Everyone knew this year would be a difficult one for the Cleveland Cavaliers following LeBron James’ well-publicized decision to take his talents to South Beach. But not even the most pessimistic person could have foreseen just how steeply the Cavaliers would decline.
The Cavaliers, who started this season a respectable 7-9, have lost an NBA-record 25 consecutive games and are an almost incomprehensible 1-35 in their last 36 games — almost half of the 82-game season. To put the stretch into perspective, realize that no NBA team has ever won fewer than nine games in a full season.
The Cavaliers broke the single-season record of 23 straight losses Saturday, February 5 and then snapped the overall NBA record of 24 straight losses — constructed over a two-season span by, we kid you not, the Cavaliers at the end of the 1981-82 season and the beginning of the 1982-83 campaign — Monday, February 7.
That the historic losses were, like many endured during the streak, competitive — the Cavaliers lost to the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday and the Dallas Mavericks Monday by a combined nine points and have lost 10 of the 25 games by 10 points or less — is of little consolation to a team now doomed to be synonymous with the wrong kind of history.
“It feels like a bad dream,” Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson told the Associated Press after the loss to Portland.
The Cavaliers aren’t the only one feeling that way. Opposing teams, as well as the ticket brokers in those cities, could count on a surge in business with James and the Cavaliers in town, but now that James is gone and the cache-less Cavaliers are reeling, it is almost impossible to give away tickets to Cavaliers games. StubHub.com sold a ticket to the Cavaliers-New Jersey Nets game in Newark Monday, January 24 for 48 cents — less than the cost of a daily newspaper.
The news is no better for brokers in Cleveland, who, before the season, were still hopeful the team might be decent. But, as of early this morning, Wednesday, February 9, StubHub.com was offering two Upper End 200 tickets to the Cavaliers’ game against the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, February 11 for 95 cents. There were 48 tickets priced at or below $10 — the cheapest ticket price at Cavaliers.com.
Officially, the Cavaliers have experienced just a small decrease at the gate: They are averaging 20,417 fans through 22 home games, according to the league, down from 20,562 last season. But season ticket renewals for this season were due long before James bolted last summer, and in reality, there are thousands of empty seats for every home game. Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto wrote Sunday, February 6 that the crowd for the first record-breaking game against the Trail Blazers was announced at 19,975 but was “…probably closer to 13,000.”
In addition, the Plain Dealer also conducted a poll of Cleveland fans last month in which 54 percent of Cavaliers ticket holders said they would not renew for 2011-12.
The good news for the Cavaliers is their next win (if it happens) will allow them to at least avoid the ignobility of being the worst NBA team, record-wise, of all-time and two more wins will assure the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers stand alone as the losingest NBA team in history. But even another couple victories won’t change the fact that, by almost any other standard, these Cavaliers are in the midst of the most precipitous fall ever endured by an NBA franchise.
A year ago, the Cavaliers outscored opponents by 6.5 points per game. This year, they are being outscored by 11.3 points per game. According to the New York Times, that 17.8-point swing would be the biggest in league history.
So, too, would the Cavaliers’ decrease in winning percentage — a .590 drop from .744 last year to .154 entering tonight’s game against the Detroit Pistons. The Chicago Bulls, who incurred a drop of .496 (from .756 to .260) following the retirement of Michael Jordan and the trade of Scottie Pippen after their second “three-peat” in 1997-98, currently hold that bit of unwanted history. To not break that record, the Cavaliers would have to go 13-17 in their remaining 30 games to finish 21-61.