry Johnson, purple and teal uniforms, Alonzo Morning — but the recently resuscitated franchise would like to forget opening night of the 1988-’89 season, when they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers by a metric ton (or at least by 40 points). The final score, for the curious, was 133-93. How was it so lopsided? For one thing, the Cavs shot 58% from the floor. Things didn’t get much better for the Hornets after that, as they struggled to a 20-62 record.
3. 1992 Dallas Mavericks
Another team, another 20-win season, as the Dallas Mavericks — in their sadder, pre-Mark Cuban ownership era — dropped a 41-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs to open up their ’91-’92 campaign. They ultimately only garnered 60 losses, which probably felt like 22 too few after the final buzzer sounded on this game. But we’re never going to talk about The Mavericks B.C. — before Cuban — again, right?
2. 2007 Miami Heat
Well, at least there’s a bit of a silver lining? The Miami Heat suffered their biggest loss in franchise history the first game they played after winning an NBA championship, so maybe the Lakers are going to do that, but in reverse? Maybe Kobe will bend the Lakers to his will and lead them to another title? They could at least still make the playoffs, like the Heat did, riding a 44-win season to, well, a first-round sweep at the hands of Chicago. That part’s not so good.
1. 1988 Los Angeles Clippers
We’ll give the Clippers a bit of leeway on this one, since we’ve already been over how bad the Clippers were back in the day. They lost to the Nuggets in Denver, which is a brutal bit of home-court advantage — you try running anywhere for more that 20 minutes if you’ve just flown in from out of town. But this game, the biggest opening loss in the modern NBA, was a 46-point disaster that paved the way for the Clips’ 17-win season. You can find the full list of blowout games here.