One of the keys to the Bulls finishing with the NBAs best record last season was their dominance of division opponents. The Bulls went 15-1 against Central Division foes, the only loss coming late in the season at Indiana.
Unfortunately, things will be a lot tougher this season, as both the Pacers and Bucks appear to be much improved. Dont forget, Indiana gave the Bulls a battle in their first round playoff series last spring, and theyve made some significant improvements to their roster. Armed with some serious cap room, Pacers President Larry Bird signed former All-Star power forward David West to a two year contract, and hes trying to bring in former 6th man of the year Jamal Crawford, who was one of the Bulls targets early in free agency.
Bottom line, Indiana figures to be a much stronger team this season. Theyll have plenty of offense with Danny Granger, West, possibly Crawford, point guard Darren Collison, promising second year man Paul George and 72 center Roy Hibbert. The Pacers also have quality depth with Tyler Hansbrough, George and combo guard George Hill, who was acquired in a trade with San Antonio before the lockout. Hill averaged 11.6 points for the Spurs last season, and hes started 48 games over the last two years in place of the often-injured Tony Parker. Look for Indiana to make an upwards move in the Eastern Conference playoff field, possibly challenging for a 5th or 6th seed.
Ninety miles to the north in Milwaukee, Scott Skiles should also have a much-improved team this season. The Bucks made a good trade just before the draft in June, acquiring Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and Beno Udrih in a three-team deal with Charlotte and Sacramento. Jackson will provide a veteran influence and consistent scoring from the wing, something the Bucks didnt always get from former Fenwick H.S. star Corey Maggette last season.
The Bucks were decimated by injuries a year ago, losing point guard Brandon Jennings, power forward Drew Gooden and center Andrew Bogut for long stretches of the season. Bogut was considered one of the best young centers in the league before that terrifying fall late in the 2009-2010 regular season. Now that hes had another year to rehab that gruesome elbow and wrist injury, he should be closer to his pre-injury form. Dont forget, Bogut averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in the season he was injured. And, Milwaukee added another shooter by signing free agent Mike Dunleavy, Jr. to a two-year contract.
The Pistons and Cavaliers dont look like playoff contenders, but Detroit will be better with Lawrence Frank running the show. Former coach John Kuester was extremely unpopular with the players, and everyone should benefit from a fresh start. There is talent on the roster with veterans like Tayshaun Prince, Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey and second year forward Greg Monroe, who came on strong late in his rookie year. The Pistons also added one of the top young guards available in the draft in Kentuckys Brandon Knight.
Clevelands roster is still a work in progress, but the Cavs did add the top player in the draft, Duke point guard Kyrie Irving. They are a long way from returning to playoff contention, but should be a lot more competitive.
So, how many wins can the Bulls come up with over a 66 game schedule? Im thinking somewhere in the 42-45 range, which should be good for a Top 3 seed in the East. What are your thoughts? Please post your comments in the section below.
Dont forget the Bulls start their pre-season schedule against Indiana Friday night. Well have the re-match against the Pacers on Comcast SportsNet Dec. 20th.