Season Preview: Central Division
The entirety of an NBA season – the standard 82 plus the rigors of the postseason – isn’t something that’s easily predicted. But I figure before they start playing the games that matter, I should share my thoughts with you on who will land where in the standings. I’ll break it down division by division, giving my own outlook on things.
Even though I’ll use the word often, don’t consider these ‘predictions’, because honestly the idea of ‘predicting’ anything is ridiculous. These are just my own opinions on each division. Feel free to agree, disagree, comment, and challenge.
Today I’ll be taking a look at the Central division.
Understand first, this is primarily indicating the regular season standings, with postseason implications requiring some additional explanation.
Detroit for the past few seasons has been machine-like in their efficiency, routinely working through the league. The regular season is cruise control for them at this point. Expect the same deal and the same 50+ wins. The postseason, however, is a different shakedown.
Detroit’s time as the Eastern conference ruler is over. Getting slapped by Cleveland (no matter how unlikely) was enough for me. They will push their way into the second round, but somewhere around there, or perhaps a round later, they’ll get complacent, or the offense will sputter, or ‘Sheed will get banged on by LeBron, and something will fall apart for them. They may have the regular season, but no more playoff glory for the Pistons.
The Cavaliers aren’t out of that division title spot by much, and truth be told, if they hit an extra long hot streak during the standard 82, or manage more consistency than I’m giving them credit for, they could even take that number one spot in the Central division.
LeBron will continue to be a superstar, but last season, particularly against Detroit, he showed he could literally will his greatest to take over a game – he did it on command, during that stretch, for the first time, LeBron was consistently great. That makes the difference for Cleveland. I can’t say we should expect that much from the rest of the cats in Cavs jerseys, but then again when we have ever expected much from the cast around King James.
If Daniel Gibson, Larry Hughes, and Drew Gooden do manage some decent support, the Cavs are looking at another nice postseason run. Finals again? I doubt it, but they will be around and contending for a push to the top of the east.
For a while I wasn’t into giving the Bulls the props they deserved. I was put off by their inconsistency, and in some respects, I still am. What is consistent about Chi-Town’s finest, however, is their steady climb up the Eastern conference and their constant improvement.
The Bulls have a tremendous core of young talent, and under the guide and leadership of Scott Skiles, they’re only getting better each year. A couple years ago no one expected them to start off 2-0 against Miami in the first round, but they did. Then last season, they went for the straight sweep. This season, not only will they get into the second round, but push all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Yeah, I said it.
They’re that good, even if people are still sleeping on them. They’re rate of improvement is as good as any team in the league. They’ve become more and more consistent with each season, and they’re young talent continues to develop. The really scary part… wait until next year.
The Pacers are just plain unfortunate. It seems like just a few seasons ago we were talking about them as legit, and I do mean legitimate, title contenders. They were, in fact, a popular underdog pick to win it all not too long ago. And whether people like to hear this brought up or not, that throw down in Detroit cost this franchise dearly.
The team has since been dismantled and left sputtering in a limbo between what used to be a contender and what appears to be a team struggling to get back to where they once were. Jermaine O’Neal is frustrated, as he should be. For a player with so much talent, near the prime of his career, to be stuck in a situation like this, it’s just wrong. And yet there isn’t much that can be done. Some young talent has been assembled around him, but it’s not for certain that any of that will work out.
The Pacers may surprise me this season and put it all together, even make the playoffs, and in some way I hope they do, but I doubt it.
I actually like Milwaukee. I think Michael Redd is an underrated star, and one of the best pure scorers and shooters in the game. I think Charlie Villanueva is a good young talent; Maurice Williams isn’t too shabby either. Okay, so Yi Jianlian is a severely misguided young man who may not end up being worth the trouble he caused, but who knows, with some work he could even give the Bucks some solid production.
I think this team has some potential down the road. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t expect too much this season. I think we can certainly count on an improvement over the abysmal 28-54 season they choked out last season, but still not enough to get them into the playoffs.