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Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

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AP

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

When your team is no longer in playoff contention it's always a good time to look forward. The Bulls finally have a direction after trading Jimmy Butler on draft night and will go to a youth movement to build the talent pool back up. And with free agency pretty much wrapped up (although Derrick Rose is making noise) it's time to look at where Fred Hoiberg's group stands among the teams looking for the most ping-pong balls on Lottery night next May.

The numbers in parentheses are the projected over-under win totals in Las Vegas:

Brooklyn Nets (20.5 wins)

The good news? Brooklyn had an excellent offseason. The bad news? It's going to take way more than one good string of moves to fix this mess. In dealing Brook Lopez and a first-round pick for D'Angelo Russell, the Nets gave away their best player for one with a bright future. Drafting Jarrett Allen was another solid move, but he's barely 19 and is more of a project than anything right now. Taking on DeMarre Carroll's and Timofey Mozgov's contracts provide them more talent, but neither should get much playing time during the youth movement. It may be tough for this team to get to 20 wins.

Phoenix Suns (25.5 wins)

There might not be a better young core in the Western Conference than in Phoenix. With Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson (all lottery picks) leading the way, there's optimism about the Suns' future. It just might not lead to many victories in 2017-18. Bender is 19 and the others are 20, and veterans Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler are prime trade candidates. Phoenix is going somewhere, but expect them to pick in the top 3 a year from now.

Chicago Bulls (28.5 wins)

It's difficult right now to project how many wins the Bulls will tally. Restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic is still unsigned, and there are questions about whether Dwyane Wade will be bought out at some point during the season. Zach LaVine's timetable on returning from ACL surgery is still unknown, and the Bulls will take a cautious approach in bringing him back. Robin Lopez could also be dealt at some point. The young guns are going to get all the run they can handle, helping the rebuild while not doing much in the win department.

Sacramento Kings (30.5 wins)

The Kings went 8-17 after dealing DeMarcus Cousins, which projects to a 26-win season over an 82-game span. The good news is Scott Perry made this roster a whole lot better before leaving for the Knicks. Drafting De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III, and signing George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph has this roster looking as deep as it's been in quite some time. They're in the West, which makes things more difficult, but they're a good bet to make serious improvement in 2017.

Indiana Pacers (31.5 wins)

Like the Bulls, the Pacers began their rebuilding phase after dealing a star in Paul George. Indiana grabbed an established two-way guard in Victor Oladipo (25 years old) and 21-year-old Domantas Sabonis, Potential trade candidates are Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic. Myles Turner is a budding star, while young players in T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu and Glenn Robinson III will get plenty of playing time. Those four matchups against the Bulls could loom large as far as the Lottery balls are concerned.

Los Angeles Lakers (32.5 wins)

It looks like the Lakers hit on both their first-round draft picks, as Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma had monster Summer Leagues. Add Brook Lopez, who was outstanding last season, to a talented young core and it appears the Lakers are trending in the right direction. It wouldn't be surprising to see Los Angeles compete for a playoff spot. Plus, the Lakers have no incentive to tank, as their first-round pick in 2018 will go to Philadelphia or Boston. Expect them to move past the Bulls in the win total.

New York Knicks (32.5 wins)

Not sure about this one. It still seems there's a good chance Carmelo Anthony gets dealt, and depending on what they get back in a deal their second best player (behind Kristaps Porzingis) will be $71 million man Tim Hardaway Jr. They won 31 games a year ago, and it's hard to imagine they're better without Anthony, regardless of how inefficient he's become.

Atlanta Hawks (34.5 wins)

No team in the league took a bigger hit from where they were a year ago to now than the Hawks. After winning 43 wins and earning the No. 5 seed in the East, Atlanta lost Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. to free agency and traded Dwight Howard. Essentially it's Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and a ton of question marks. Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry and rookie John Collins are a good core, but this is going to be an ugly season in the ATL.

Dallas Mavericks (34.5 wins)

We'll go ahead and assume restricted free agent Nerlens Noel returns. So, too, is Dirk Nowitzki back for another year, and the Mavs look like they have a steal in rookie Dennis Smith Jr. They've entered a rebuild, which owner Mark Cuban admitted, but their talent across the board might be enough to get them to the 33 wins they had a year ago. Playing in the West makes it more difficult to project, but they should tally more wins than the Bulls simply on their talent pool.

Orlando Magic (34.5 wins)

This Las Vegas win total is a little confusing. Orlando made nice moves in the offseason, drafting Jonathan Isaac and signing Jonathon Simmons. But that's about it, and the Magic were lucky to win 29 games a year ago. True, they're in a depleted Eastern Conference but it's hard to see Frank Vogel turning around the franchise this quickly. That being said, their young players (Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon) have NBA experience, so maybe they make a jump and it results in wins.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing Bulls vs. Celtics

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing Bulls vs. Celtics

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue preview the Bulls-Celtics playoff series. 

Gill explains why he's picking the Bulls in six, and you'll find out the one player who could be the x-factor of the series. 

Later, the trio breaks down the rest of the NBA playoffs and why Cavaliers fans should be nervous about facing the Pacers in the first round. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

 

Cavaliers: LeBron James had never been swept by a division opponent, until this year's Bulls

Cavaliers: LeBron James had never been swept by a division opponent, until this year's Bulls

LeBron James wins a lot. This should come as no surprise, as the three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP has put together a Hall of Fame career by age 32 and doesn't seem to be slowing down.

His dominance over the Eastern Conference also speaks for itself, as James has been to an NBA-record-tying six straight NBA Finals. Widdling his success down even further, James has commanded the Central Division in his 10 seasons with the Cavaliers, and the Southeast Division in his four seasons with the Heat.

Since the NBA created in 2004 the current divisions, James has won division titles in nine of those 13 seasons; James' Cavaliers won the Central five times and his Heat won the Southeast each of the four seasons he played there. James hasn't not won a division title since 2008, a span of nine years

His divisions have featured some pretty awful teams, such as the 2012 Bobcats that went 7-59 in a lockout-shortened season. His divisions also featured the likes of the Pistons' East dominance in the mid-2000s.

In the current division format, James has played 52 regular-season series against the Central and Southeast, respectively.

In 51 of those series James earned at least one victory in the four-game* season series.

Meet the 2016-17 Bulls.

With Thursday night's 99-93 victory over the Cavaliers, LeBron James was swept by a division opponent for the first time in his 14-year Hall of Fame career.

Dec. 2: Bulls 111, Cavaliers 105
Jan. 4: Bulls 106, Cavaliers 94
Feb. 25: Bulls 117, Cavaliers 99
Mar. 30: Bulls 99, Cavaliers 93

In 10 seasons with the Cavaliers and four with the Heat, James' teams hold a 135-70 division record. That includes games against the Central's Bulls, Bucks, Pistons and Pacers, and the the Southeast's Hornets/Bobcats, Wizards, Magic and Hawks.

Of those 51 series (the Cavs still play the Pacers once more this season), here's how James has fared.

4-0: 12 times
3-1: 17 times
2-2: 11 times
1-3: 8 times
0-4: 1 time

3-0: 1 time (lockout-shortened season)
1-2: 1 time (lockout-shortened season)

And against each opponent:

Charlotte: 15-0
Orlando: 12-4
Atlanta: 12-4
Milwaukee: 26-10
Indiana: 24-11
Washington: 10-5
Chicago: 18-18
Detroit: 18-18

In what has been an incredibly odd year for the Bulls, full of unthinkable losses and improbable victories, the fact that they were the ones to sweep James for the first time is perhaps the most remarkable stat of all.

Go figure.