Where Will Chicago Bulls Finish Within the NBA's Central Division?
The NBA kicks off a brand new season on Christmas Day and for us, we are treated to some compelling games. Boston versus New York starts off the festivities on a schedule that includes a NBA Finals rematch between Miami and Dallas. Perhaps the most interesting game will be the Chicago Bulls heading out to Los Angeles to face the Lakers.
Usually the Bulls take a trip to the West Coast during the later portion of November but with the NBA lockout, the 66-game schedule will have Derrick Rose and Company out west for the first four games of the year. The Bulls' schedule has its share of breaks and potential traps but after it is all over, they should remain head and shoulders above the rest of the Central division, guaranteeing no worse than the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
One big key to the Bulls' season will be just how they play against divisional foes. After struggling to defeat Indiana in the playoffs last season, the Bulls will have a tougher road as the Pacers have improved. Winning their games against the teams in the Central will help the road to winning the title become easier.
The Bulls don't play a game within their division until they square off with the Pistons on January 4th.
Can the Chicago Bulls repeat as Central division champions?
Allow me to briefly go through the teams of the NBA's Central division by my predicted order of where they will finish after the season.
5. Detroit Pistons Predicted Record: 22-44
Unless the Pistons strike lightning in a bottle, they will struggle to win 20 games. Their biggest loss was guard Richard Hamilton (to the Bulls) and they didn't do much to replace his scoring or leadership. The player-led walkout on former coach Larry Keuster played a hand in their terrible record last year.
They re-signed Rodney Stuckey who will most likely pair with Ben Gordon in the starting backcourt, but do not expect this duo to remain intact as rookie point guard Brandon Knight will take playing time from both Stuckey and Gordon.
I don't see much reason to believe that the Pistons can contend in the NBA Central with their glut of perimeter players. And their defense is awful.
As for a glimmer of hope, look for Charlie Villanueva to have a bounce-back year and watch as Brandon Knight develops. I believe he'll be a good fit.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers Predicted Record: 25-41
Once the ping-pong balls bounced the Cavaliers' way, nothing but optimism has spread thought the organization. Many are predicting that rookies Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson will blossom into high-quality players. Allow me to apologize to Cavs fans out there by saying there is one breakout star amongst the two—unfortunately I think that it will be Thompson this year.
Don't get me wrong, Irving may turn out to be a helluva pro but not this soon. After suffering from a foot injury that kept him out of the majority of his games at Duke University, he will be slow to come on strong. That said, coach Byron Scott will not have to worry about the Cavs quitting on him the way that he felt they did last season. They will be a scrappy bunch led by a coach who is better than most of us realize, but the talent is too young.
3. Indiana Pacers Predicted Record: 35-31
I can hear the groans coming all the way down from Indianapolis. "You picked the Pacers to finish third?" I see the Pacers making the playoffs again but the question is: Did they add someone of significance?
Of course they did. I think that George Hill is a slight upgrade over Darren Collison. After playing behind Tony Parker, look for Hill to take that experience and help the Pacers contend for a playoff seed higher than the eighth seed they had last season.
The Pacers also welcome the addition of power forward David West.
Here is why I have the Pacers finishing third in the NBA Central: Outside of Hill and West, where is the postseason experience? Their youth is what will cost them.
2. Milwaukee Bucks Predicted Record: 37-29
It's a shortened season and that works in the Bucks' favor. Watching Scott Skiles coached teams here in Chicago, you know that he pushes his players hard. As long as they remain healthy, they are built for a race. After injuries sidelined Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut for long stretches of the year, the Bucks couldn't build up enough steam to carry them to the playoffs.
One of the major reasons for optimism is the trade that brought in guard Stephen Jackson. He was a go-to guy for the Charlotte Bobcats and with his size, he has a good post-up game that complements Bogut's skills.
No disrespect to the Bulls teams from a few seasons ago when Eddy Curry was patrolling the paint with Tyson Chandler, but this may be Coach Skiles' most talented team yet.
Chicago Bulls Predicted Record: 53-13
This is low for me but with the season destined to be a grinding one with three games on three consecutive nights, I think that coach Tom Thibodeau will put his foot off of the gas a bit. If you can point out three problems the Bulls had in the playoffs, you would say a lack of scoring from the 2-guard spot was the biggest issue. Carlos Boozer's ineffectiveness due to injury was second but the major problem was one no one spoke of.
Fatigue. The Bulls fought so hard to get home-court advantage in last season's playoff run and they were gassed by the time the first round came.
This Richard Hamilton signing helps cure the first two problems. His mid-range game will give Derrick Rose a target when the defenses clamp down on him. This will result in better looks for Boozer as well as Luol Deng.
Also Jimmy Butler is a sleeper for the all-rookie team.
Look for the Bulls to cruise through the NBA Central.
Who wins it all? Do the Bulls get back to the finals after winning the division? Only time will tell.