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2006-07 NBA Central Division Preview

By Drew Mangione of Doc's Sports Picks


Last year's deepest division should retain that title, with more top-notch teams, but one less playoff slot. This is LeBron's division and he's only 21. What were you doing at 21? I'll bet you sure as hell weren't arguably the best in your field, even if all you do is clean toilets, write news or sell ads. The KJV of the Cavs will win its first division title since Jim Chones manned the low block and Bill Fitch roamed the sidelines in 1976.

The stories in this division are plentiful. The Pistons are on the decline, but still good. Ben Wallace moved down the division and made the Bulls a fashionable pick. But the trendy play is generally a poor one in any sport, as has been proven again this year. What happened to the Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Dolphins? If we head a few hours south on I-65 there may be a wager I'm eager to take the over on - 2.5. That's the O/U on the number of manslaughter and/or rape charges to be lodged against Indiana Pacers players this season. I figure Stephen Jackson is good for two.

With that said, the Milwaukee Bucks and Cavs are good bets to improve, thanks to solid management and an understanding of what kinds of talent can help win basketball games. Expect both of these teams to make a deal or two as the season progresses to make a bigger push.

Here's a breakdown of each team in the division:

2005 Record: 64-18 (1st Division, 1st Conference)
2006 Title odds: 10/1
2006 Wins O/U: 51.5
2006 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Nazr Mohammed, C; Ronald "Flip" Murray, SG
Key Losses: Ben Wallace, C; Maurice Evans, SF
Outlook: The Pistons lost more than just their starting center when Wallace signed with Chicago, they lost their defensive identity. The big man cleaned up a lot of mistakes by lurking beneath the basket and cleaning the glass. However, Mohammed should be a serviceable replacement and this team can still play. Look for Tayshaun Prince to continue his improvement, while 'Sheed continues his decline now that he's whining about being told to stop whining.
Bottom line: This is still one of the top four teams in the East, but perhaps the longest shot at an NBA title. The run is over and unfortunately Flip Saunders may take the blame.

2005 Record: 50-32 (2nd Division, 4th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 9/1
2006 Wins O/U: 48
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Scott Pollard, C; David Wesley, PG
Key Losses: Ronald "Flip" Murray, SG; Allan Henderson, PF
Outlook: Can LeBron get better? As scary as it is, he most certainly can. He wears 23 and everyone makes the Jordan comparisons, but to me he looks like a higher quality Scottie Pippen, who himself was one of the best swingmen in league history. To be more like Jordan, the kid has to learn to play in the block. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is just 31, but the 7-3 post threat gets measurable slower each year. Larry Hughes needs to (and may well) live up to the hype, though the team is still weak at power forward. Drew Gooden is not the answer.
Bottom line: This Cavs going eight deep aren't as good as the Pistons, but LeBron makes his teammates better and the kid will carry this team to a division title. They're only a legitimate rebounder away from a title run. Let's see who's free when trade deadline rolls around.

2005 Record: 41-41 (3rd Division, 6th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 53/1
2006 Wins O/U: 44.5
2006 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Marquis Daniels, SG; Al Harrington, F; Shawne Williams (r), F
Key Losses: Fred Jones, SG; Peja Stojakovic, SF; Austin Croshere, PF; Anthony Johnson, PG
Outlook: The books all like this team way more than I do and I think the under is guaranteed money, no matter what the fallout is from Stephen Jackson's continued thuggery, firing shots outside a strip club. Hey Steve, you may think you're innocent, but what goes up (bullets), must come down (the Pacers' season). Jermaine O'Neal should bounce back, but who does he have around him? Tinsley is a coward in big spots. Al Harrington scored 18 ppg last year, but the Hawks gladly surrendered him back to Indiana for a sandwich.
Bottom line: This team has one player and is otherwise stocked with overrated punks. Rick Carlilse is a good coach, but even if he had John Wooden and Red Auerbach as his assistants, 45 wins would be a huge stretch.

2005 Record: 41-41 (4th Division, 7th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 25/1
2006 Wins O/U: 48
2006 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Ben Wallace, C; P.J. Brown, PF; Adrian Griffin, G/F; Tyrus Thomas (r), PF
Key Losses: Tyson Chandler, C; Othella Harrington, PF; Eric Piatkowski, SF
Outlook: Many pundits and bettors love the Bulls this year but be wary of drinking that Kool Aid. Ben Gordon can score, but is he a No. 1 option? Luol Deng may prove to be the best player on this team, but the dirty Andres Nocioni starts. The Elvish Kirk Hinrich is better than most people realize, but he's already made these guys look about as good as they can. This team is built like the Pistons used to be, but no one compares to the corresponding player on the '03 champions, not even Wallace, who is now 32.
Bottom line: This team is good and will challenge for one of the four top seeds, but fall short. A first round road playoff win may be in the cards, but not much else.

2005 Record: 40-42 (5th Division, 8th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 90/1
2006 Wins O/U: 42
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Charlie Villanueva, F; Brian Skinner, PF; Ruben Patterson, SF
Key Losses: T.J. Ford, PG; Jamal Magliore, C; Joe Smith, F
Outlook: As head coach Terry Porter knows, a good floor general is an important part of any winning formula. However, the Bucks gave up on T.J. Ford in an attempt to build one of the league's most formidable front lines in Andrew Bogut and Villanueva. Bogut appears poised to trail only Shaq on the league's center depth chart. If he can open up the floor for Michael Redd like the Daddy does for Wade, look out. Marcus Williams should be able to manage the game well enough.
Bottom line: This team will turn some heads this year, though it may be a slow start while getting used to a new point guard. A playoff team for sure.

(Odds and over under numbers courtesy of Pinnacle Sportsbook)

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