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Can the Detroit Pistons, now 23-3, win 70 games?
An even spicier question: Can they match or top the greatest regular-season team in history, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who were not only the first team to win 70 games but finished at an almost untouchable 72-10?
It sounds a little preposterous, considering this same Pistons squad won only 54 games each of the two years (before making two amazing runs to the NBA Finals, winning it all in 2004).
But the Pistons are on a 73-win pace, so it's time to take a closer look.
One way to put the Pistons' start into context is to look at the previous teams that have challenged the 70-win barrier, and the one that surpassed it.
Five teams in NBA history have won 68 or more games.
This table gives some of the particulars, and then we'll look more closely at each team:
|Five best regular-season teams in NBA history|
|YEAR||TEAM||THRU 26 GMS||FINAL RECORD||WON TITLE?|
1995-96 Bulls: After dropping a game to fall to 23-3, the Jordan-Pippen Bulls won 18 straight, lost two straight, and then rolled. They did lose to the expansion Toronto Raptors (meaning the Bulls actually had a better record against non-expansion teams than against the Raptors). But it was a near-perfect season of the type the Pistons seem to have in mind.
1996-97 Bulls: For an encore, the Bulls started the next season 12-0 and were 68-10 late in the year before losing three of their last four games. Their late-season stumble prevented another 70-win season, but they still rolled to the fifth of their six titles.
1971-72 Lakers: Wilt was only the fourth-leading scorer, and Elgin was only 6th. This team, led by the backcourt of Gail Goodrich and Jerry West, won an NBA-record 33 straight and never slowed down on its way to the title.
1966-67 Sixers: Chamberlain averaged 24 points and 24 rebounds and led a team put together by general manager Jack Ramsay to the franchise's second title (the first in Philly).
1972-73 Celtics: The only one of this group to not win the NBA title, this team featured John Havlicek and Jo Jo White, as well as future NBA coaches Dave Cowens, Paul Silas, Don Chaney and Don Nelson (and future coach Paul Westphal in a supporting role), but lost to the eventual champion Knicks in the conference finals.
The Pistons are certainly good enough to join this group, but I don't think they will. What's more, I don't think they should try.
In previous seasons, Pistons fans claimed that their team knew when to turn it on. In other words, when the Pistons were winning "only" 54 games per season, that's supposed to be because they knew it was more important to play hard during the playoffs. They need to apply the same wisdom now.
With such a short rotation, they're better off not extending themselves during the regular season. Already, Ben Wallace is hurting. And, despite the Pistons' rep of being a young team, the Wallaces are 31 years old, and seem to be getting grayer by the day -- unless we want to ignore the 32 points Pau Gasol put on them, and the 36 by Elton Brand, and the career-high 37 by Zach Randolph, and the career-high 37 by Chris Bosh ... all in the last three weeks.
It's a tougher league than ever, with more defense and more parity. The Pistons have already lost to the Jazz and Wizards (at Detroit) and eked out wins over the Celtics and Blazers.
They still have to play Miami four times, Indiana four, Cleveland four, Milwaukee three, New Jersey three, San Antonio one (at San Antonio), Dallas one and Phoenix one. They'll probably win most of those 21 games, but even if they were to go 15-6 against those teams, which would be a tremendous accomplishment, they'd have to go 32-3 against the rest of the league to win 70.
So how does this play out?
Daily Dime forecast: 66 wins. That would be plenty good -- the best mark since Phil Jackson's first season with the Lakers (67-15).
So there you go, Pistons fans. I don't think Detroit will get to 72, or even 70. There's another chip to carry on your shoulder.
• Talk back to the Daily Dime gang
• Dimes Past: December 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24-25 | 27 | 28
The Portland Trail Blazers fired Maurice Cheeks as coach in March, and he subsequently was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Before Cheeks returned Wednesday with the Sixers to face the Blazers, he said all the right things about Portland to the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"I really liked the city. It's a good town. It's a town that loves its basketball. They get behind their team. It's a town that embraces their team. So going back there is not a problem for me. I hope we win the game, but going back is not a problem.
"I have nothing but good memories in Portland regardless of anything that happened. They gave me the opportunity to go out there and learn to coach. I learned a lot of things about basketball, about myself, and I welcomed the opportunity. I look forward to going back there."
