NBA Central Division Round Up: Bulls and Pacers Ready to Challenge for East Crown

Aaaannd we’re back! After some time off due to a new job (check me out on Bleacher Report), your favorite weekly division round up (excluding my Northwest round up) has returned. At this point in the season Indiana and Chicago have separated themselves from the pack. Expect this gap between the Central’s rich and poor (talent wise) to grow with the return of injured stars. Milwaukee is around the .500 team we have seen all season and will continue to see. While, Detroit might surprise some people and Cleveland is just bad.
CENTRAL
DIFF
L10
24
16
.600
15-3
9-13
5-2
14-10
91.1
89.1
+2.0
Lost 1
7-3
22
15
.595
 ½
11-10
11-5
5-3
18-6
93.9
91.7
+2.2
Won 2
7-3
20
18
.526
3
10-9
10-9
6-5
16-9
96.3
97.4
-1.1
Won 1
4-6
14
25
.359
9 ½
10-11
4-14
4-2
11-11
94.8
96.3
-1.5
Lost 2
6-4
10
31
.244
14 ½
4-12
6-19
1-9
7-18
95.0
100.4
-5.4
Won 1
3-7
The Indiana Pacers
Games Since Last Round Up: 7-4
1. Win vs. Phoenix 97-91
2. Loss @ Atlanta 109-100
3. Win vs. Memphis 88-83
4. Loss @ Boston 94-75
5. Win vs. Milwaukee 95-80
6. Win vs. Miami 87-77
7. Win vs. NY Knicks 81-76
8. Win vs. Charlotte 96-88
9. Loss @ Brooklyn 97-86
10. Win @ Charlotte 103-76
11. Loss @ Orlando 97-86
 Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-2
1.  vs Houston 7:00 on Friday
2. @ Memphis 1:00 on Monday
3. @ Portland 10:00 on Wednesday
When I was growing up I had a basketball hoop on the street in front of my house. From when I took it out of the box, to when it broke in a storm I would shoot on it every day. Mind you, this was not the nicest hoop, it wasn’t exactly ten feet, the back board was dead and the rim slanted to the right, but I loved it. The hoop’s deficiencies became a strength when I was shooting on it, for no one knew my hoop like I did. Those irregularities made it unique, and what made it unique made me difficult to beat on it.
How does this relate to the Pacers you ask? Well, with the way they play at home, their court can’t be regulation. The Pacers are currently making use of their own proverbial dead backboard, on their way to a 15-3 home record. Since I last covered them, they are 6-0 at home and 1-4 on the road. 
The Pacers score nearly six points a game more at home than on the road while giving up over 3 more points a game away from Indiana. That’s around a nine point a game difference. To put that in perspective, the Pacers are a plus 8.6 at home, meaning if they played all of their games at home they would be the third best team in the league (behind OKC and LAC). Conversely they are a negative 2.6 on the road, which would leave them slightly worse than Detroit and Toronto.

Indiana’s problem all season long has been scoring. Two weeks ago they fooled me into believing this problem was on its way to being fixed. Now looking back I see that their improved scoring was a byproduct of a five game home stretch. If they are to make any noise this season the Pacers need to play better on the road. If they are to play better on the road they need to score more.
Good thing the cavalry is close to arriving, in the form of Danny Granger. According to his coach he is scheduled to return in February:
“Dakich: Do you anticipate him (Granger) back and if so, when?
Vogel: Yeah, we absolutely anticipate him back. He’s doing well. His knee is healing and right now they’re at the point where they are just trying to increase activity on a daily and weekly basis to make sure it can hold up to the where and tear of the NBA season. And everything has held up pretty strongly so far. I’m not sure what the exact time table is but probably some time early in February.”
(http://www.indycornrows.com/2013/1/16/3885186/danny-granger-injury-frank-vogel-discusses-grangers-rehab-progress) 
In his absence Paul George has emerged as a number one option. Taking over the role as, not just the best offensive player on the team, but the best defensive player as well. When Granger returns, the league should watch out. At that time Indiana will have a balanced scoring attack to compliment the stingiest defense in the Association. Until he gets back however, the Pacers will do as they have the entire season, lose on the road and win at home. It is for this reason I expect them to go 1-2 this week.
The Chicago Bulls
Games Since Last Round Up: 7-3
1. Win vs. Washington 87-77
2. Loss vs. Charlotte 91-81
3. Win @ Orlando 96-94
4. Win @ Miami 96-89
5. Win vs. Cleveland 118-92
6. Loss vs. Milwaukee 104-96
7. Win @ NY Knicks 108-101
8. Loss vs. Phoenix 97-81
9. Win vs. Atlanta 97- 58!
10. Win @ Toronto 107-105 OT
Next Week’s Games: Projected outcome 2-2
1. @ Boston Friday at 7:00
2. vs. Memphis Saturday at 8:00
3. vs. LA Lakers Monday at 9:30
4. vs. Detroit Wednesday at 8:00

