Not to oversimplifiy things or anything, ...well, actually let oversimplifty shall we?
The team started off the season 23 - 5 with win 23 happening on Christmas day. They beat the Orlando Magic without Paul Pierce.
What follwed was an uncharacteristic 18 - 19 record culminating in a loss to the Cleveland Cavs on March 14.
Since then, the team has gone 6 - 1 and has started to look a lot more like the team that went 23 - 5 than the team that went 18 - 19. Now there are 10 games left to either continue that positive momentum ...or not.
Obviously we'd all prefer to have the team dominate from wire to wire, much like the team (mostly) did two years ago. However, if you were to pick a time when the team would go through a prolonged period of struggles, I suppose I'd prefer it to be in the beginning or middle. Certainly the preference is to have all the pistons firing at the end as they prepare for the playoffs.
I think fans are a little bit hesitant to exhale and say that the team is back to being dominant. We're hopeful and encouraged by the recent play, but worried that the clock could strike midnight and the team would collectively turn back into pumpkins on us.
However, allow me to offer up a few reasons to hope.
While there are very few examples of teams struggling through an 18 - 19 stretch only to turn around and win the championship, I'd like to remind everyone that there's a first time for everything. Historical performance is no indication of future results. That's why they play the games. Pick your cliche.
I'll add that if there was ever a team that could "get it" and "turn it on" just in time for the playoffs, it is this team. Perkins aside, they seem to be getting healthy at the right time. The majority of the rotation players have the hardware that proves that they know what it takes to win it all.
Remember too what wins championships in this league. You need at least a couple superstar talents and a very good defense. The Celtics have an aging Big 3 that aren't what they used to be 2 years ago, but still show moments of greatness and have the emerging star of Rajon Rondo to boost them up. Paul Pierce in particular has given us a lot to be optimistic about recently. Also, they still stand atop the NBA as one of the best defensive teams in the league.
As I've said all along, they'll still need things to fall their way if they hope to play deep in the playoffs. First and foremost they need that mostly clean bill of health that has been so elusive this year. Secondly, it would help a great deal if they can get favorable matchups (in theory by securing the 3rd seed over Atlanta). And finally, they flat out could use some good luck. Games are often decided by inches and the bounce of a ball. This team will have a smaller margin of error than the one from 2 years ago.
So maybe we can't be sure that the team will win the title, but no team can be sure of that. I'm just happy that they seem to be trending in the right direction at the right time. Which gives us some measure of hope. And not to go all Bill Simmons on you or anything, but remember what Andy Dufresne says. "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."