How will the NBA season play out?

How will the NBA season play out?

Monday, Sept. 27, 2010
9:02 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

20. How will the NBA season play out?

Eastern Conference playoff teams (in order of projected seed): Miami, Orlando, Boston, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Washington

Atlantic Division champion: Boston Celtics; the Celtics are no spring chickens and despite their reputation for playing possum during the regular season, their in-division adversaries simply aren't strong enough to provide real competition.

Central Division champion: Milwaukee Bucks; the Bucks and Bulls should be in a dogfight all season, but Milwaukee's depth and continuity from last season should provide an edge during the regular season.

Southeast Division champion: Miami Heat; winning 70 games could be a stretch, but with three players capable of winning individual games on their own, ousting erstwhile division winner Orlando for the Southeast crown (and the East's top seed) shouldn't be too much to expect after the build-up to this point.

Western Conference playoff teams (in order of projected seed): Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets, Utah Jazz

Northwest Division champion: Oklahoma City Thunder; a lot hinges on Kevin Durant's continued development, but with Denver (organizational turmoil, regardless of Carmelo Anthony's situation), Portland (constantly beset with injuries; will Greg Oden ever put together a full season) and Utah (multiple offseason changes) all vulnerable, the young Thunder could take advantage.

Pacific Division champion: Los Angeles Lakers; business as usual for the two-time defending titlists, who could be the lone postseason team from their division, unless former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro has instant success with the crosstown rivals or Phoenix makes significant adjustments in the post-Amar'e Stoudemire era.

Southwest Division champion: San Antonio Spurs; health is always a concern, but it wouldn't be surprising in the least if Gregg Popovich's aging core group (provided Richard Jefferson recovers from his one-year slumber) puts together an inspired final regular-season run.

NBA Finals: Lakers over Heat; for symmetry's sake, Phil Jackson gets another three-peat, with Kobe Bryant and company beating Miami's heralded trio in the process.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."