NBA

Central preview: Cavs should run away with title

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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The Central Division is comprised of one team that harbors absolutely realistic hopes of winning a championship, plus four teams wallowing in varying degrees of mediocrity.

Chicago Bulls

Strengths: The star-quality talents of Derrick Rose. The grit of Kirk Hinrich from tip to buzzer and from baseline to baseline. The otherworldly talents of Tyrus Thomas. Brad Miller's smarts, particularly his ability to make precision passes. The baseline, pull-up offense of Luol Deng. If Joakim Noah can't score with a pencil, his long-armed defense and quick ups make him an excellent role player in the middle. The team's foremost creative scorer is John Salmons. There's no question that the Bulls are still benefiting from the afterglow of last season's playoff series versus Boston. Weaknesses: Even though Rose still has much to learn, the primary responsibility for making Chicago a winner belongs to him. The non-athleticism of Miller and Aaron Gray. Chicago's hopes will automatically dim if Jerome James makes the team. And the more he plays, the dimmer those hopes will be. After all these years, the Bulls still lack a post-up scorer. Salmons passes only when he can't find a shot for himself. There's no reliable scoring off the bench. Prognosis: As was the case last season, the Bulls will win and lose games in just about equal measure and will be unable to get past the first round of the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Strengths: The incomparable LeBron James. Shaq's mass and power. The ability of Mo Williams to manufacture his own scoring opportunities. Zydrunas Ilgauskas's length, plus his effectiveness running high screens/fades.
The pickup of Anthony Parker adds defense, unselfishness, overall steadiness and solid spot shooting to the mix. Is there a better all-around athlete than Jamario Moon? Anderson Varejao's quickness and mobility. The streaky shooting of Daniel Gibson. Should Delonte West solve his personal problems, his sheer toughness will be a huge plus. When/if Leon Powe gets back in action, the Cavs will have another interior power player to augment Shaq. Weaknesses: LBJ's jumper is erratic, and with Shaq clogging the lane he'll be forced to fire up more jays than ever before.
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He never was an outstanding rebounder or defender, but as he ages Shaq's performances in these areas will be even further diminished. The psychological fragility of West. Because none of these guys can shoot, the Cavs would be at a considerable disadvantage if they attempted to play any tandem of Shaq, Powe and Varejao. There was a palpable arrogance that pervaded last season's team that could be equally as fateful if it lingers. Prognosis: Primed for a serious run to dethrone the Lakers. This time, the Cavs will have no legitimate excuses should they fail.

Detroit Pistons

Strengths: Nobody plays better off the ball to develop his shots than Rip Hamilton. Tayshaun Prince's long-armed defense. Ben Gordon is a creative scorer par excellence, especially in the clutch. Charlie Villanueva can also score on his own. The post-up defense of Kwame Brown. Rodney Stuckey's powerhouse game at the point. Although he's only 6-foot-7, Jason Maxiell plays like a rock-'em-sock-'em 7-footer. Will Bynum's speed and quickness into and within the paint. Having a new coach (John Kuester) will temporarily inspire the team. Weaknesses: Prince supplies the only reliable perimeter defense. None of the centers — Brown, Chris Wilcox or Ben Wallace — can score. Stuckey has yet to prove that he can adequately run an offense. Villanueva and Gordon are one-dimensional players who are helpless on defense. Prognosis: Achieving solid mediocrity with a 41-41 season is the best Detroit can hope for.

Indiana Pacers

Strengths: The explosive scoring of Danny Granger, mostly coming from the outlands. Jeff Foster's defense and rebounding. Because he's the rare big man who can routinely drop treys, Troy Murphy can bring his defenders out beyond their comfort zones and thereby open up the middle. Mike Dunleavy's scrappiness and ability to score within the context of the offense. Dahntay Jones' belligerent defense. The tricky penetrations of T.J. Ford. Earl Watson's defense. Weaknesses: Granger's lack of a top-notch handle, as well as his inferior defense. Too many subpar athletes playing too many minutes. Ford's questionable shot selection. Dunleavy's awful defense, as well as his physical vulnerability. The need for Roy Hibbert to suddenly become a big-league big man. The absence of anybody who can regularly get to the hoop and finish in a hostile crowd. Prognosis: Achieving 41 wins would constitute remarkable progress.

Milwaukee Bucks

Strengths: Michael Redd's ability to put shots up and in. The savvy passing of Andrew Bogut. The potentially explosive scoring capabilities of Hakim Warrick. The versatility of Charlie Bell. Kurt Thomas and his tough interior defense. Milwaukee's blue-chip rookie, Brandon Jennings, is as fast and as quick as any of his peers. On the bench, Scott Skiles makes the Energizer Bunny look somnolent. Weaknesses: Jennings is young. Very young. Carlos Delfino is a mistake player. Bogut is slow and a poor defender. Beyond old, Thomas is ancient. Warrick is wild and undisciplined, and as such will be no help in domesticating Jennings. Milwaukee's only dependable point-maker is Redd. Prognosis: It's hard to envision Milwaukee's equaling last season's total of 34 wins.
Tagged: Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers, Bucks, Thunder, Ben Wallace, Troy Murphy, Chris Wilcox, Michael Redd, Kirk Hinrich, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Danny Granger, Jason Maxiell, Leon Powe, Anthony Parker, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Jennings

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