Well, we're 3 games past the half-way point of the season. Seems like a good time to reflect on the first half of the year and what may be in store during the second half of the season.
We're sitting at 33-11, a good 3.5 games up on the Pistons and the East, not to mention we already own the season-series between the two teams. We've won at NJ (twice) and at Detroit. We've lost some tough games on the road against the West's upper-echelon teams, but held our own at home against some of these same teams (SA and Minny).
It's no secret that coaching can do wonders for an NBA team, assuming the players buy-in to the system. That said, the introduction of Rick Carlisle has, so far, proven to be the difference between last year and this year. Granted, we had a similar record at this point in the season last year, but this year just feels different. We have a confident team, no doubt; and that attitude has translated into the expectation of winning every game we play. I think this is partly attributable to the maturation of a young team, and is mostly the cause of an excellent coaching staff. Our "sytem" is outstanding for the team management has put together. Everything starts with defense this year, and it is beautiful.
Individually, we've received contributions from almost every player on the team, and it seems everyone has stepped up their game from a year ago (as should be expected). O'Neal seems to take it to the next level every year. Artest has quickly become my favorite player to watch in the entire league. It seems like he's "figured it out" this year. Not to mention Tinsley, Al, and Foster, who have all made significant contributions so far. Even Reggie seems to be getting his legs back. It's too much to get into detail on each player, but this has truly become a fun team to watch. Again, the coaching staff deserves credit, but so do the players.
I was of the opinion that the loss of Brad Miller would significantly hurt the team. I miss Big Ugly and I'm still a little upset at his departure, but I'm finally ready to move past that. (It still sucks to watch him put up near triple-doubles night after night, though).
Even after a successful first half of the season, there is much work to be done. Actually, we haven't done squat yet, and I don't want this post to seem like some sort of celebration. I hope to see the same attitude and cohesiveness as we saw in the first 44 games in the next 38. I trust Rick to keep them on that path. I think Shade posted that we will need 58 wins to match the club record. That is a legitimate goal for this team right now. That means we would need to go 25-13 the rest of the way to break the record . . . and that is attainable. I'd be happy with 60 and, if we continue to play solid ball against a weaker 2nd half schedule, I think we'll get there.
The playoffs are an entirely different demon. Our style of play is conducive to playoff-type games. Will that translate into playoff-series victories? It better. There's nothing worse than a terrific season being wiped out by a poor showing come post-season. And, no matter how you look at it, success will breed expectations. To me, nothing short of a Finals appearance would be acceptable for this team. That's saying a lot about a team that has failed to get out of the first round in 3 years, but that must be our goal.