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2007-08 NBA Preview: The Central Division
By RAUL SMITH, MOP Squad Sports Staff Writer
Oct 13, 2007 - 3:23:00 AM

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2007-08 NBA Preview: Central Division


It’s that time of year once again, sports fans.   Baseball’s NLCS and ALCS are underway, football is very much in full throttle, and the NHL has kicked off, leaving one major sports league left to get started…the NBA!


And much like last year, I will once again take a stab at predicting how the NBA season will go in 2007-08.   So with that said, here is a look at the NBA, division-by-division, team-by-team, courtesy of MOP Squad Sports columnist Raul Smith.


Today, I start the six-part NBA preview column series with a look at perhaps the most competitive division in basketball, the Central Division, home to the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.


Chicago Bulls

Head coach : Scott Skiles is in his 5th season as head coach of the Bulls, his 8th as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 49-33, good enough for third in the Central Division and a 5th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.   They swept the Miami Heat in the first round 4-0, but then lost in the next round to the Detroit Pistons 4-2.

MVP Candidate : “Big” Ben Wallace, the dominant presence in the middle, proved to everybody last year why he is still considered one of the best defensive centers of the last ten years.

Here’s the lowdown : last year was a classic example of how Chicago Bulls basketball used to be, before Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright went and screwed the whole thing up.   This year, Jerry Krause and Scott Skiles hope to build upon that.   They’ve pretty much kept the entire team from last year intact, minus Malik Allen.   They’ve also added some good players during the offseason in rookie Joakim Noah and free agent Joe Smith.   An already great frontcourt of Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, Andres Nocioni, and Luol Deng can only benefit from having the energy and fun-loving attitude of Noah as well as a man in Smith who will be out to prove that he still has game left in him.   Just as long as Noah leaves his Draft Day attire at home this season.   Also, don’t forget the Bulls have a good backcourt duo in Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, as well.

Player to watch this season : the rookie from Florida and the ninth pick overall in last June’s NBA Draft, Joakim Noah.   On most other teams, Noah would be a good starting power forward.   But on this team, he will have to share starting time with both Joe Smith and Tyrus Thomas.   But hey, what’s the old saying… “Competition is always good for everybody.”


Cleveland Cavaliers

Head coach : Mike Brown is in his third season as head coach of the Cavaliers.

Last year’s record : 50-32, which was good enough for second in the Central Division and a 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.   The Cavaliers pulled off an improbable run all the way to the NBA Finals by defeating Washington (4-0), New Jersey (4-2), and Detroit (4-2), before losing in the Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in a clean sweep, 4-0.

MVP Candidate : “King” LeBron James is the MVP candidate for the Cleveland Cavaliers until further notice.   He has certainly lived up to the hype of being the Michael Jordan for this franchise.

Here’s the lowdown : last year, the Cavaliers pulled off a very improbable, but certainly not impossible, run to the NBA Finals before getting embarrassingly swept by the Spurs.   And the defense of the Eastern Conference crown will not be easy for King James and his Cavaliers.   When you are the top dog in any sport, and especially if you are the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, you will have a bulls-eye on your collective chests.   Boston has re-tooled, Detroit has re-loaded for another shot at the crown, Miami is looking to bounce back, Washington could surprise a lot of people, and don’t forget about the surging Bulls.   And that’s just the tip of the Titanic-esque iceberg that Cleveland needs to steer clear of.   Losing Anderson Varejao will not make matters any easier, if indeed that’s what happens.   The addition of Ogden, Utah native Devin Brown will help offset the loss of David Wesley.

Player to watch this season : long-time center for the Cavaliers, Zydrunas Ilgauskas.   If the Cavaliers are going to have any chance at all of repeating as the conference champions, in a conference that is now loaded with good centers, their center will need to pick his game up.   Last year, Ilgauskas averaged a little under twelve points and eight boards a game.   Granted, LeBron is the man now, but Ilgauskas can still rebound the ball more than eight times a game.


Detroit Pistons

Head coach : Flip Saunders is in his third season as head coach for the Detroit Pistons, and thirteenth season as a head coach in the NBA.

Last year’s record : 53-29, good enough to win the Central Division crown and earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.   They defeated Orlando 4-0 and Chicago 4-2, before falling in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2.

MVP Candidate : Chauncey Billups is widely considered the MVP candidate for this team, and Joe Dumars showed in the offseason just how valuable C-Bill is by re-signing him to a very lucrative contract.

