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Eastern Conference Insider: Celtics, Cavs enter 70-win talk

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Dec 10 2008 12:14AM

As the NBA season passes the quarter mark, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers have begun flirting. Not with each other, mind you, but with two historic numbers: 70 wins and a .854 winning percentage (or for you statistical sticklers, .8536).

Based simply on their 20-2 record and a .909 winning percentage, the defending champs are on pace for a blistering 75 wins (74.5 wins, but we rounded up). The Cavaliers, at 17-3 and a .850 winning percentage are on pace for 69.7 wins. Considering we play full games in the NBA and that we rounded up for the Celtics, we'll extend the same courtesy to the Cavs; 70 it is.

Every NBA fan knows only one team has ever reached the magical 70-win plateau: the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who tore up the league with a 72-10 record for a .878 winning percentage. While it's too early to definitively say the Celtics or the Cavs (or the 17-2 Lakers) can realistically reach 70 wins, it's never too early to speculate about making history. In his Dec. 5 PER Diem column, ESPN.com stats guru John Hollinger projected the Cavs, not the Celtics or the Lakers, have the best chance of reaching the 70-win plateau. Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry poo-pooed such speculation.

The Road to 70
If the Celtics maintained their current pace, they would shatter the Bulls record of 72 with at least 74 wins. Cleveland, if they maintained their pace, would at least match the 1972 Lakers and '97 Bulls. The Celtics and Cavs have three meetings remaining this season: Jan. 9 in Cleveland, March 6 in Boston and April 12 in Cleveland. Boston won the season opener at TD Bank North Garden on Oct. 28, 90-85.
Season Team Record Win pct.
1995-96 Chicago Bulls 72-10 .878
Longest win streak: 18
Finish: NBA champ
1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers 69-13 .841
Longest win streak: 33, an NBA record
Finish: NBA champ
1996-97 Chicago Bulls 69-13 .841
Longest win streak: 12
Finish: NBA champ
1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers 68-13 .840
Longest win streak: 11, twice
Finish: NBA champ
1972-73 Boston Celtics 68-14 .829
Longest win streak: 10, twice
Finish: Lost Conference Finals, 4-3 to New York
1985-86 Boston Celtics 67-15 .817
Longest win streak: 14
Finish: NBA champ
1991-92 Chicago Bulls 67-15 .817
Longest win streak: 14
Finish: NBA champ
2006-07 Dallas Mavericks 67-15 .817
Longest win streak: 17
Finish: Lost First Round, 4-2 to Golden State
1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers 67-15 .817
Longest win streak: 19
Finish: NBA champ
1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks 66-16 .805
Longest streak: 20
Finish: NBA champ
2007-08 Boston Celtics 66-16 .805
Longest win streak: 10
Finish: NBA champ

"I don't pay attention to projections," Ferry said. "For this early in the season, the players and coaches have worked hard and have really put together a bunch of good games together. We like our team and we need to focus on trying to find ways to improve."

Ferry's comments come exactly one year after Boston coach Doc Rivers made similar comments to the Chicago Sun-Times after his Celtics started last season at 17-2.

''The record's nice and all that, but that's not our goal,'' Rivers told the Chicago Sun-Times on Dec. 9, 2007. ''I don't even know what our record is, but whatever it is, that's not what our goal is. We're just trying to get better and improve.

"You know, we've won games, but we can be a better basketball team. Everybody in our locker room, as long as they have that understanding, we're going to be OK.''

They were more than OK. Boston also started last season at 20-2 and had a 70-win pace after 35 games with a 30-5 record, but they never had a .854 winning percentage at any time after that. They reached 51-12 before losing game No. 13 at home to Utah on March 14.

With 70 gone, the Celtics focused on another number: 17, as in the franchise's 17th title. Three months later, they had it after defeating the Lakers in The Finals.

