Back in late October, I previewed the NBA’s Central Division. Well, the season is about half over and perhaps surprisingly, my predictions were quite accurate, at least during the first half of the season. The most obvious discrepancy between my original post and the current standings is at the division’s bottom: I expected the Cavaliers to be improved enough to surpass the Pistons. But I can admit that I probably got that really wrong, at least if the season’s first half is any indicator. And the Bulls have admittedly fared better than I expected them to sans Derrick Rose. My updated analysis is below in the order that each team currently sits in the standings.
Indiana Pacers (25-16)
It’s probably a stretch to say that the Pacers have taken a step forward in the first half of this season, but as expected, they have benefitted from Rose’s absence. Although, they’ve had to deal with a knee injury from their own star, Danny Granger. (At least it give him time to work on his batcave) His absence contributed to a concerning 4-7 start to the season, but the Pacers have responded quite nicely. Still, his return during the second half will be crucial, considering the Pacers have been anything but stellar in scoring the basketball. Their success so far this season has depended on two areas of the game in which they lead the whole NBA: points allowed and defence. A quick glance at their schedule does reveal a concerning lack of wins over quality opponents with perhaps the exception of a January 8 victory over the Miami Heat.
Chicago Bulls (23-16)
Considering that Rose is practicing again with some limitations, the Bulls have to feel pretty decent about where they currently sit and how they’ve managed their star player’s absence. Like the Pacers, they’ve relied pretty heavily on defense and rebounding, which shouldn’t be all that surprising with a roster that includes Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng. Those three have also led the way in scoring with some help from NBA-veteran Richard Hamilton. Throw in as dominant a point guard as there is in the NBA, and the Bulls could be right in the mix of contenders, but that assumes Rose will be his regular self, which is no guarantee.
Milwaukee Bucks (21-18)
I said in my preview that the Bucks could make a run at the playoffs this season, and at this point, they’re on pace for the seventh spot in the East. It looks like they’ll be battling with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers to stay there. It is doubtful that the Bucks will contend in any serious way, but they’ve reached their mediocre status (said with all affection, of course) with a statistical balance in the different parts of the game, and, of course, a strong reliance on guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings to score and make plays.
Detroit Pisons (14-25)
The Pistons have been a little all over the place this year, although more bad than good, given their record. Starting the season by losing eight straight certainly didn’t help, and they endured a six-game losing streak at another stretch. But they also won seven of nine semi-recently, which at least maybe offers up some hope for the future. They simply do not have enough experience or weapons to make a run this year.
Cleveland Cavaliers (10-32)
It’s no surprise that Cavaliers are bad, but I suppose my surprise is in how bad they are. It’s really quite difficult to find any positives at all, at least since their double-digit, season-opening win over the Washington Wizards. The Cavs best player has (predictably) been Kyrie Irving, who averages 23.1 points per game and 5.7 assists per game. He desperately needs some help, though, even as the Cavs play for pride and the future for the rest of this season.