When the Bulls are most successful their games are more wrestling matches than basketball contests. This season, the Bulls have taken on the personalities of Hawk and Animal, because they are Road Warriors. (see video at the end if you don’t get the reference).

The Bulls are the anti-Pacers, playing much better on the road (11-5) than they are at home (11-10). This disparity is very rare in the NBA but it is not just a statistical anomaly. While traveling on the road a basketball team can become a closed environment. Instead of going home after practice to be with your family, you only have your teammates and they become your family. Without the distractions from home the Bulls players ban together and increase their ball movement, leading to a 4.6 point per game increase in scoring on the road.

Chicago is very similar to Indiana, in that they are trying to do the best they can without their number one scorer. Just like the Pacers, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Rose has begun to practice in a limited capacity. When he ramps this up to full contact practice his return will shortly follow. Tom Thibedeaux recently gave some standard coach-speak answers to the Chicago Tribune regarding Rose (responding to a question about how they monitor Rose’s progress)

“”We’ll do it in pre-practice and post-practice,” Thibodeau said. “There are parts of practice where there is contact but it’s not extended right now. You’re practicing less time. But he’s doing fine.
“We have a great medical staff. We trust the doctors to map the plan out. He has done a great job following the plan. We’re up to date every day. That’s normal though. It’s not only with him but all the players.” (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-15/sports/ct-spt-0116-bits-bulls-chicago–20130116_1_tom-thibodeau-derrick-rose-medical-staff)

Not much can be gleaned from these quotes, but the fact that Rose is being discussed at all, means, that he will return sooner rather than later. For the Pacers, the return of Danny Granger will make them a better team. The Bulls are much more reliant on Rose, because he isthe team. With the way this team has played so far this year, there is no doubt that when Rose comes back the Bulls can re-assume their rightful spot in the upper echelon of the NBA.

This weak I expect the Bulls to lose to a hot Boston team (barring Avery Bradley not playing) then beat Memphis and the Lakers on the road. This year the Bulls have shown that they can beat anyone when they bring defensive intensity for the entire game. When they don’t exhibit this trademark they lose to bad team like Phoenix. I expect their defensive intensity to be lacking against a cellar dwelling Detroit squad, who will
upset them.

The Milwaukee Bucks:
This Weeks Games: 5-6
1. Win vs Miami 104-85
2. Loss @ Detriot 96-94
3. Loss vs San Antonio 117-110
4. Loss vs Houston 115-101
5. Loss @ Indiana 95-80
6. Win vs Phoenix 108-99
7. Win @ Chicago 104-96
8. Loss vs Detroit 103-87
9. Win @ Toronto 107-96
10. Loss @ LA Lakers 104-88
11. Win @ Phoenix 98-94
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 0-2
1. @ Portland Saturday at 10:00
2. vs. Philadelphia Sunday at 8:00

The Bucks just completed stretch of truly mediocre basketball. During this stretch they have looked good while beating Miami, and Chicago. They have also looked bad losing to Cleveland Detroit twice and the, until recently, hapless Lakers.

While gritting through this average stretch the Bucks and Scott Skilesparted ways. In a recent article Gary Washburn sheds light on the situation:

“The reality in Milwaukee is that coach Scott Skiles wanted out months ago, putting his house up for sale in the area and banking that he could get the Orlando job. It didn’t happen, and Skiles had no interest in a contract extension with a roster that is a strange combination of aging veterans, solid but not spectacular youngsters, and the backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, who can score but can’t defend. Skiles never liked this roster and had lost his zest to coach, so his exit was good for both sides. Skiles wants to coach again, but he has burned bridges in so many locations that it’s hard to imagine him finding a job anytime soon.” (http://bostonglobe.com/sports/2013/01/13/sam-mitchell-tutelage-helped-make-kevin-garnett-intense-player/5qSK7QcaCPrIU7QXv1qNTL/story.html)
Wait, so the record holder for assists in a game didn’t want to coach a back court that doesn’t pass and can’t defender? I for one am shocked!
Apparently Skiles realized before the season what everyone but the Milwaukee front office figured out immediately, that the Bucks are a flawed team. With their recent drop towards .500 hopefully management realizes as well. If this team is to make some noise this season they need to ship either Jennings or Ellis out of town, preferably for someone who can pass the ball.
Expect the Bucks to go 0-2 this week against a team without a bench and another team whose best player hasn’t played all season. These are your 2012-2013 Milwaukee Bucks!

