2014-2015 NBA Divisional Preview: Central Divison

*As I post this, several games are already underway. The Bulls are looking okay but still smacking the Knicks. The Knicks stink.  Look for an Opening Night recap blog tomorrow. Derrick Rose still has both knees intact. Praise Allah.

Eastern Conference: Central Division

– I am so so so excited about this NBA season, primarily the Bulls and Cavs seasons.  Now I know you’re thinking “Woah, dude, easy with that Hot Take, you might burn us,”  but it’s true.  The NBA is back and it is fucking awesome.

–  There is no other way to think about this. As long as health isn’t a problem, this is a two team race.  Really, if Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving stay healthy, the Eastern Conference as a whole is a two team race.  I won’t even mention Lebron because that guy is the Terminator. I bet he sleeps in a hyperbolic chamber and regenerates wounds like Hugh Jackman. Can you imagine if I was jinxing his health right now? I’d have to move back home to Chi. I could be King. At least until Theo wins the WS in 2016, but that’s for another blog.

– The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be so fun to watch, primarily on offense. it really is amazing to think about what this team can accomplish with Love and James crashing the glass for offensive rebounds while also stepping out for jumpers when Kyrie creates, while also playing high-low in the post (or high-low-low with Anderson Varajao or Tristan Thompson).  You could put Kyrie, James, Love, Varajao, Thompson on the court and they could still run the floor for 5 minute spurts.  It’s insane to think about.  In reality, Dion Waiters will play big minutes at SG and Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, and James Jones will all contribute throughout the season, whether that’s defensively, shooting/spacing, or both (Marion).  AJ Price is a formidable backup PG, too.  As a Bulls fan, my only hope is that it takes most of the season for these guys to hit their stride.  Given the many different options, it will be tough for rookie coach David Blatt to figure out his best situational lineups early on, so hopefully when they play a smart, defense-first team with shooters (Chicago), the’ll struggle (relatively).  Not counting James and Marion, no Cavalier is known for defensive efficiency, but LeBron is so good that  over time he can mold any group into a formidable defense. Only time will tell if Cleveland will be able to lock teams down come playoff time.  Offensively, they might break the regular season record for offensive efficiency.

 As I write this, the Chicago Bulls are absolutely dismantling the Knicks. It’s 95-65 in with 7 minutes left. Truly, the most impressive part of the night has been the backup unit.  Taj Gibson is doing Taj Gibson things, Aaron Brooks looks like he will continue the run of killer backup point guards on the Bulls, Nikola Mirotic is running the floor well, playing tough and showing nice touch around the paint, and Dougie McDermott is lighting MSG on fucking fire.  Old hat for him, really. Dougie’s been there. Heinrich played like Heinrich and Tony Snell has done some good things on both ends of the floor, too.  The backup unit for Chicago might win them 30 games on their own. Seriously, this second unit, coached by Thibs, can serve the bottom 12 teams in the league. Easy.

Onto more important things. Chicago has played incredible defense all night.  Rose looks great (health-wise) and he is the obvious key to the whole season.  D-Rose hasn’t shot well tonight, but the flash, speed, and creative ability are all there.  The shooting will come.  Same goes for Noah and Pau. They are some of the most consistent Bigs in the League.  Gasol will get you 17/8 and Noah is a double-double machine who will inspire the team every night.  Not that they necessarily need him screaming when Thibs is on the sideline.  What a fucking maniac. Honestly, I don’t want to jinx anything like above with LeBron, but this team looks excellent. Jimmy Butler is out with a hand injury (day-to-day).  Along with Noah, he is the main cog in the defensive wheel.  When all is said and done, the season comes down to Rose’s health, and those two leading the only defense in the NBA that might hold down Cleveland.  Friday night will be awesome.

Detroit Pistons: Detroit is an easy team for the casual fan to overlook, but I think Stan Van Gundy gets this team to the verge of the playoffs.  He will not play the triple-headed monster of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Dre Drummond together for 1,000 minutes this season.  Too inefficient and SVG is too good of a coach.  He also won’t let Josh Smith chuck threes all day.  I really think the talent on this team can be scary with the right coach, and he can be that guy.   They’ll struggle defending premier guards in the league, but that frontcourt is scary on both ends.  Jodie Meeks and second-year man Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will provide scoring at the 2, and Brandon Jennings can fill it up at PG.  BJ needs to guard someone, though.  I think they start out sneaky hot in the first half (eg. Atlanta last year) and get in the playoffs.  Either that, or SVG blows it up, trades Smith, Jennings, and maybe Monroe, and tries to develop Drummond, Caldwell-Pope, and rookie PF Tony Mitchell.  The 8-seed in the East is a toss-up for me between DET and Charlotte. It pains me to pick against Lance and the back-again Hornets, but I think Detroit edges them out.

The Indiana Pacers make me sad. They are a fun team, but without Paul George this season they aren’t going anywhere.  This is the year for them to tank, trade and accumulate commodities for the future, but I really don’t see Larry Bird & Co going that route.  They have enough veterans on the roster to play good defense and get them in the 7-11 range in the East.  I just don’t see this team laying down.  I think David West, Roy Hibbert, and George Hill do enough with the role players to give them hope for the first fifty games.  They’ll finish 10th in the East, get PG back, and look to go to work next season.

Milwaukee Bucks – This team is going to be so much fun to watch. This is not the same kind of “fun to watch” as the Cavs or Bulls. This is more fun in the ilk of “OMG did you see Giannis go coast-to-coast in 2 dribbles,” or “Holy shit, Jabari just hit that 3 from the corner out-of-bounds that was sick!” or “Umm, I think Jason Kidd just stabbed OJ Mayo, he’s just lumped over in his chair. Now the towel boy is mopping up blood. Is Kidd trying to stall the game, again?”

I really want to pick them as a sleeper to make the playoffs but that seems one or two years too premature.  Any group of youngins being mentored by OJ Mayo is a group due for some hard times. If Jabari Parker wasn’t Mormon I would say that he and Larry Sanders might become coke dealers. At the very least, Jabari and Nate Wolters might get crazy and huff some Pot. Thinking about it now, Larry might be an actual cocaine dealer. Don’t let Larry anywhere near Mallory Edens.

For real, though, I am pumped to see this group play together.  Hopefully, Mayo and Sanders will get their heads right and put together productive seasons.  Larry was a human highlight reel two years ago so it’d be nice to see that again.  Jabari should average anywhere from 18-20ppg once he gets going.  He’s going to get big minutes. And the most interesting man in the league, the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetonkuompo may very well play all five positions.  He’s listed at SG, but Jason Kidd spent all preseason experimenting with him in different roles, including point guard.  He was like a taller, less-polished Shaun Livingston.  It was perfect.  That’s all I have to say about the Bucks, really.  I think they surprise some teams here and there, and look horrific in a lot of other games.  Oh, and Nate Wolters is my new Luke Ridnour.  God bless those two gentleman.

Predictions: Chicago goes 59-23, wins the division and 1st in the East.  Cleveland goes 57-25, 2nd and 2nd.  Those two meet in the East finals (woah, man, real bold).  The Pistons win 39-40 games and sneak in as the 8 seed.  Indiana plays tough even though they would be wise not to, and finishes 4th in the division, 11th in the East.  Bucks are fun, finish last, and 13th in the East.

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