NBA season preview: Central Division

The Central Division winner has been what seems like a foregone conclusion lately. The Cleveland Cavaliers led by star LeBron James have been one of the best teams in basketball the last few seasons.

There are teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons on the rise and teams dealing stars on the decline. Stars like Jimmy Butler and Paul George are moving out, which means the division race could be Cleveland’s once again.

Here are my record predictions for each of the five teams in the Central Division.

Chicago Bulls:

2016-2017 record: 41-41

2017-2018 prediction: 26-56

It’s a tough fall to lose Jimmy Butler, and the biggest part of that trade is the high draft pick the Bulls get in next year’s draft.

As far as winning now goes, the Bulls are relying on Zach Lavine to carry most of the offensive load.

Taj Gibson and Rajon Rondo are also gone from last year’s team meaning that a lot of offensive weapons have left. Dwyane Wade is currently looking for a buyout which would mean that some of the best offensive weapons could be gone.

The Bulls are going in the rebuilding direction and this season will be a tough one in Chicago.

Cleveland Cavaliers:

nba season preview: Central Division

Lebron James and Kevin Love, Photo Courtesy of sportsworldreport.com

2016-2017 record: 51-31

2017-2018 prediction: 48-34

The Cavaliers have been the team representing the Eastern Conference in the Finals each of the last three years. Obviously any team with LeBron James is hard to beat. This upcoming season, the Cavaliers are the favorite to win the Central Division.

With lots of teams getting more competitive, the Cavaliers stayed about the same this summer. Losing Kyrie Irving is a big deal due to his ability to create and finish around the rim. However, LeBron is still the best player in basketball and he can carry a team if he needs to.

LeBron and the Cavaliers will still be a top three seed in the Eastern Conference, but there will be a lot more competitive games this season, especially now that Isaiah Thomas is a defensive mismatch.

The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the East, but I think they took a small step back this offseason.

Detroit Pistons:

2016-2017 record: 37-45

2017-2018 prediction: 36-46

Avery Bradley was a huge offseason move for the Detroit Pistons. He has the ability to score offensively and also rebound and defend at a high level for a guard.

Unfortunately the Pistons lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris. Morris and Pope provided scoring that was much needed throughout the year and Baynes and Drummond dominated the boards.

One addition that helps mightily on a somewhat poor shooting team is the drafting of Luke Kennard. Kennard can flat out shoot it and the Pistons will need it to free up Andre Drummond inside.

The Pistons stay about even after the offseason. They lose some offense but add some defense which will help them win the lower scoring games.

Indiana Pacers:

nba season preview: Central Division

Myles Turner, photo courtesy of Freep.com

2016-2017 record: 42-40

2017-2018 prediction: 33-49

Losing an All-Star in Paul George is a big deal but this Pacers team can still play. Lance Stephenson, Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo are a very good set of players who can be very good for this team.

Myles Turner is going to take a big jump this year and turn into a star and Victor Oladipo will benefit from not having as much pressure around him. The Indiana Pacers may have backtracked but they are still a good enough team to make a playoff push, it just might come up short.

Losing Paul George in the offseason means that your wins will decrease but I think the Indiana Pacers will still be very competitive this season.

Milwaukee Bucks:

2016-2017 record: 42-40

2017-2018 prediction: 47-35

The Milwaukee Bucks return the same core as they did last season, and this season everyone is more experienced.

They add D.J. Wilson out of Michigan and keep virtually the same team. Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo are looking to build off the great seasons they had last year.

The Bucks have built themselves into a team on the rise through the draft. They have a lot of versatile guys who can guard multiple positions.

Come playoff time they will be a hard out and I think that when they play Cleveland they will give them all they can handle.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of ngscsports.com.

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Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine Square Off Again

Nobody knew quite what to expect when the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs met for the first time this season. It was the first time that the number one and two over draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine faced each other on NHL ice.

If you recall, it was only seven days into the young 2016-17 NHL season. It was only Toronto’s third game, and Winnipeg’s fourth.

It took place only seven days after Auston Matthews’ stunning four-goal debut game and as a result the NHL had fallen head over heals for Matthews. Laine had yet to impress in the rookie scoring race.

But it was Laine who stole the show that night, back on Oct. 19 in Winnipeg. While Matthews was left off the scoreboard, Laine tallied three goals including the overtime winner.

Though the NHL is rife with rookie talent this year, Matthews and Laine stand out as among the league’s most elite goal scorers. They stood out when they were drafted consecutively first and second overall and they continue to stand out today.

THat WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE JETS & LAINE

The Winnipeg Jets weren’t exactly in hot shape when they faced the Leafs back in October. They had gone 1-2-0 in their first three games with a 3.75 goals against average. Nor was much really expected of the team this season.

One could comfortably say that the Jets are in a transitional stage at the moment. Not quite in full rebuild mode but not ready to compete for the cup either. Sitting fifth in the Central Division with 61 points, it’s unlikely they’ll even grab a playoff spot.

Though they are only four points from a wild card position, they lack the games in hand that many of their Central Division competitors hold.

Then

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
3 1 1 2 1 0 5
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub, NHLI via Getty Images

Still, Patrik Laine shines on.

In four fewer games than Matthews, the Finnish rookie has tallied three more points and a better plus/minus rating than the young American.

Though he shoots far less than Matthews, Laine has managed to find the back of the net just as much and with far fewer shots on goal.

He has played remarkably consistent but let us not forget the explosiveness of Laine’s game. He has amassed an incredible three hat tricks this year, making him the first Jets’ rookie to do so since Teemu Selanne managed five in his rookie season.

Now

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
54 28 24 52 9 18 123

 

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE LEAFS & MATTHEWS

As with the Jets, very little was expected of the Toronto Maple Leafs entering the 2016-17 season. They were 1-0-1 when they met the Jets back in October and destined for mediocrity. But then some strange happened. The Atlantic Division began to cave in on itself.

Though the Leafs are in the middle of a major rebuild, they find themselves competing for a playoff spot in the mess that is the Atlantic Division. Seven teams are within 10 points of first place and the Leafs are within only five.

While it remains unlikely that they will leave the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens (or even the Florida Panthers for that matter) in their dust, the Toronto Maple Leafs may very well make the playoffs.

It is well within reason to believe that that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time four years.

Then

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
2 4 0 4 3 0 8
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

And that’s in large part due to the outstanding play of Auston Matthews.

Matthews wasted no time showing the league what he was made of with his four goal debut. Only seven players in NHL history had managed a hat trick in their first game while Matthews went ahead and did one better.

With over 200 shots on goal this season it should come as no surprise that he has already eclipsed the 20 goal plateau. Matthews has 28 goals and 49 points on the season which makes him first among Leafs players in both categories.

Matthews is a big part of the reason why Toronto is even competing for a playoff spot this year.

Now

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
58 28 21 49 3 12 205

WHAT TO EXPECT

The game takes place tonight, in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Winnipeg is 14-15-2 on the road so far this season and sport a 7-6-1 record against Atlantic Division foes. Meanwhile, Toronto is 13-9-4 at home this season have gone 3-5-3 against Central Division competitors this campaign.

Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime back on Oct. 19 and it would be fair to assume another high scoring affair is in order this time around.

Aside from Matthews and Laine, plenty of young-talent will be on display as well. Toronto’s William Nylander, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaisev will suit up along with Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey. Expect a fast-paced, high-scoring, two-way game with lots of shots on goal.

It remains unclear whether or not Toronto’s Mitch Marner will suit up. He is dealing with an undisclosed injury which has kept him out of two-contests so far.

 

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