LeBron James's reign of terror in the Central Division has ended, leaving Milwaukee and Indiana to duke it out for a division title. The Pistons, Cavaliers and Bulls would seem to trail those seems significantly, but which of them can exceed expectations and outperform oddsmakers' preseason win totals?
2017-18 Record: 44-38
2018 Win Total: 47.5 (from William Hill)
Bet: Over 47.5
It's long been believed that there's a high ceiling for the roster in Milwaukee, and in new head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks have finally found the right guy to unlock that potential. Players like Brook Lopez, John Henson and Eric Bledsoe have specific strengths and weaknesses that need to be intentionally utilized and downplayed, respectively, for them to be effective. Given that Bud once got Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver to the All-Star Game in the same season, he's the man for the job. Most importantly, his signature emphasis on floor spacing will open things up for MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo to dominate defenders one-on-one. This is the season Milwaukee steps up to seriously compete with the Eastern Conference big boys.
2017-18 Record: 48-34
2018 Win Total: 46.5
Bet: Over 46.5
Victor Oladipo was an easy choice for Most Improved Player last season, transforming into a superstar over the course of an offseason to help the Pacers obliterate a preseason O/U of 30.5 to reach the playoffs and nearly knock out the LeBron-led Cavaliers in the first round. With James now out of the division, there's little reason to believe Indiana won't further better its record this season. Myles Turner reportedly undertook a new work ethic over the summer and, along with Domantas Sabonis, forms the foundation of one of the East's most promising young frontcourts. Tyreke Evans had his best year as a pro in Memphis last season, and his signing was quietly one of the best acquisitions of free agency. Indiana has a shot at 50 wins and homecourt in the playoffs.
2017-18 Record: 39-43
2018 Win Total: 38.5
Bet: Under 38.5
The Pistons swung for the fences in the middle of last season, trading for Blake Griffin and his enormous long-term contract at the end of January. Their results in the 33 games after the deal: A shrug-worthy 17-16 record. Griffin's ability to headline an offense at this point in his career is in serious question, and that's when he's on the court—his injury history suggests it's more than likely that he'll be sidelined for significant chunks of the year. Another member of the Pistons' core, Reggie Jackson, has also struggled with injuries, and his recovery from an ankle ailment didn't seem to go all that well over the summer. As good as he's been in the regular season over the years, Dwane Casey won't be able to do much with this roster if those two guys can't stay on the floor.
2017-18 Record: 50-32
2018 Win Total: 30.5
Bet: Over 30.5
Given that this entire roster was built to support LeBron James, his departure to the West Coast means that little is known about how the Cavs will function without him. But at a win total of 30.5, barely above the Knicks and Bulls, this feels like a gimme for the over. Kevin Love was never a natural fit next to LeBron, but his inside-out versatility and passing ability make him a perfectly viable centerpiece for a modern NBA offense. The last time he was the go-to guy, the 2013-14 Timberwolves won 40 games in a much more difficult Western Conference. The frontcourt pairing of Love and Tristan Thompson should be a force on the boards, and a backcourt of George Hill and Collin Sexton makes for a compelling blend of experience and youthful tenacity.
2017-18 Record: 27-55
2018 Win Total: 29.5
Bet: Under 29.5
"They don't pay players to play defense," Jabari Parker said upon signing with the Chicago Bulls this summer. The comment drew ridicule but, at least when it comes to his hometown team, Parker was simply stating the facts. The Bulls finished with the third-worst defensive rating in the NBA last season, and seemed almost defiant in signing Parker and extending defensive liability Zach LaVine. Chicago drafted a good defender in Wendell Carter, who will form a fun frontcourt duo with Lauri Markkanen, but the Bulls' best days are still (pretty far) ahead of them.