Charging Ahead

In a wide-open Eastern Conference, the up-and-coming Chicago Bulls have emerged as championship contenders after a long rebuilding process. The New Jersey Nets, meanwhile, represent the old guard.

The young Bulls visit the experienced Nets on Wednesday as both teams begin their quest to take the next step toward an NBA title.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made New Jersey -2.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 186 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 53% of bets for this game have been placed on Chicago +2.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

While the Bulls enter this season with expectations as high as they've been in years, they'll have to overcome their struggles in New Jersey to get the season started with a victory - Chicago has lost 11 straight road games against New Jersey since a 100-94 win on April 17, 2001.

Chicago won six championships in eight seasons during the 1990s, but Michael Jordan's retirement and Scottie Pippen's departure forced the franchise to start over. After six consecutive losing seasons, the Bulls turned a corner in 2004-05, when they made the first of three straight playoff appearances.

Last season, the Bulls won 49 games en route to their best finish in nine years, then dethroned defending champion Miami with a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs. That postseason run ended with a loss to Detroit in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Chicago returns with essentially the same squad for 2007-08 - only with added playoff experience.

"Last year, we did great but we can do a lot better this year," said forward Luol Deng, who's coming off a breakout season during which he averaged career highs in scoring (18.8), rebounding (7.1), assists (2.5), steals (1.2), field goal percentage (51.7) and foul shooting (77.7). "We have a lot of experience now, and I think we're more mature in terms of how to handle games and in terms of knowing what we need to do out there."

While the Bulls celebrated their first playoff series win in nearly a decade, the Nets celebrated their ninth in the last six seasons - second-most among East teams in that stretch, trailing only Detroit.

The Nets were a disappointing 41-41 during the 2006-07 regular season, but upset Toronto in six games before they were eliminated in the second round by eventual conference champion Cleveland. Despite their playoff success over the years, the Nets are still chasing that elusive first championship.

"There's a lot of pieces that I'm very excited about," said eight-time All-Star point guard Jason Kidd. "If we can be consistent throughout the long haul, then hopefully we'll be the team at the top - and not just the top of the Atlantic, but the top of the Eastern Conference."

One of the pieces Kidd is excited about is Vince Carter, the team's leading scorer last season who signed a five-year contract in July to stay with New Jersey. Carter averaged 25.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season, and Kidd added 13.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists.

The Nets didn't make any major acquisitions over the offseason, but they expect to improve with two starters returning from major injuries that marred their seasons a year ago. Nenad Krstic missed the last four months of the season after injuring his knee Dec. 22, but expects to be ready for the opener.

"I think it's going to take some time and I have to be patient, but I can be even better," said Krstic, who was averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds - both career highs - before the injury. "When I was playing back home (in Serbia) I had a couple of serious injuries and I came back even better. That's part of my nature."

Richard Jefferson also missed much of last season with an ankle injury, but is fully healthy and determined to bounce back after averaging 16.3 points - his lowest average since 2002-03.

"I think he has a chip on his shoulder,'' Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "Richard is ultracompetitive, and I think he understands and knows how good he can be, and he wants to prove it."

Despite rumors that continue to swirl about the possibility of acquiring Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bulls have so far opted to improve from within. That's not a bad strategy for a team whose top three scorers - Deng and the backcourt combo of Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich - have each increased their scoring average in every season since their respective rookie years.

"We're definitely excited about where we're at," Hinrich said.

Ben Wallace is the projected starting center for Chicago, but he injured his ankle in a preseason game last Thursday and is questionable for the opener. If he can't play, second-year forward Tyrus Thomas or newcomer Joe Smith could get the nod.

Overall, the Bulls lost three of four against the Nets in 2006-07.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

More NBA Basketball Coverage from theSpread.com

 - NBA Basketball teams
 - NBA Basketball standings
 - NBA Basketball schedule
 - NBA Basketball scoreboard
 - NBA Basketball injuries
 - NBA Basketball matchups
 - NBA Basketball stats
 - NBA Basketball odds
 - NBA Basketball public betting chart
 - NBA Basketball news wire
 - NBA Basketball top stories
 - NBA Basketball trends
 - AccuScore NBA Basketball predictions
 - Expert NBA Basketball picks
 - Comments and discussion
 - Signup for theSpread.com daily newsletter
 - NBA Basketball Home

NBA Top Stories

Thumbnail Updated NBA Finals Odds After a busy week with the NBA Draft taking place, which team improved their odds to win the 2018 NBA Finals?
Thumbnail Will Fox be a top-5 pick? With the 2017 NBA Drafttakes place later tonight. Where can we expect one of the top prospects, De’Aaron Fox, to land tonight?
Thumbnail Fultz to go to the 76ers? The Boston Celticshave traded out of the No. 1 pick. The Philadelphia 76ersnow hold the top pick once again. Is it a slam dunk who they will take in the NBA...
Thumbnail 2018 NBA Finals Odds After dominating the 2017 NBA Playoffs, will anyone keep the Golden State Warriors from winning the NBA Finals again...
Thumbnail Stephen Curry Game 5 Props Will Stephen Curry bounce back from a poor showing in Game 4 when the Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals tonight at 9PM...

NBA Headlines

  • EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Lakers have exercised their $1.3 million contract option on guard David Nwaba for the upcoming season.
    The Lakers announced the move Wednesday.
    Nw...
  • AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Pistons have traded swingman Darrun Hilliard to the Houston Rockets in exchange for cash considerations.
    Hilliard appeared in a career-high 39 games last ...
  • SAN ANTONIO (AP) An ex-financial adviser to retired San Antonio Spurs player Tim Duncan has been sentenced to four years in federal prison for defrauding the former NBA star of millions of dollars...
  • CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James will help tell a story he's still shaping.
    The Cavaliers superstar is teaming with Showtime on a documentary that will examine the modern NBA and the league's impa...
  • ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Hawks have traded power forward Ryan Kelly to the Houston Rockets for cash considerations.
    Kelly averaged 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds in 16 games in two stints with t...

NBA Team Pages