The Raleigh Firebirds have taken their play to another level during the 2023 TBL season. They started the first half of the season 7-4, a respectable record that still had them in the Southeastern Conference playoff race. Then the players went into All-Star break. Daequon Antoine and Dreko Palmer attended the league's All-Star festivities, with Palmer being named an All-Star and Antoine winning the league's three-point contest. Many other players went home to their families during the break.
Once the season resumed, they dominated like never before.
Their first game post-break was against the Georgia Soul, who currently hold the top seed in the Southeastern Conference. Previously, they had defeated the Soul by five, and the Soul had beaten them by nine to even the series between the two teams. This time, the Firebirds won by 23, as Antoine, Palmer, and Ahmad Abdullah combined for 79 points. Four days later, they traveled to Fayetteville and won by 10. The day after that, they beat the Charlotte Purple Jackets by 11 and faced off against the Soul again. This time in Georiga, the Firebirds won by 9. Only two players on the Soul scored over 10 points: Patrell Rogers, and former Firebird Marques Sumner.
The only post-break loss was a heartbreaker against the Coastal Georgia Buccaneers. Other than that, the Firebirds haven't had much trouble with anyone in the Southeast, blowing out Fayetteville and Central Florida by 20.
To put into perspective how good the Firebirds are with their current record of 14-5, only nine teams have a higher winning percentage: the Georgia Soul, Long Beach Blue Waves, Seattle Super Hawks, Reading Rebels, Atlantic City Gambits, Albany Patroons, Medora Timberjacks, Shreveport Mavericks, and the Potawatomi Fire.
Last year, the Firebirds went 12-12 during the regular season and missed the playoffs; the turnaround from last year to this year has been astounding. In fact, the Firebirds have a better record right now than any team in the Southeastern Conference did last year.
How did such a dramatic turnaround happen?
It's tough to pin the turnaround on just one thing, but one distinct change from last year is that the rotation is much shorter. Last year, there was an excess of talent whose minutes greatly varied on the bench. There were a solid 12 players that could be starters on any given night, and a lot of solid bench players too. This year, there were 12 players on the team total, and at the beginning of the season, it was even shorter; some games featured nine players in uniform. The roles on this year's team are a lot clearer, and everyone knows what's expected of them.
Of the players on the team, everyone is contributing Eight players on the Firebirds this year are averaging double digits in points per game, a sign of a team that could end up making a deep playoff run this year. Both Antoine and Palmer can go off for 40 points on any given night (and they have!) while there's another handful of guys who you can count on to go off for 20. The unpredictability of who's hot on any given night makes the matchups a nightmare for other teams.
Right now, it looks like there's no stopping Raleigh. And it doesn't look like in the past month, any team has cracked the code. Of course, right now they're only playing other teams in the Southeastern Conference, but the question stands: can anyone crack the code?