Maybe it's true that he had only good memories before Wednesday, but now he's got a bad one he won't forget soon. The Blazers beat his Sixers 95-91, lifting Portland to a 10-18 mark.
Marion Frustrated Suns Aren't Running
"The Suns' game pace has been too slow, and Shawn Marion is clearly frustrated with not getting more shots. 'We're walking the ball down the court,' Marion said. 'We don't play like we usually play. This ain't us, honestly. Even when we were winning, we weren't pushing the ball like we're capable of.' ... Marion was adamant that his fellow captain, Steve Nash, is doing his job of trying to speed up the Suns offense, but he said nobody is along for the ride." -- Arizona Republic
Big Ticket and Wally World, Wolves forwards: Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak combined for 22-for-31 shooting, 12 boards, 11 assists and 56 points in Minnesota's 108-95 shellacking of Seattle.
Flip Murray, Sonics guard: It's called shooting guard, not making guard, as Murray proved in his 1-for-12 fiasco against Minny. His four TOs didn't help Seattle's cause either.
Quote of the Day
"There are so many different names, and they have the same names. There are a couple of Mikes, one Dick, I remember, and another guy -- a Richard. It's kind of easy, but at the same time it's hard."
-- Knicks rookie Nate Robinson in the New York Times, on the difficulty of getting on a first-name basis with the league's referees.
-- Royce Webb
Chad Ford explains which teams should go after Ron Artest, including the Golden State Warriors:
An Artest trade would cost the Warriors some young talent. But that's the one thing that the Warriors have in abundance.
It would be a big risk for Warriors GM Chris Mullin, but a calculated risk. Both Mullin and Artest played at St. John's, and I'm told they have a positive relationship. Given Mullin's deft touch with players, it should be a great fit.
If Artest were to perform to his norm, the Warriors would have a legitimate shot at winning the Pacific Division and grabbing a top three seed in the West.
However, if he were to struggle for any reason, the Warriors would have lost two young players -- albeit players who are coming off the bench.
No, there was no misprint in Wednesday's Knicks-Magic boxscore. That "0" in the Knicks' steal column was accurate.
It was only the second time this season that a team failed to record a steal in a game; Portland did it in a home loss to the Pistons on Nov. 11.
It was only the second game in which New York came up empty in that category since the NBA started keeping track of steals in 1973-1974 (the other time was in a win against Seattle on Feb. 27, 2001).
It was only the second game in Larry Brown's NBA coaching career in which his team didn't record a steal (Oct. 21, 1978, Denver at Atlanta).
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Robbie (Chicago): I have been reading writers talk about how the Bulls need to trade Ben Gordon and get a true superstar and scorer on the team this year. Do you think they will and if so who can they get?
John Hollinger: Well, the last time the Bulls were saying that, they traded Ron Artest and Brad Miller to get a "star" in Jalen Rose, so they might want to hold that thought.
This is driving Bulls fans crazy, but Chicago shouldn't make any trades until the summer because they're going to have serious cap space as long as they don't take on any more contracts.
Then, even if they can't sign a top FA like Peja or Ben Wallace, they still would have the flexibility to do all sorts of sign-and-trade or other deals, and in that case Gordon would be the biggest chip they have to play.
Daily Dime: Tony, before the Spurs' win on Tuesday, they had lost three of five. Before that, their previous three wins had included an OT win, a one-point win and a two-point win. Not exactly the excellence that Gregg Popovich or the rest of the NBA expects from the Spurs.
Robert (Grand Rapids, MI): Hello Sirs, no doubt you get your fair share of these, but my question remains the same: why does it seem the media is not embracing the Pistons amazing start?
Daily Dime: We get these questions from all 50 states (and many countries), but Michigan fans lead the league in feeling dissed. The answer remains the same: We tend to cover great stories for a national/international audience, and the Pistons are a better team than story. That said, the Pistons' historic start and Billups' MVP-type season are getting plenty of attention (see above).
Jeff (Long Beach, CA): Why can't the Lakers do anything about getting a real big man? You're totally right about Kwame, and last night's game made me miss Caron! Kwame's mindless staring reminds me of Elden, Samaki, etc. I'm glad the "Big Lazy" is mumbling his way through Miami Beach, but I can't stomach the other pieces of crap they keep sending our way. P.S. Bynum can get three fouls in six minutes of play, too -- why not give him a try once Mihm is done with his foulapalooza?!!
Daily Dime: Benoit Benjamin's available.