From DBB reader Brad in reaction to last night's loss:
We’re missing something. A championship level team mows these teams down with little to no effort (reference Boston.) We just don’t have it this year.
Is he on to something? Have the Pistons reverted back to their ways of not giving a consistent effort every night? And if so, is this a problem unique to Detroit? (I could have picked any number of comments to highlight, but chose Brad's for succinctly making his point.) I admit that it appears to be a problem lately, but for the most part I'd say the Pistons have made progress changing their complacent ways. But to be honest, I don't know this for a fact, so I decided to look at some numbers.
According to hoopsstats.com, the Pistons are 30-8 this year against sub-.500 teams, which equates to a .789 winning percentage. But while the Pistons can boast the second-best record in the league overall, they're actually just seventh in the league against losers. Not surprisingly, Boston is first with a 33-3 record (.917), followed by San Antonio (.903), the Los Angeles Lakers (.871), New Orleans (.839), Houston (.833) and Phoenix (.818).
Last year the Pistons were 6th in the league (.727) -- while their ranking has slipped, their winning percentage has increased, so they have made some improvement. In 05-06, the Pistons were first (.878), and in the two years they were in the Finals in 04-05 (.735) and 03-04 (.762), they were 11th and 8th, respectively.
So what's this all mean? Eh, not much. I guess they don't mow down tomato cans like some of the other elite teams do, but I'm more concerned about their record against winning teams, and this year, only the Celtics (18-9, .667) and Jazz (21-13, .618) have a better record than the Pistons (.16-10, .615) against teams with a plus-.500 record. That's an improvement from last year when they ranked fifth (15-15, .500), though not quite as good as 05-06 when they were tied for first (21-10, .677).
I looked all of this up because I was curious, but I honestly don't think any of these rankings, percentages or trends will actually matter come the playoffs. There's no way around it: if the Pistons play as poorly in the postseason as they did last night, their playoff run will be a short one, but I don't think that's going to happen. The "c" word -- complacency -- gets tossed around all the time by the fans, but it hasn't been a real problem in a long, long while.
All of the Conference Finals losses are starting to run together in my mind, too, but to their credit the Pistons kicked off the playoffs last year with seven consecutive wins -- they were as locked in and focused as I've ever seen them. They eventually ran into a wall in Cleveland, but it wasn't because they were bored or unmotivated. They lost because the Cavs completely kicked them out their rhythm with their physical defense, a little-known rookie getting hot (and all the calls) and LeBron James dominating. Complacency had nothing to do with it, just like losing the Sixers in March has nothing to do with how this team will fare in April and May. The Pistons are on pace to win 59 games, which is damn impressive, but it still means there will be 23 games the team will go home losers.