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2005-06 Pistons vs history

   by Larry Ness - 02/18/2006

The Pistons opened the current season by winning their first eight games. They were 26-4 by the 30-game mark and hit the half-way mark of their 82-game regular season at 36-5. Now it doesn't take a math genius to realize that on that date (Jan 27), the Pistons were "on pace" to match the all-time record of 72 wins set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

Naturally that got everyone talking about just how good these Pistons really were. Unfortunately for the Pistons and their fans, Detroit cooled off in February and the team enters the All Star break having won just SIX of their last 10 games. Detroit is 42-9 overall, with a league-best 23-2 mark at home and a 19-7 road mark, tying them with the Mavericks for the best in the NBA.

The Pistons are sending FOUR of their five starters to Sunday's All Star game, just 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 both those Celtic and Laker teams both lost in the conference finals.

Detroit is known for its "iron-man" starting-five, 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 from the beginning of the season since 1980. Those two prior teams were vastly different, as the Olajuwon/Sampson led Rockets made it all the way to the NBA Finals that season (losing to the Celtics), while Warriors finished 38-44, extending the team's long playoff drought.

Getting back to the original question, "how good are these Pistons?" A quick look at the team's pointspread mark shows that despite their 42-9 SU mark, the Pistons are just 27-24 ATS. That breaks down fairly evenly home and away, as they are 13-12 in Detroit and 14-12 on the road.

However, I believe the best gage of a team's strength is its point-differential. Detroit owns the league's best point-differential at the break, coming 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-differential of plus-7.0.

That surely puts this year's Detroit team above average but the Pistons come up short versus most of the best teams of this era. Bird's Celtics won three title and the 1985-86 team which went 67-15 and an all-time single season best of 40-1 at home, had a point-differential of plus-9.4.

Magic (and Kareem's) Lakers won five titles and the best of those teams was the likely the 1986-87 edition which finished 65-17 in the regular season with a point-differential of plus-9.3. The Moses/Dr. J team of 1982-83 went 65-17 and the 76ers finished that season with a point-differential of plus-7.7.

The Lakers of Shaq and Kobe won three straight titles from 1999-00 through 2001-02, averaging 60.3 wins per season and a point-differential of just plus-6.3. The 1999-00 team was by far the best of the three, going 67-15 with a point-differential of 8.5. San Antonio has won three titles over the last seven years and like the Lakers, the Spurs' first title-winning team was their best. In the strike year of 1998-99, San Antonio finished at 37-13, outscoring opponents by an average of 8.1 PPG.

This year's Pistons could be compared favorably with most of the above-mentioned teams but I would place the 1985-86 Celtics and the 1986-87 Lakers FIRMLY ahead of them. Of course I've yet to mention MJ's Chicago teams, which break down in two three-year periods.

The 1990-91 to 1992-93 teams averaged 61.7 wins per season, with the '92 champs finishing with a 67-15 record and a point-differential of plus-10.4. The teams from 1995-96 through 1997-98 averaged 67.7 wins per year, with the '96 champs finishing with an all-time best single-season record of 72-10 and a point-differential of plus-12.2 (the '97 champs were 69-13 and plus-10.8).

So clearly, this year's Detroit team is far behind the standard set by MJ and the Bulls in their best seasons.

Detroit has handled last year's champs (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 own the second-best record at the break (41-11), handed Detroit its first loss of the season 119-82 back on November 19 in Dallas.

Looking ahead, while the Pistons are done with the Spurs (until the Finals?), they have a rematch with the Mavericks in Detroit on March 28 and host the Suns on April 2, when maybe Stoudemire will have returned (Detroit won in Phoenix back on Nov 10, 111-104).

In their own conference, the Pistons have two more games with the Heat, who they beat in seven games in last year's conference finals. The teams have split two meetings this year (home team has won both) and play in Detroit on March 22 and in Miami on April 6. Also of note is a home-and-home versus the Cavs and some guy named LeBron, on February 26 and 27.

CLOSING NOTE

Not all NBA history begins with Bird and Magic's arrival in 1979-80, so for those of you wondering if the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls owned not only the league's best single-season won/loss record but the best point-differential margin of any season as well, they DON'T

That record belongs to the Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich-led Lakers of 1971-72. Those Lakers went 69-13 that season, establishing 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 seen or since, point-differential of plus-12.3!

Ness Notes is available by 1:00 ET on Monday through Friday. A "feature story" runs in its place Saturday and Sunday.

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