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Bucks or Bulls? 2010-11 Central Division prediction

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Bucks or Bulls? 2010-11 Central Division prediction

Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
11:10 PM

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.

17. How will the Central Division race play out?

Over the past few months, a lot has changed in the Central Division. Obviously the departure of LeBron James from Cleveland shook things up a bit, but offseason moves by the Bulls, Milwaukee and, to lesser degrees, even Indiana and Detroit, have also had some influence.

By acquiring Carlos Boozer and bringing in six other new additions, Chicago completely re-shaped its roster, while keeping the core of forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, center Joakim Noah and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose intact. Add to that an expected emphasis on defense from new head coach Tom Thibodeau and it's easy to see why many observers expect the Bulls to be an upper-echelon Eastern Conference team.

But their neighbor to the north, the Bucks, also had a busy summer. After a surprising regular season that resulted in a playoff berth in which they took favored Atlanta to seven games in the first round, things were already looking up for Milwaukee. Australian center Andrew Bogut had a breakout season--albeit abbreviated, as a horrific season-ending injury sidelined him for the team's stretch run and postseason--and point guard Brandon Jennings was one of the league's top rookies, first gaining attention for a remarkable early-season 55-point outing, then gaining accolades, as he showed his game had some substance to go along with the flash.

Of course, the Bulls had something to do with Milwaukee's success. Not only was former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles responsible for the team's grittier mentality, but a trade-deadline deal that shipped former Bulls swingman John Salmons to the Bucks was a big reason for their success, as Salmons flourished in his role as a go-to scorer.

Milwaukee made Salmons an offseason priority, re-signing him in free agency, then making shrewd deals to acquire scoring swingman Corey Maggette, banger Jon Brockman and promising young wing Chris Douglas-Roberts from Golden State, Sacramento and New Jersey, respectively. Another wing player, Carlos Delfino, also re-signed with the team, well-traveled power forward Drew Gooden and veteran backup point guard Keyon Dooling were picked up in free agency, and high-upside power forward Larry Sanders--who subsequently justified his status as a potential rookie sleeper with his summer-league play in Las Vegas--was then selected in the draft (with a pick acquired from Chicago in the Salmons trade). With low-profile yet valuable role players like versatile forward Ersan Ilyasova and defensive stopper Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still in the fold, there's no reason the Bucks can't surpass what they achieved a season ago.

The Pacers, who seemingly still have yet to recover from the notorious "Malice in the Palace"--despite having no players on the roster who were active participants (longtime Pacer Jeff Foster took a peace-making approach) in the infamous brawl--were also active this summer.

A late-offseason four-team trade that netted Indiana young point guard Darren Collison and veteran small forward James Posey, with starting power forward Troy Murphy sent to New Jersey, was the source of optimism for fans in the Hoosier State. Collison, who had an outstanding rookie campaign in New Orleans with Chris Paul injured for much of the season, is regarded as the team's point guard of the future, a position at which Indiana has had much turnover in recent seasons. The team also drafted two promising youngsters in unheralded athletic swingman Paul George and scoring guard Lance Stephenson.

The loss of Murphy hurts--the organization hopes Tyler Hansborough, who showed signs of potential as a rookie, is fully recovered from a debilitating bout with vertigo last season--but along with center Roy Hibbert has improved every season he's been in the league. Although star forward Danny Granger appeared to regress last year, it's hoped that a humbling USA Basketball experience will result in a motivated, productive and better all-around season.

It's a been a steep decline in Detroit, as the former perennial-contending Pistons have been reduced to a shell of their former selves. Yes, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace are still on the team, but the latter two look to be on the downside of brilliant careers, while Prince has struggled with health issues.

The Pistons were mostly quiet in the offseason--with the exception of acquiring former All-Star Tracy McGrady in free agency. Regardless of whether "T-Mac" can recapture his past form, he joins a crowded wing rotation with the aforementioned Prince and Hamilton, along with former Bull Ben Gordon and the super-slender Austin Daye, who showed flashes of promise as a rookie.

Forward Charlie Villanueva, like Gordon, was regarded as a disappointment in his first year in Motown, after coming over as a free agent the previous summer. Villaneuva will share frontcourt minutes with Wallace, holdover Jason Maxiell, first-round pick Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko, who was one of the team's bright spots as a rookie. In the backcourt, Rodney Stuckey, Chicago native Will Bynum and sleeper second-round pick Terrico White provide some youth.

As for the reeling Cavaliers, James wasn't the only player to leave Cleveland, as veteran centers Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas also left in free agency. That could turn into a bright spot, as minutes in the post are freed up for defensive specialist Anderson Varejao and highly-regarded youngster J.J. Hickson.