Here’s the lowdown : in Detroit, going to the conference finals nowadays is almost expected.   Getting killed by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a division rival, is just not good enough for Pistons fans, however.   It certainly seemed like the team was ready to fall apart shortly after they lost to the Cavs.   But, somehow, the re-signing of Chauncey Billups has reunited this team once again.   All the major components are back with exception to veteran forwards Chris Webber and Dale Davis.   They even added Rodney Stuckey from Eastern Washington with the fifteenth pick in the draft to help bolster their backcourt.   The question now remains, “Can the Pistons regroup and find a way to once again reach the NBA Finals?”   This will also be a statement season for the legacy of coach Flip Saunders.   The Pistons have yet to reach the NBA Finals since Flip has taken over for Larry Brown as the head coach.   Add on the fact that Flip couldn’t take a loaded Minnesota Timberwolves team out of the first round of the playoffs for years and that doesn’t smile favorably upon his legacy.

Player to watch this season : Rasheed Wallace is the guy Pistons fans should keep a very close eye on.   He says that he and Flip Saunders are now getting along fine, but that’s as of early October.   Email me if they’re getting along fine come mid-May 2008.   I’ll even leave my email address at the bottom of this column.


Indiana Pacers

Head coach : Jim O’Brien is in his first season as head coach for the Indiana Pacers and his sixth season as a head coach in the NBA.   He spent his first four seasons as a head coach for the Boston Celtics, and his fifth season as a head coach he spent as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Last year’s record : 35-47, which was good enough for fourth in the Central Division but not good enough to make the playoffs.

MVP Candidate : Jermaine O’Neal, who has been the epicenter for trade rumors in recent weeks, most notably linked to rumors involving the Los Angeles Lakers and their beleaguered forward Lamar Odom.   How well he plays amidst the trade rumors remains to be seen.

Here’s the lowdown : Pacers fans can’t possibly be enjoying this recent string of years where they’ve missed the playoffs.   But, that’s exactly what happened yet again last season.   So, you’d at least think that with the brilliant executive mind of Larry Bird at the helm, that the Indiana Pacers would at least make some note-worthy moves to try and improve?   Well, to be fair, aside from Jermaine O’Neal, who does Indiana have to offer these days?   They no longer have the Bad Boys trio of Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Al Harrington to push around anymore.   Their second-best player is a man (Mike Dunleavy Jr) whose father is the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.   And a draft prospect from the past, Danny Granger, hasn’t exactly panned out as well as everybody had hoped.   Not to mention the Pacers’ backcourt is shot and they didn’t have a single draft pick this past June.   So yeah, things are not looking up very much at all for the Pacers.   In fact, there’s a word that describes what the Pacers are going through best: rebuilding.

Player to watch this season : six-year NBA veteran forward Troy Murphy.   If in fact the Pacers pull a deal and send Jermaine O’Neal packing before the trade deadline, especially for much-needed backcourt help, look for Murphy to immediately make an impact at the four.


Milwaukee Bucks

Head coach : former Jazz forward Larry Krystkowiak is in his second season as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, his first full season as an NBA head coach.

Last year’s record : 28-54, earning this team fifth and last place in the Central Division, and obviously a trip to the lottery.

MVP Candidate : perennial All-Star guard Michael Redd needs to take the next step in becoming the icon of this team that he is capable of being in order for this team to go anywhere this season.

Here’s the lowdown : Bucks fans have reason to celebrate this season, but beware to keep it a cautious celebration.   Reason being is because the sixth overall pick in the draft, Yi Jianlian, has agreed to play in Milwaukee this season after all.   Adding the big man from China to an already-stacked starting lineup of Michael Redd, Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut, and Charlie Villanueva will make the Bucks the most improved team in the Central Division.   They also added Michael Ruffin, Desmond Mason, and Samaki Walker, all while dumping Ruben Patterson and his reputation for being a sex offender.   With the Pacers down this season, this could finally be the year that Milwaukee can claw their way out of the Central Division cellar for the first time in years.

Player to watch this season : backup guard Charlie Bell, who was all set to go to Miami until the Bucks matched his offer sheet from the Heat.   He’s not said to be very happy about it, but as history has shown, just because you’re not starting at point guard for the Bucks on opening night doesn’t mean you won’t before the season is over.   So if I’m Charlie Bell, I continue to work hard and hope that I get the opportunity to prove myself, and perhaps get another opportunity later in my career to go elsewhere.


Overall, here’s a look at where I think each team will rank at the end of the season:


1.) Detroit Pistons: even though they may fall again in the playoffs, as far as the regular season goes, it’s still the Pistons and everybody else.   DEEET-ROIT BASKETBALL!

2.) Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James will not let this team fall too far from the top in the regular season.   Just keep in mind come playoff time to keep an eye on these guys.

3.) Chicago Bulls: Too much depth in the frontcourt for other teams to contend with, but not enough in the backcourt for the Bulls to contend.

4.) Milwaukee Bucks: Yi makes a very big difference and the Bucks finally take the next step.

5.) Indiana Pacers: look for Jermaine O’Neal to be wearing a different uniform before this season’s over.


That’s a look at the Central Division.   Tomorrow, it’s onward to the Atlantic Division, where a dynasty from the past looks to make it seventeen NBA championships.


Emails welcome at

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