In the end, that's what matters most: an NBA championship. Through 20 games this season, Ferry believes the Cavs have built a solid foundation on both ends of the floor.

"Our offensive efficiency has been really good," Ferry said. "We have done a great job of moving the ball. Even more important, our players have established a strong defensive identity early in the season."

The stats bear out Ferry's comment. NBA.com's John Schuhmann notes in his latest Power Rankings, in which the Celtics and the Cavs are one-two, Cleveland has the league's best offense (116.0 points per 100 possessions) and the second-best defense (101.1 points per 100 possessions).

Still, fast starts don't guarantee successful finishes. In addition to last season's Celtics, two other teams in the last three seasons have had a 70-win pace with one-quarter of the season gone: the 2005-06 Pistons and the 2006-07 Mavericks.

Detroit set a sizzling initial pace winning 37 of its first 42 games for a .881 winning percentage. The Pistons, however, would go 12-7 in their next 19 games. The Pistons' quest for 70 ended when they were defeated by the Knicks on March 17, 2006 for their 13th loss of the season.

In 2007, the Mavericks made it all the way to 62-12 before their road to 70 wins stopped with a loss to Denver on April 6, 2007.

The Pistons finished 64-16 but fell to LeBron James' Cavs in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Mavs didn't even make it that far in the postseason. After posting the sixth-best regular season record in history at 67-15, the top-seeded Mavs fell to the Golden State Warriors in the First Round in six games.

As you can see, the road to 70 wins is littered with the bones of some quality NBA squads. Still, it's extremely rare to see three teams play at such an exalted level even for the first quarter of the season. And with the Celtics and the Cavs pushing each other for the top seed in the East, NBA fans -- and opponents -- could continue to see these two teams pursue excellence while they pursue each other.

"Like every team we will have our challenges but the team has really started to build good habits as a group," Ferry said. "They have had really good focused practices and players have had a one-game-at-a-time mindset."

One game at a time? Yep, but they're still a long way from 70.

Layups

Defensive bailout in Detroit

Meanwhile in Detroit, Rodney Stuckey will move into the starting lineup. After a dispiriting 12-point loss Sunday to the Knicks in New York, Pistons coach Michael Curry demurred about moving Stuckey into the starting lineup. On Monday after practice, Curry made it official.

The 6-foot-5 Stuckey provides more of a defensive impediment at the point than the 6-foot Allen Iverson. The move lets the Pistons set two of the toughest guys to catch in Iverson and Richard Hamilton free on the wings. Tayshaun Prince moves to power forward and Rasheed Wallace slips down to the post.

The Pistons received another boost today when they re-signed Antonio McDyess, whom they shipped to Denver as a part of the Iverson-Chauncey Billups trade. McDyess should provide a much-needed defensive post presence for the suddenly defenseless Pistons. In the first half on Sunday, the Knicks got into the lane at will against Detroit. After the Pistons inserted Stuckey into the lineup in the second half, the Knicks' ventures inside became far less frequent.

Curry said Sunday he will continue to bring McDyess off the bench.

Cuttino Mobley update

Knicks president Donnie Walsh said Sunday the New York Knicks expect a decision this week on Cuttino Mobley, whom New York acquired along with Tim Thomas in exchange for Zach Randolph last month. Mobley has undergone medical testing for an enlarged heart.

"It's his decision," Walsh said. "It's his health."

And if everything checks out?

"Then it's our decision."

With Nate Robinson nursing a sore groin and Most Improved Player candidate Chris Duhon suffering from back spasms, the Knicks are hurting at guard.

North of the border going South

When the Raptors relieved Sam Mitchell of his clipboard last week, they named Jay Triano interim head coach and made history. Triano is the first Canadian to lead an NBA team.

Unfortunately, the Raptors' luck hasn't changed yet as they've lost their first two games with Triano as coach. It doesn't get any easier as the 8-11 Raptors meet the streaking Cavaliers in Cleveland on Tuesday.

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