The Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers are the definitive leaders of the NBA's Central Division and with a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls look primed to approach 60 wins in 2013-14. A pair of young, up and coming teams - the Cleveland Cavs and Detroit Pistons - could compete for playoff positions. The Milwaukee Bucks, on the other hand, could be in store for a rough campaign.
Chicago Bulls (2012-13: 45-37 SU, 36-46 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: -150
Season Win Total: 56.5
Why Bet The Bulls: This team won 45 games a year ago and a playoff series, then were able to remain largely competitive with Miami despite being incredibly short-handed. Now, they get Derrick Rose back and promise to be even more formidable. Two years ago with Rose in the lineup, Chicago won 50 games (more than Miami), tying for a league-high in a lockout-shortened season. They won 62 games (most in the league) in 2010-11. Tom Thibodeau could be the best coach in the league.
Why Not To Bet The Bulls: Maybe Rose won't be the same player he was before? The division is tough. But seriously, I just don't see many reasons why this team won't be better in 2013-14 compared to last season, provided Rose is healthy. The win total is the third highest in the league though, and taking the Over would require nearly 60 wins, which is hard to do.
Season Win Total Pick: Over 56.5 wins.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2012-13: 24-58 SU, 39-41-2 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: +1400
Season Win Total: 40.5
Why Bet The Cavs: This is expected to be one of the league's most improved teams and I tend to agree. From a numbers perspective, they underperformed their Pythagorean win expectation a year ago. They also went out and signed Andrew Bynum, who if he plays will be a nice addition in the middle to go along side young Tristan Thompson. They also now have two No. 1 overall draft choices on the roster with Kyrie Irving (one of the league's 15 best players) and rookie Anthony Bennett. High-energy forward Anderson Varejao is also now healthy after missing much of last year with a blood clot. Hopefully, he can now return to being an active player off the bench.
Why Not To Bet The Cavs: Health. What if, like in Philadelphia last year, Bynum doesn't play? He is low-risk, high-reward on a one-year deal, but is currently projected to play only half the season. Irving has not been able to stay healthy in his two years in the league, missing a total of 38 out of a possible 146 games. I already mentioned Varejao, who also has had a problem staying healthy consistently, including missing 56 games last year. Though a defensive mastermind, I have my concerns over Mike Brown returning as the head coach.
Season Win Total Pick: Over 40.5 wins.
Detroit Pistons (2012-13: 29-53 SU, 40-41-1 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: +1800
Season Win Total: 41.0
Why Bet The Pistons: After the top five playoff spots in the Eastern Conference figure to go: Heat-Bulls-Pacers-Nets-Knicks, the final three spots are up for grabs. From my Cavs' season win total pick, you'd figure I have them grabbing one (and you'd be right!). I'll call for the Pistons to grab another as they too should be one of the most improved teams in the league. They will have one of the better front courts in the entire league (seriously!) with Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Josh Harrellson. This is going to be a very trendy pick to go Over the season win total.
Why Not To Bet The Pistons: This team is young and has mostly unproven commodities. I'm not convinced they are going to shoot the ball very well as the free agent acquisitions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings could bring improvement, but a lot of headaches too. Smith was never able to make "the quantum leap" in Atlanta and this team reminds me a lot of those Hawks, which means good and not great.
Season Win Total Pick: Over 41 wins.
Indiana Pacers (2012-13: 49-32 SU, 42-39 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: +140
Season Win Total: 53.5
Why Bet The Pacers: Despite what looks like a very tough battle to repeat as Central Division Champs, the Pacers are a lock to finish in the Top 3 in the Eastern Conference from where I sit. Last year, they took Miami to a deciding 7th game in the Eastern Conference Finals and should only get better this season with a fine young nucleus of Roy Hibbert-George Hill-David West-Lance Stephenson-Paul George. George, in particular, appears to be ready to take the next step. Oh yeah, they also get a healthy Danny Granger back.
Why Not To Bet The Pacers: Honestly, the only reason is a lack of depth, though the return of a healthy Granger should help alleviate that. Last year saw five Pacers players start at least 72 games and that quintet was largely responsible for the bulk of the team's production on both ends of the floor. Their best reserve from last year, Tyler Hansbrough, is now in Toronto. Indiana's reserves were outscored by an average of 21.8 points per 48 minutes by the Heat in last year's Eastern Conference Finals
Season Win Total Pick: Over 53.5 wins
Milwaukee Bucks (2012-13: 38-44 SU, 37-45 ATS)
Odds To Win Division: +6600
Season Win Total: 28.5
Why Bet The Bucks: Searching...for....reasons. Well, I didn't really like their starting back court of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings last year. They do have some depth (no star) and a good front court. I'm a big fan of shot-blocking machine Larry Sanders in particular.
Why Not To Bet the Bucks: With the Bulls and Pacers likely to battle for the Central Division crown and ending up around 60 wins, and the Cavs and Pistons figuring to be two of the more improved teams in the entire league, somebody has to lose games in this division and that figures to be the Bucks. They were a lucky playoff participant last year with only 38 wins and figure to be a lot worse this year minus their starting back court of Ellis and Jennings.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 28.5 wins.