With the Detroit Pistons on pace to win 71 games this season and become the second team ever to reach the 70-win mark, we asked a dozen ESPN analysts to weigh in on the key questions: Can the Pistons win 70? Should they try to win 70? How many will they win? And who will win it all?
1. Are the Pistons capable of winning 70 games?
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: No. Over the course of an 82-game schedule, there are bound to be nights when the team just doesn't have it. On those nights, you need a superstar who can carry you with his sheer greatness. The Bulls of '96 had MJ. The Sixers of '67 (68-13) had Wilt. These Pistons don't have that superstar. Also, they are winning with offense, not defense and rebounding. Offense will abandon them some nights, and some of those nights will end up as L's.
Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine: They're certainly capable, but it's going to require coach Flip Saunders to play his starters longer minutes or dinged-up players fighting through injury even after they have the best record in the Eastern Conference sewed up. A lot of it depends on how hard the Spurs push them for the best overall record. The Pistons want home-court advantage because that may have been the difference in last year's Finals. The Spurs, traditionally, have not placed that much importance on it.
John Carroll, Scouts Inc.: They are capable, but in looking at their schedule over the last 53 games, I predict they will not. They have 27 home and 26 away. In those 53 games, they have 12 back-to-back games.
Chad Ford, ESPN Insider: Absolutely. They have the most complete starting five in the NBA. There isn't a team in the league that they don't match up with. Flip Saunders has proven that this group can light it up offensively. And if their shots aren't falling, the Pistons still know how to ramp it up on the defensive end.
John Hollinger, ESPN Insider: I don't think so. To win 70 games normally requires a victory margin in the plus-10 range. The Pistons, as well as they have played, are at plus-7.8 right now. Even if they stayed healthy and played at the same level, they'd
have to get extremely lucky in close games.
Scoop Jackson, Page 2: No. The only reason is because their focus will change. With four losses already, they're on pace to have eight by March 1. Come April, they'll be in playoff mode mentally, not concerned about chasing records or winning 70. Remember, the Bulls at one time were 41-3. They were on pace for 77 wins. Their focus shifted. That's why they only won 72.
Tim Legler, ESPN Insider: I don't think the Pistons will win 70 games because the bottom half of the NBA is much better than in recent years and it is more difficult to just show up on any given night and get a win. The Pistons also have a thin bench and eventually their string of good health in that starting lineup is bound to come to an end. I don't think they can get 70 if any of their starters goes down for an extended period of time.
Jim O'Brien, ESPN Insider: No. Going 45-8 over the rest of the season is too big a task. They have some tough road games with the likes of San Antonio, Miami twice, Indiana, New Jersey and Cleveland (which already beat them in Cleveland) among others. They might approach the magic number, but as soon as they secure home-court advantage for the entire playoffs, they will probably back off some, even if it is not intended.
Will Perdue, ESPN Insider: Yes, but they hope they do not have to. This team's starters play a lot of minutes.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN Insider: Yes, they're capable, but their loss in Utah was an example of the type of game -- their third in four nights -- that the Pistons will need to routinely win to reach 70. The 1995-96 Bulls opened 12-0 and finished 24-4 playing their third in four nights. Detroit will do it 25 times, including eight straight on the road in February and March.
Ken Shouler, ESPN Insider: The Pistons are surely capable. They have the best differential in the league (plus-7.8), more than a point ahead of San Antonio's. But they need one non-statistical factor to fall their way: good health. The five teams that have won 68 or more games (the 1967 Sixers, the 1972 Lakers, the 1973 Celtics, and the 1996 and '97 Bulls) played out the regular season without injuries to their key players. The Celtics were the only one that failed to win the title. Why? Possibly because John Havlicek separated his shoulder in the Eastern Conference finals against New York.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Capable? Definitely. Look at the competition. Who else besides San Antonio is playing at an elite level right now? Neither conference is teeming with top teams at the moment.
2. Should the Pistons try to win 70 games?
Broussard: Yes. I don't think it should be a priority, but if they have a chance, they should push for it. That would place them in immortality, especially if they go on to win the title. The Sixers of '67 are remembered for winning 68 games, not just for the title. If they hadn't won 68, they would've been lost in the middle of all those Boston championships. The Bulls of '96 have to be regarded as the best team ever -- though they probably aren't -- simply because they won 72 games and the championship. If the Pistons win 73 and a title, going through Shaq and Duncan, their place in history would be very, very high.
Bucher: "Try"? Absolutely not. It doesn't break the Bulls' record and it leaves them open to second-guessing should they not win the championship. They should aim to have the best record in the league, because it's worth home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Winning 70 is meaningless beyond that.
Carroll: Similar to the Colts in the NFL, the goal is to win the championship in the postseason. Going undefeated in the regular season in football or winning 70 games in basketball is not the goal. If it were to happen while resting players to get ready for the playoffs, then that is OK. Trying to get 70 at the expense of your team being fresh for the postseason is silly.
Ford: I don't think so. The Pistons aren't playing for the regular-season records. They want to win a title. The Pistons' one weakness is depth. A major injury to any of their starting five would dramatically change their chances of winning it all in June. I would let up on the gas a little, get some of the younger Pistons some experience in the right situations and not sweat a loss here or there. As long as they get home-court advantage, nothing else should matter.
Hollinger: No, if they get home-court advantage locked up they should take it easy and rest their starters. These
guys have played a huge number of minutes the past three seasons, especially once you include playoffs, and Flip needs them fresh for the postseason.
Jackson: Yes. I think they should try to win 70, just to have some type of mental or psychological advantage over San Antonio if/when they meet in the Finals. Like, "Yeah, you all have the ring, but we got 70 this year. We're the team this year, this is our year!"
Legler: The decision on whether to go for 70 wins won't be addressed until much later in the season. For now, Flip Saunders has this team focused on putting as much distance between themselves and the surging Miami Heat for the top seed in the East. Eventually, decisions will have to be made regarding how much to play the starters if the East is wrapped up. If you have a chance at history, you should take it.
O'Brien: If San Antonio or Dallas keeps the pressure on Detroit in the race for home-court advantage it will give the Pistons added incentive to win. If the advantage is secured fairly early, Saunders will make sure his starters are rested and healthy for the long pull of the championship run. In the latter case, 70 wins becomes somewhat irrelevant.
Perdue: Trying to win 70 would tax these guys and have an effect on how they play in the playoffs. This team wants to accomplish three things: (1) Win the Central division. (2) Have the best record in the Eastern Conference. (3) Have the best record in the NBA. Last season, San Antonio won Game 7 of the Finals on it's home court. If the Pistons need to win 70 games to accomplish these goals, they should try. But only if it's necessary.
Sheridan: They should try to win 73 to break the Bulls' record, setting their sights as high as possible.
Shouler: Yes. Chances to make history don't come along every day. By removing Kobe Bryant after three quarters, Phil Jackson stopped him from possibly scoring 80-85 points, for the second-highest total ever. His decision robbed us of a chance to see history. If Detroit wins 70, that would also be the second-highest total ever.
Stein: The problem is you can't try not to win games. But it shouldn't be their goal and I'm pretty sure it isn't. After losing Game 7 of the Finals in San Antonio, all these guys care about is posting the best overall record in the league and securing the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs that goes with it. If they win 70 games in the process, call it historical icing.
3. How many games will the Pistons win this season?
4. Who will win the Eastern Conference title?
5. Who will win the NBA title?