The Pistons opened the current season by winning their first eight games. They were 26-4 for the 30-game mark and came halfway through their 82-game regular season going 36-5. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that on that date (Jan. 27), the Pistons were “on track” to match the all-time record of 72 wins set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.
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Naturally, that got everyone talking about how good these Pistons really were. Unfortunately for the Pistons and their fans, Detroit went cold in February and the team enters the All-Star break having won just SIX of its last 10 games. Detroit is 42-9 overall, with a league-best 23-2 at home and a 19-7 road record, tying them with the Mavericks for best in the NBA.
The Pistons will send FOUR of their five starters to Sunday’s All Star game, only the FOURTH team to do so since 1970. The other three teams to accomplish that feat are the 1974-75 Celtics, the 1982-83 76ers and the 1997 -98. Lakers. The ’82-83 76ers won the NBA title that year, while the Celtic and Laker teams lost in the conference finals.
Detroit is known for its “iron man” of five starters, as the Pistons have used the same starting lineup in all 51 games this season. Only the 1985-86 Rockets (52 games) and 2002-03 Warriors (66) have had longer streaks since the start of the season since 1980. Those two previous teams were very different, as the Olajuwon-led Rockets /Sampson did their best. en route to the NBA Finals that season (losing to the Celtics), while the Warriors went 38-44, extending the team’s long playoff drought.
Going back to the original question, “how good are these Pistons?” A quick look at the team’s scoring record shows that despite their 42-9 SU record, the Pistons are just 27-24 ATS. That splits fairly evenly at home and away, as they are 13-12 in Detroit and 14-12 on the road.
However, I think the best measure of a team’s strength is their point spread. Detroit owns the best point differential in the league at halftime, clocking in at plus-8.4 PPG. How does that compare to recent champions? Going back to 1979-80 (Bird and Magic’s rookie season), the last 26 NBA champions have had an average point spread of plus-7.0.
That surely puts this year’s Detroit team above average, but the Pistons fall short against most of the best teams of this era. Bird’s Celtics won three titles and the 1985-86 team that went 67-15 and a unique all-time 40-1 season at home had a plus-9.4 point differential.
The Magic (and Kareem’s) Lakers have won five titles and the best of those teams was probably the 1986-87 edition that went 65-17 in the regular season with a plus-9.3 point differential. The Moses/Dr. The 1982-83 J team went 65-17 and the 76ers finished that season with a plus-7.7 point differential.
Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers won three consecutive titles from 1999-00 to 2001-02, averaging 60.3 wins per season and a point difference of more than 6.3. The 1999-00 team was by far the best of the three, going 67-15 with an 8.5 point spread. San Antonio has won three titles in the last seven years and, like the Lakers, the Spurs’ first title-winning team was the best. In the strike year of 1998-99, San Antonio finished 37-13, outscoring opponents by an average of 8.1 points per game.
This year’s Pistons might compare favorably to most of the teams listed above, but it would put the 1985-86 Celtics and 1986-87 Lakers FIRMLY ahead of them. Of course, I still have to mention MJ’s Chicago teams, which are divided into two three-year terms.
Teams from 1990-91 to 1992-93 averaged 61.7 wins per season, and the 1992 champions finished with a 67-15 record and a plus-10.4 point spread. Teams from 1995-96 to 1997-98 averaged 67.7 wins per year, and the 1996 champions finished with the all-time best single-season record of 72-10 and a plus-12.2 point spread. (The 1997 champions were 69-13 and over-10.8).
Clearly, this year’s Detroit team falls far behind the standard set by MJ and the Bulls in their best seasons.
Detroit has beaten last year’s champions (Spurs) in both meetings this year, by scores of 85-70 (on Christmas Day in Detroit) and on January 12 in San Antonio, 83-60. The Mavericks, who have the second-best record at halftime (41-11), handed Detroit its first loss of the season 119-82 on Nov. 19 at Dallas.
Looking ahead, while the Pistons finished off the Spurs (to the finals?), they have a rematch with the Mavericks in Detroit on March 28 and host the Suns on April 2, when Stoudemire may have returned (Detroit won at Phoenix on November 10, 111-104).
In their own conference, the Pistons have two more games to play with the Heat, whom they beat in seven games in last year’s conference finals. The teams have split two meetings this year (the home team has won both) and play in Detroit on March 22 and Miami on April 6. 26 and 27.
Not all of NBA history begins with the arrival of Bird and Magic in 1979-80, so for those of you wondering if the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls possessed not only the best win/loss record in the league in a single season, but also the best point difference margin of any season as well, NO
That record belongs to the Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich-led Lakers from 1971-72. Those Lakers went 69-13 that season, setting a new single-season record (at the time) with a 69-13 record. The Lakers averaged a league-best 121.0 PPG that season, while allowing an average of 108.7 PPG, for a never-before-or-since-before-seen point differential of plus-12.3!
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