Can the Pistons win 70 games? I asked that question last month, and it's now become a hot topic among sports fans and writers (from Chicago to Texas to New Jersey) across the nation -- despite that darned loss to the Cavs on New Years Eve.
What's the consensus? 1) It's too early to really have this discussion, and 2) sports columnists are generally lazy.
Case in point, Dwain Price of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:
The ultimate goal -- and there's only one -- is to win the championship. And I'm not so sure the Pistons will even get to the NBA Finals.
Forget what happened Thursday when the Pistons edged the Miami Heat 106-101. When these Eastern Conference powers meet in the playoffs in the spring, Heat center Shaquille O'Neal will be 20 pounds or so lighter, and Heat coach Pat Riley will have regained the form that helped him win four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s.
How can anyone keep trotting out this tired Shaq argument with a straight face? Yes, he's a great player, but each of his last two seasons have ended with a loss to Detroit. He's come through with good numbers, but Detroit rarely even double-teams him anymore knowing that the rest of his supporting cast won't come through, and there was nothing in the [edit: four-days-after-]Christmas Day contest that suggests things will be different this year.
As for Riley, he hasn't won a title since Rick Astley and Whitesnake were Top 40 sensations and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was killing in the box office. Can we really take for granted that he's still an elite coach? Are we supposed to just ignore the losing records he posted in his last two full seasons coaching?
Price continues . . .
Yes, the Pistons will get some very easy wins along the way, because the East is just a bit better than the NBA Development League.
Another tired cliche. Through 28 games, the Pistons have gone 12-2 against the West and 12-2 against the East. Plus, they play in the Central Division, arguably the toughest division in the game. Everyone touts the Southwest Division, but in head-to-head matchups against the Central, the Southwest has won just 9 of 21 games.
The Pistons benefit from the fact that they have the best starting five in basketball. But their bench consists mainly of Antonio McDyess.
And please don't tell me about Carlos Arroyo or Maurice Evans, the Pistons' other two not-so-super subs. They would be the 11th and 12th men on the Mavericks' roster -- if they made the team at all.
The Pistons' starters will have to play heavy minutes for the team to have a chance for 70 wins.
Heavy minutes? Hogwash. The Pistons have just one player ranked inside the league's top 40 for minutes per game -- and that's Tayshaun Prince at No. 39. You don't accomplish that and open the season 24-4 without solid contributions from the bench. I don't want to dissect the Mavs too much, but I'm personally grateful Detroit doesn't have to find 17 minutes a game for Desagna Diop and 27 minutes a game for Archie Griffin. But hey, to each his own.
Also, if the Pistons have to make do without Ben Wallace, Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace or Tayshaun Prince for an extended period, they become the Phoenix Suns without Amare Stoudemire.
Since when does being extremely balanced make a team more susceptible to collapsing following an injury?
The Pistons all say they're not concentrating on 70 wins. But as they continue winning, they'll keep hearing questions similar to the ones the Indianapolis Colts heard before their perfect NFL season went up in flames two weeks ago against the San Diego Chargers.
Except Peyton Manning hasn't won anything in his life, while the Pistons just won the title in 2004. And the Pistons actually have something tangible to gain by having the best record in the league in the form of true homefield advantage throughout the entire playoffs, whereas the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site.
And as the season winds down, the Pistons will be a huge target, which sets them up for losses against lower-tier teams such as Orlando and Toronto, whom they play on the road in April.
Wait a minute -- it's a bad thing to play bad teams late in the year? (And speaking of wearing a target, isn't a team like the world champion Spurs wearing a bigger one? Might that be why the Spurs have already lost four games to teams with a losing record?)
Look, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it's frustrating to read out-of-town columnists take a stab at analyzing a team they've probably watched play only two or three times this year, if that. The Pistons are hardly a team without faults, and I agree with guys like Price when they say it's damn-near impossible to expect the team to break 70 wins. But instead of wasting space with ill-informed opinions, just state the obvious, like John Jackson did in the Sun-Times:
With their 24th victory, the Bulls were one game into a massive 18-game winning streak. To keep up with the Bulls, the Pistons must not lose another game until early February.
If the Pistons match the Bulls' remarkable 41-3 start, then you can start talking about making history. But until the Pistons get to that point, I don't want to hear anything about 72 victories.
Boom. Done. That's all there is too it. The Pistons won't win 72 games because finishing with just 10 losses is absolutely insane. But despite that, the Pistons have clearly been the best team in the league so far, and there are far more reasons to think they will continue to be so the rest of the way than not.
Don't expect the Pistons to be like Michael's Bulls [Star-Telegram]
UPDATE: I didn't see this until after this post was up, but the Detroit News looks at the 70-win debate today, as well.