HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The departure of LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers and the arrival of Carlos Boozer in Chicago was supposed to dramatically shift the power in the Central Division from the shores of Lake Erie to the shores of Lake Michigan.
But what’s supposed to happen and what actually takes place are often very different things. The waters on both shores are calm at this stage of the season.
In fact, much of what we assumed about the Central Division race this season (we picked the Bucks as the surprise team not only in the Central but also in the Eastern Conference overall) has not materialized yet.
Boozer’s out with that broken finger. The Bucks have struggled. Byron Scott has the Cavaliers playing hard but they’re about what we thought they’d be without James. Two other teams that many people felt would take at least a small step up this season, Indiana and Detroit, have not. And the Pistons are on the brink of disaster, with internal strife and a new ownership situation compounding their 0-5 record.
As of this morning, the entire division is on a combined 12-game losing streak.
“It’s hard to pick any one team in that division right now,” an Eastern Conference scout friend admitted. “Chicago has the best tools to work with, but they have a new coach and really a new system that they are all trying to get adjusted to, plus they don’t have Boozer right now. I think they’ll be fine, eventually. I don’t know what to say about the Bucks. Andrew Bogut just doesn’t look comfortable yet. It seems to me that he’s still favoring that right arm. But that said, they could have easily beaten the Celtics the other night and then there’s a totally different feel about them right now. It’s still too early to make any definitive statements about how things will turn out for those two. But the rest of the division … it’s just a mess right now.”
Boozer did get the pins out (he broke his pinky Oct. 2) and the hard cast off of his hand earlier this week. He gets the stitches out next week, though there is still no specific date for his return to action, per Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com.
The Bucks looked better than their record against the Celtics. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sees some signs of hope where Bogut’s bunch is concerned:
A lineup that included center Andrew Bogut, power forward Ersan Ilyasova, small forward Corey Maggette, shooting guard Carlos Delfino and point guard Brandon Jennings – with help from Keyon Dooling – was able to take the Celtics to the wire in a 105-102 defeat.
Maggette, who ranks as the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (15.0 points per game) and is emerging as a steady influence off the bench, played 22 minutes against Boston and had 11 points and three rebounds.
But coach Scott Skiles also was happy to see strong contributions from Ilyasova (15 points and seven rebounds) and Dooling (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting) as eight players gained significant on-court time against the Celtics.
“I’m not the only one with this opinion, but it’s got to be based on productivity,” Skiles said of his decision-making process to dole out the available minutes. “Then it will just show itself to you and everybody gets a comfort level in it.
“So far we haven’t gotten to that point where we can count on the productivity of all the guys, at least to the level we’re going to need it at.”
Things will only get more interesting tonight. All five teams in the division will be in action, with the Bucks and Pacers squaring off against each other, so the division-wide losing streak will be snapped.
It’s probably too soon to scrap our initial predictions — we’ll give them until Thanksgiving — and we still need to see how Derrick Rose and Boozer work together.
But we’ve got the eraser ready.