Perhaps the team's biggest offseason move was the acquisition of guard Ramon Sessions, which says it all about the state of affairs for the Cavs. Veteran scorers Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams are back, but this will clearly be a rebuilding season, with new head coach Byron Scott patrolling the sidelines and a new front office in place.

Central Division predicted finish:

1. Milwaukee: The Bucks' combination of experience, chemistry built over last season and savvy offseason moves make them the front-runner.
2. Chicago: It will take time to build chemistry and adapt to a new system, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if Thibodeau's Bulls jell by the playoffs.

3. Indiana: If Granger is focused, Hibbert continues to make progress and Collison is truly the answer at point guard, things will be looking up.

4. Detroit: Figuring out a set rotation and solidifying post and point-guard play could be issues.
5. Cleveland: Little reason for optimism.

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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine makes All-Star statement in win over Cavs

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine makes All-Star statement in win over Cavs

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 118-116 win over the Cavs.

1:00        On Zach LaVine and his 42 point effort

2:00        Big Dave does LaVine highlites

4:20        Viewer comment on how much of a boost LaVine will get to his All-Star bid

7:30        On the new lineup in the 4th quarter

8:20        Viewer question on LaVine being the #1 option on a winning team

11:30     Viewer comment on if LaVine can lead Bulls into playoffs

14:45     Viewer comment on Markkanen in the 2nd half

16:30     On Boylen’s timeout usage at the end of the game

18:45     Breaking news: Kendall Gill wants to know if Matt Peck saw what Derrick Rose did tonight

21:45     Viewer comment on Bulls waking up in the 4th quarter

23:30     Viewer comment on if Thibs was coaching Kris Dunn

24:20     On Olympic swimmer Ryan Held wearing a Ryan Arcidiacono rookie jersey

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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Anatomy of a comeback: Bulls use defense, new lineup to rally vs. Cavaliers

Anatomy of a comeback: Bulls use defense, new lineup to rally vs. Cavaliers

The Bulls are in no position to judge victories, but Zach LaVine, as usual, nailed it with his assessment of Saturday’s 118-116 comeback victory over the Cavaliers.

“Ugly win,” LaVine said.

The Bulls allowed an opponent season-high 73 points in a sluggish first half, trailed by 19 in the third and by 15 to open the final period.

So what happened?

Defense, and another sublime offensive night from LaVine, happened.

But it seemed fitting on a night where LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the fourth that he also set his career-high with five steals. The 40-point, five-steal night put LaVine in select franchise company alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

The Bulls scored 16 points off 10 Cavaliers’ turnovers in the final period, limiting them to 14 points on 26.7 percent shooting. And they accomplished all this with a lineup they hadn’t used all season. It featured Kris Dunn at point guard, LaVine at shooting guard, Tomas Satoransky at small forward, Chandler Hutchison at power forward and Lauri Markkanen at center.

“KD, we joke about a guy being a cephalopod, an extremely fast and agile being,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I thought he was all over the place. We had six turnovers in the first seven possessions of the fourth. You gotta give our guys some credit. They found some juice. We were able to get a lineup there that could work. I thought Lauri got some pop back.”

He also got some minutes back.

Boylen called the first play of the game for Markkanen, utilized him in the post once and played him two seconds shy of 33 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter. Markkanen joked about turning the ball over on that first play call, but his 17 points on 14 shots and heavy minutes in crunch time were signs of progress.

“I had no problems with that,” Markkanen said of playing the entire fourth. “It was fun to be out there.”

LaVine and Hutchison each had three steals in the fourth as the Bulls tied their season-high of 17 steals. They also added to their league-leading totals of forcing turnovers and scoring off them by registering 33 points off 26 Cavaliers’ miscues.

“I was trying to rebound, get my hands on passes, just be active. We needed more energy,” Hutchison said of his surprising star turn. “Lauri was talking to me, going, ‘You’re going to be on the ball screen this time.’ And then we kind of switched it out. We could feel them deflating.”

Dunn rallied from Collin Sexton blowing by him a couple early possessions, which led to Boylen even trying Shaq Harrison on Sexton in the third. Dunn helped hold him scoreless in the fourth.

“I love his game. He plays with passion,” Dunn said. “He was trying to bring it to me. He made a couple big-time shots in the first half. I just had to keep doing what I do. When that fourth quarter came, I got the stops I needed.”

All the Bulls did. Ugly victory or not, it counts. Boylen may not use that lineup again, but that defensive mindset can carry.

“We switched a little bit, changed it up on them,” Dunn said. “I love what the coaches did, gave them a different look. We were just locked in. You could see it in each guy’s face.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.