This current Pistons team has had quite a successful run over the past 7 years. Yet they are still one of the hardest teams to figure out and their ultimate place in NBA lore is still to be determined. One thing for sure - they have been one of the most consistent teams in NBA history. Some of their achievements:
Seven straight 50 win seasons. Remarkable in this era of sports. For comparison purposes, here are the longest streaks in NBA history:
o Magic’s Lakers had 12 straight from 1980-91 – Wow.
o Russell’s Celts had 10 straight from 1959-68
o Bird’s Celts had 9 straight from 1980-88
o Duncan’s Spurs are also currently riding a 9 season streak.
That’s it – nobody else has had more than the 7 straight that this Pistons squad has had.
Five Straight Conference Finals (JINX ALERT) If they beat Orlando in their next series, they would advance to their sixth straight conference finals. I am willing to gamble on the jinx as i am that confident that the Magic cannot hang with the Stones over a 7 game series - so who’s done better since 1980? Magic’s Lakers went to 8 straight from 82-89. That’s it. Birds’ Celts only made 5 straight - streak ended by the Bad Boys. MJ’s Bulls never made more than 5 straight - partially due to MJ's forced retirement due to gambling problems. The Bad Boys also capped out at 5 straight East Finals. So if they beat the Magic, that's the 2nd best run in the modern era of the NBA.
OK – so their consistency during this run is undeniable. But their ultimate success in the playoffs has been mixed and lately, pretty disappointing. And it seems to relate to whether they are perceived as the favorite or not
· In ’03, they were the top seed but lost to a better Nets team in the East Finals.
· In ’04, the pulled off the mid-season Rasheed trade and finished with the #3 seed. They beat the #2 seed Nets and beat the favored #1 seed Pacers. They then dominated the heavily favored Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers in a 4-1 route and won the title. Truly one of the great team efforts in NBA history. Why? They had no true superstar. NBA titles are won with superstars. In fact, in the past 17 seasons, 16 titles were won with one of four guys on the roster: MJ (6), Shaq (4), Duncan (4), Hakeem (2). The other title was won by my beloved Stones. Go back farther…add Magic (5), Bird (3), Isiah (2) and Dr. J/Moses (take your pick) (1). That’s 27 of the past 28 titles won by teams with at least one of the best 20 guys in NBA history. That’s why the love for the ’04 Pistons is so huge – they are the only superstar-less team to pull it off in the modern era of the NBA. They won it with good players, incredible defense and a work ethic that would make Tom Izzo proud.
· In ’05, they beat Shaq & Wade in the east finals and lose a classic 7 game series to Duncan’s Spurs; Hard-fought series. Tough one to lose but you can live with it – they lost a brutal game 5 on a Horry miracle 3 to go down 3-2 in the series, came back to win game 6 on the road and were tied going into the 4th quarter of game 7 – I wish they won it but helluva season overall.
In ’06, something terrible happened. They finally started to gain respect. They started the season an incredible 41-9. 4 starters made the All-Star team. Suddenly, they lost the proverbial chip on their shoulder. They finished with the best record in the league in ’06 but lost in the conference finals – they also lost in the conference finals last year as the #1 seed . Both years, they have let inferior teams stretch out early round series as the Stones lost interest at times and seemed to think they can turn it on when they had to. That attitude cost them dearly as they tired by the conference finals while their opponents were resting and a couple of legit title shots slipped away.
So to recap – in ’03, ’06 & ’07 - #1 seed but don’t make it to the Finals. In ’04 & ’05, they are not the favorite but they do make it to the Finals. So here’s the good news - they entered these playoffs a bit under the radar as the #2 seed. Although the Stones had the 2nd best record in the league, Boston was the story thisyear and with Garnett going for his first title, most like them as the team to beat. That’s good because that's where the Pistons feel comfortable. They will be underdogs after they dispose of the Magic. Perhaps that’s what they need to sneak in another title and join the fairly exclusive club of teams that have won multiple titles. That's what's on the line for the Stones this spring. I think it’s enough to get them past Boston this year but the Spurs and Duncan are just too good.
For the record (and these were my picks before the start of the playoffs - I swear)
Spurs over Hornets in 6, Lakers over Jazz in 5, Celts over Cavs in 7, Pistons over Magic in 5
Spurs over Lakers in 6, Pistons over Celts in 6
Spurs over Pistons in 6