The Detroit Pistons
This Week’s Games: 6-2
1. Win vs. Miami 109-99
2. Win vs. Milwaukee 96-94
3. Win vs. Sacramento 103-97
4. Win vs. Atlanta 85-84
5. Win vs. Charlotte 108-101
6. Win vs. Milwaukee 103-87
7. Loss vs. Utah 90-87
8. Loss vs. Knicks 102-87 (in England)
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-2
1. vs. Boston Sunday at 7:30
2. vs. Orlando Tuesday at 7:30
3. @ Chicago Wednesday at 8:00

Detroit is in the midst of their best basketball of the season. Since I last penned this piece, the Pistons have beat playoff teams in Miami, Atlanta and Milwaukee (twice). After a horrid start to the season in which they went 0-8 to open the gates, the Pistons have only been three games under .500. While their record is not indicative of a team competing for a playoff spot, their recent six game win streak, is.

The Pistons will be in the playoff hunt when the season is in its closing days. On face value, that is an outrageous statement, but when looking at the other teams competing for the 8th spot, it makes sense. Right now Detroit basketball is in the 11th spot but only 2 games out of the 9thspot.

Of the teams ahead of them competing for the 8th spot, they are the best team. Milwaukee will fall apart due to a lack of ball movement or talent gutting trade. Orlando is not very good, residing in the 10thspot mostly because of their good start. Philadelphia will be the biggest threat but in the end it will end up being a lost season after building their team around someone who is out most of the year. If it comes down to it, I think Detroit would beat all these teams head to head.

With a team so young they will only get better with experience as the season runs its course. By the end of the year they will be the best team among those competing for the last playoff spot, the question is will their early season struggles be too much for them to overcome.

This week the Pistons will lose to Boston, against a Celtics team with revenge on its mind following a loss earlier in the season. The Pistons will finish up the week beating a below average Orlando team and knocking off a Chicago team that won’t have their switch in the on position against Detroit.

The Cleveland Cavaliers
This Week’s Games: 2-8
1. Loss vs. Atlanta 102-94
2. Loss @ Brooklyn 103-100
3. Loss vs. Sacramento 97-94
4. Loss vs. Houston 112-104
5. Loss @ Chicago 118-92
6. Win vs. Atlanta 99-83
7. Loss @ Denver 98-91
8. Loss @ LA Lakers 113-93
9. Loss @ Sacramento 124-118
10. Win @ Portland 93-88
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 0-3
1. vs.  Boston Sunday at 7:30
2. vs. Orlando Tuesday at 7:30
3. @ Chicago Wednesday at 8:00
Not sure what insight I can give about the Cavs, other to say they are bad and a few years away from turning things around. The most logical direction I could go in would be to explain the things that make them so bad.
Cleveland is a team bereft of veteran presence. When Anderson Varejao went down so did any chance of sustained success this year. Young players are prone to mistakes, the more young players you have, the more likely a mistake is on any given possession.
To be fair, their poor play should not shock anyone. We knew coming into the season that they were too young to compete. What has been surprising is the way they have been bad. If I told you that a basketball team has a star point guard any rational basketball fan would expect an up tempo fast break team. This is exactly what I thought before looking at the statistics.
It is shocking to find out that once Kyrie Irving came back this team has been far more successful in low scoring defensive games. An optimist would say that this shows the Cavs have great defensive potential. While a realist would admit that they can’t make heads or tails of this team other than to say they are awful. Since they are awful I expect them to go 0-3 this week.
Outro
Thanks again for reading. You can expect the next edition of this column on Thursday. Check out Bleacher Report, using the link above or just search my name under BR. You can also expect my weekly Northwest Wrap up on Saturday and our Podcast should be up Sunday (If not I’m going to murder Brian and destroy the podcast to protect my innocence). I promise that the round ups will be shorter next week. Now for your viewing pleasure the Road Warriors!

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