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New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets on good track to surprise with best record in Western Conference

Eye-opening point differentials after their first two games bode well for the rest of the regular season.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are off to their best start since 2011-12, but I want you to forget about wins and losses for a moment because starting a season with a 2-0 record doesn’t guarantee much of anything. Rather, please focus your attention on the final scores, specifically the point differentials, because big variances — even two games in — tell a very interesting and exciting story.

While many were impressed by the 131 points scored against the Houston Rockets and the 149 points versus the Sacramento Kings (which topped the old franchise-mark for most points in a game by ten), those numbers alone fail to adequately describe the significance of the Pelicans two victories. After factoring in the opponent point totals too, one quickly realizes New Orleans utter domination: a 19-point win over one of the league’s best from last year was followed by a 20-point drubbing over Vladfather’s team.

History says lopsided results from the get-go are good indicators of the success that’s to come regardless of the level of competition. Over the last ten seasons, there were 13 instances where teams had outscored opponents by more than 35 points after the first two games of their schedule.

Team Point differential after 1st two games Regular season record Conference finish Playoff result
2017-18 Trail Blazers +66 48-34 3rd Lost W. Conf. 1st Rnd
2008-09 Lakers +58 65-17 1st Champions
2017-18 Clippers +58 42-40 10th N/A
2011-12 Hawks +54 40-26 5th Lost E. Conf. 1st Rnd.
2017-18 Raptors +51 59-23 1st Lost E. Conf. Semis
2016-17 Hawks +47 43-39 5th Lost E. Conf. 1st Rnd.
2014-15 Warriors +41 67-15 1st Champions
2009-10 Celtics +39 50-32 1st Lost Finals
2011-12 Nuggets +39 38-28 2nd Lost W. Conf. 1st Rnd.
2018-19 Pelicans +39 ? ? ?
2011-12 Spurs +38 50-16 1st Lost W. Conf. Finals
2016-17 Spurs +37 61-21 1st Lost W. Conf. Finals
2018-19 Nuggets +37 ? ? ?
2012-13 Knicks +36 54-28 1st Lost E. Conf. Semis
2015-16 Warriors +36 73-9 1st Lost Finals

As the chart indicates, the Denver Nuggets and the New Orleans Pelicans have joined this illustrious group with their fast starts to the 2018-19 campaign. Could it be that one of them are destined to finish first in the West? Eight of the 13 teams from previous seasons finished first in their conference, and another couple seized home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.

There was one team that failed to make the playoffs: last season’s Los Angeles Clippers. However, it’s not difficult to consider them an anomaly on this list as Patrick Beverly and Danilo Gallinari, two starters, appeared in only 11 and 21 games respectively. In all, Clippers players lost 264 games due to injury and Doc Rivers was forced to start 37 different lineups — the most in the league. Of course, Blake Griffin was traded away before the month of February arrived, and obviously wins were hard to come by in a stacked Western Conference as Denver, who finished 10 games over .500, missed the postseason, too.

Two wins from an 82-game sample size are absolutely meaningless, but when those two come at the very start of the schedule and the combined point differential is heavily in favor, recent precedent says you are likely onto something special.

The Nuggets, who have improved to 3-0 with a win over the Warriors last night — without Will Barton or remembering how to make free throws — may not get all the way to the 2019 Finals; however, they are on track to be one of the best teams in the West. The same goes for the Pelicans and it’s a far cry from what most of the naysayers had predicted for Anthony Davis and company.