NBA betting preview: Central division

NBA betting preview: Central division

NBA betting preview: Central division
By VIC TAFUR

Detroit Pistons

Odds: 51.5 over/under on wins, 8-1 to win title

In: Kwame Brown

Out: Theo Ratliff

Outlook: New coach Michael Curry has his hands full with Rasheed Wallace, and if he can’t get the forward in shape, focused and fired up then the Pistons’ days of contending are over. Because they can’t get much for Wallace in trade, and Antonio McDyess and Brown can’t pick up the slack for Wallace offensively. Rodney Stuckey is a player, but right now is stuck behind Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. That’s OK if this team is still in the mix for the title but not if it’s time to start thinking about life after Wallace. Don’t be shocked if the Pistons trade Billups or Hamilton to a new contender at the trade deadline. There is enough talent here for one last run - Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson all brought something to the table in last year’s 59-win campaign - but we get the feeling that president Joe Dumars is looking past this season.

Prediction: An eight-win drop seems like a lot, but what if they find a taker for Wallace and then deal Hamilton at the deadline? We’ll say 51 wins and pass on betting on this total and the 8-1.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Odds: 48.5, 12-1

In: Mo Williams, Lorenzen Wright, J.J. Hickson

Out: Joe Smith, Damon Jones, Devin Brown

Outlook: His supporting cast let LeBron James down again and Cleveland was lucky to win 45 games last season - they had the point-differential of a 40-win team. Hughes and the awful Drew Gooden were dumped in that 11-player, three-team deal at the trade deadline that netted the Cavs Wally Szczerbiak and Ben Wallace. Szczerbiak can’t guard anyone and Wallace has become a poor-man’s Reggie Evans … and still it was a great deal for Cleveland. This year, the Cavs signed Williams, who can score but is no more a point guard than Larry Hughes was. The mild-mannered Michael Redd wanted to strangle Williams more than once last year in Milwaukee. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is fine at center and Anderson Varejao has flashes every fifth game, but the Cavs need the rookie power forward Hickson to take some of his minutes.

Prediction: LeBron is the best player in the league, and while we don’t like 48.5 over we do like the 12-1 to win the whole thing. If he can pace himself during the regular season, maybe he can play 45 minutes a game in the playoffs and put the Cavs on his back.

Chicago Bulls

Odds: 41.5, 30-1

In: Derrick Rose

Out: Chris Duhon

Outlook: This one is easy. If you think Rose is the next coming of Dwyane Wade, then the Bulls will win 45 games and scare some teams in the playoffs. If you are not sure, then it’s 35 wins and new coach Vinny Del Negro might want his strange-looking roster tweaked a little bit. Chicago couldn’t shoot last season, and if you looked at the In and Out above, there hasn’t been many changes from that 33-win team. Rose and Kirk Hinrich share point guard duties, and Hinrich can move over to shooting guard if the Bulls ever trade Ben Gordon. Chicago also has Larry Hughes and Thabo Sefolosha at shooting guard. Up front, the Bulls have Drew Gooden, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah battling for minutes at power forward and center, while Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni man the small forward position. That’s a lot of depth, but no real great players. Until, maybe, Rose showed up.

Prediction: We are just not seeing it. Under.

Milwaukee Bucks

Odds: 32.5, 75-1

In: Richard Jefferson, Joe Alexander, Luke Ridnour, Malik Allen, Damon Jones

Out: Mo Williams, Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons, Desmond Mason

Outlook: There is some talent here, if not any salary-cap space, and a good hard-nosed coach in Scott Skiles. Milwaukee has scoring outside (Jefferson, Michael Redd, Charlie Villanueva and Alexander) and inside (Andrew Bogut). They have to hope Ramon Sessions beats out Ridnour at point guard, because Ridnour has proven he has the skill level of a backup and not a starter. And Skiles has to convince these guys to at least try to play defense once in a while, as that end of the court was the biggest reason for last year’s 4-20 finish. The Bucks have little depth up front (meet Dan Gadzuric and Francisco Elson) and if Bogut gets hurt, say good night.

Prediction: Do Jefferson and Skiles give the Bucks a 6.5-game jump from last year’s 26 wins? Sure, but we’re not sure what Milwaukee’s long-term prospects are.

Indiana Pacers

Odds: 34.5, 60-1

In: T.J. Ford, Brandon Rush, Jarrett Jack, Roy Hibbert, Rasho Nesterovic, Eddie Jones

Out: Jermaine O’Neal, Kareem Rush, Ike Diogu, Flip Murray, Shawne Williams

Outlook: Coach Jim O’Brien opened up the offense last year and it’s about to get dizzy this season with Ford running the point. Shooting guard Danny Granger and small forward Mike Dunleavy had career years, firing 3-pointers at will and averaging 38 points between them. The loss of O’Neal pretty much means this team can’t score inside, as power forward Troy Murphy is an outside shooter and center Jeff Foster is a defensive specialist who doesn’t shoot the ball. But that’s OK, as the Pacers play fast and have pretty good depth to keep everyone fresh. Jack, Rush and Hibbert could lead a decent second five with Travis Diener and Marquis Daniels. Plus, the Pacers might get another piece if they every deal Jamaal Tinsley, who was told to stay away from camp. He’s the last of the bad apples Indiana is getting rid of, following Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, O’Neal and Williams.

Prediction: What, this team is worse than last year’s 36-win edition? We’ll say they win 38 this season. Over.

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