NBA's Central Divison no longer a pushover


NBA's Central Divison no longer a pushover

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.

Bulls announce signing of shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Bulls announce signing of shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Minutes before they opened their regular season Thursday against the Celtics, the Bulls announced the signing of shooting guard R.J. Hunter.

Hunter was a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015 but was waived this preseason. In his lone year with the Celtics he appeared in 38 games. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.

"Not surprised he got picked up," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. "We said the other day, we had more than 15 NBA players (in training camp) and so it was just a matter of time who he was going to get picked up by. It was good that he did."

Fred Hoiberg was asked at Thursday morning's shootaround about the possibility of adding a player like Hunter. And while he couldn't specifically mention Hunter - as the deal was not official - he did discuss the continued need for outside shooting.

"It’s something that obviously we feel that we’ve got some shooting with this team but you can never have enough, so I’ll say that," Hoiberg said. It’s something where if we can get our playmakers in the paint to be able to spray it out to guys that can spread the floor, that’s obviously something that can help our team.

"So again we feel good about where we are with our playmakers and if we can get some guys to knock down shots I think we have a chance to have an effective year."

Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.

Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.

Hunter's first chance to suit up with the Bulls will be Saturday when they host the Indiana Pacers.

Dwyane Wade ready to balance minutes, substitution patterns with Bulls

Dwyane Wade ready to balance minutes, substitution patterns with Bulls

Dwyane Wade’s minutes per game have decreased in each of the last four seasons, and he’s missed a combined 102 since the start of the 2011-12 season. Those facts are hardly surprising for a 14-year veteran who will turn 35 before this year’s All-Star break, and one who has dealt with knee injuries much of his career and has logged nearly 37,000 minutes between the regular season and postseason.

Wade still has plenty left in the tank, as witnessed by his impressive performance in last year’s postseason and the fact that he played in 74 regular-season games, the most since 2010 when LeBron James and Chris Bosh first joined him in Miami. The Bulls showed this summer they believe Wade has something to offer when they gave him a two-year, $47.5 million deal to return home.

Wade averaged 22.3 minutes per game in six preseason games, playing between 24 and 27 minutes in the five games after he logged 12 minutes in the preseason opener. He also sat the second of a back-to-back in Milwaukee. It’ll be up to Wade, head coach Fred Hoiberg and the coaching staff to come up with a plan to keep Wade as fresh as possible over the course of the next five-plus months while also allowing putting the Bulls in the best position to win each night.

“(Hoiberg) hasn’t said, ‘You’re going to play 30 minutes exactly,’” Wade said at Thursday’s shootaround. “A lot of it is just, looking at preseason, I think I’m going to be around 30-32 minutes just by the substitution patterns that (Hoiberg) is thinking about for me. I’m good with it. We haven’t had a (direct) conversation, but we’re both cool with it.”

Wade said that those substitution patterns will be more important than the total number of minutes he logs each night. He joked that in a perfect world the Bulls would have a big enough lead where he could sit the entire fourth quarter. How the game plays out will dictate the number of minutes Wade plays, but both he and Hoiberg will do their best to keep Wade fresh by timing when he subs out and returns to the game over a 48-minute span.

“I’m not a kind of guy that wants to stay out for 10-12 minutes on the clock because I’m gonna get a little stiff. I’m also not a kind of guy that wants to go for 12 minutes straight, so I think (Hoiberg) is learning me, and we stay in constant communication about when I’ve got a little break and I’m ready to go again.

“I don’t need to be out there the whole quarter neither. Take me out when you need to, I’ll get a break and I’m ready to go again. So it’s all about figuring it out and we’re doing a good job of it.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

When the Heat got off to a 15-9 start last season Wade played fewer than 30 minutes in 11 of the 23 games he appeared in, and five of the first eight contests to begin the year. So while he may take some time to get his legs underneath him, Hoiberg noted that on multiple occasions in the preseason Wade asked to return to the game in the second half to build up a rhythm for the regular season.

“A lot of it will depend on how he’s feeling. We have an idea about where we want him with his minutes, we’ve talked about that with him,” Hoiberg said. “But if he’s feeling great, maybe one game he’s not feeling so good, we’ll go away from it. But we’ve got an idea of where we want him with his minutes and we’ll try to stick to it.”

Wade said he doesn’t have a particular goal in mind for the number of games he’d like to play this season. But after 13 years in the league he has found the best way for him to attack the game each night while also keeping an eye toward the bigger picture, when the Bulls will need him down the stretch in April and potentially into the postseason.

“I want to take advantage of every moment and opportunity as I can and help get my team a chance to win,” he said. “So it’s my job to try to take care of my body away from the game of basketball, and then when I’m on the court I pray and knock on wood that I don’t get injured and can stay out there.”