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NBA Preview: Milwaukee Hopes To Dethrone Cleveland

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: Eric Bledsoe #6 of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates with Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 and John Henson #31 after hitting a three pointer against the Washington Wizards in the second half at Capital One Arena on January 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

KSLSports.com continues its coverage of the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season with a division-by-division look at the league. Next up is the Central Division, which will be more competitive with the departure of LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here are the teams in the order of their projected finish:

Milwaukee Bucks

Last season: 44-38, 3rd in Central Division, lost in first round of playoffs

Key additions: Mike Budenholzer (head coach), Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova

Draft picks: Donte DiVincenzo (1st round, 17th overall, Villanova)

Key losses: Jason Kidd (head coach), Jabari Parker and Jason Terry

The Bucks look to take the next step, which is to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Bringing in head coach Mike Budenholzer and his 213-197 record in five seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, his playoff experience should bode well for Milwaukee to get out of the first round for the first time in 18 years.

Losing forward Jabari Parker has left a hole in the rotation that the team hopes can be filled by 10-year NBA veteran big man, Brook Lopez. He is hoping to be more productive than he was last season with the LA Lakers, where he averaged a season low 13 points per game.

The players returning will have a huge impact and will be centered on superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Coming off an MVP type season, averaged a career best 27 points and 10 rebounds per game.

The “Greek Freak” will look to backcourt duo Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton to ease the load. Middleton is hoping to continue his stellar 201-18 season, where he averaged a career high 20.1 points per game. Bledsoe will help run the offense while using his explosive offensive ability when driving to the basket. He put up 17.8 points per game in 71 games with the Bucks last season.

Prediction: 50 wins, reach Conference Semifinals

Indiana Pacers

Last season: 48-34, 2nd in Central Division, lost in first round of playoffs

Key additions: Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott and Kyle O’Quinn

Draft picks: Aaron Holiday (1st round, 23rd overall from UCLA) and Alize Johnson (2nd round, 50th overall, Missouri State)

Key losses: Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson and Glenn Robinson III

The emergence of guard Victor Oladipo last season, sped up the rebuild after trading star forward Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Oladipo had the best season of his young career in 2017-18, by far. He averaged 23.1 points per game on his way to being named NBA Most Improved Player.

The Pacers signed forward Tyreke Evans in the offseason, who rejuvenated his career last season with Memphis, putting up his second best scoring average of his nine year career with 19.4 points per game. He will help the Pacers whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, having the ability to play multiple positions.

They were in need of an elite perimeter shooter to space the floor to allow Oladipo drive to the basket. That’s where forward Doug McDermott comes in, coming off a disappointing season last year. He shot 38 percent from the three point line in 55 games with the New York Knicks, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of last season, his shooting efficiency jumped to 49 percent while with the Mavericks.

Big man Myles Turner is a player that the Pacers will rely on to make the next step, to be an all-star in the Eastern Conference. Hoping that he can raise his scoring average and collect more rebounds from the 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game average last season.

Prediction: 49 wins, First Round exit

Detroit Pistons

Last season: 39-43, 4th in Central Division, missed postseason

Key additions: Dwane Casey (head coach), Zaza Pachulia, Jose Calderon and Glenn Robinson III

Draft picks: Bruce Brown (2nd round, 42nd overall, Miami)

Key losses: Stan Van Gundy (head coach) and Anthony Tolliver

The Pistons jumped at the opportunity to hire Dwane Casey to replace Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Casey was fired by the Toronto Raptors despite winning the NBA Coach of the Year award, winning a franchise record 59 games last season. The Pistons hope to get back into the postseason under his leadership.

This will be the first full season for forward Blake Griffin as a member of the Pistons, who was traded in February last season. Averaged 19.8 points per game and just 6.6 rebounds per game in his 25 games played in the Motor city.

Detroit is banking on a healthy season from their starting point guard Reggie Jackson, who missed 37 games due to injury. He averaged 14.6 points per game in the 45 games that he played last season.

Hoping to combine the services of Jackson and Griffin to compliment Andre Drummond who is coming off of an outstanding 2017-18 season, averaging 15 points and a league best 16 rebounds per game.

The Pistons are expecting to see growth from their two young players, three year forward Stanley Johnson who is expected to be a good perimeter defender and a key role player. Incoming second year guard Luke Kenard looks like he will be taking on a bigger role with the team.

Prediction: 42 wins, First Round exit

Cleveland Cavaliers

Last season: 50-32, 1st in Central Division, lost in NBA Finals

Key additions: Sam Dekker and Channing Frye

Draft picks: Collin Sexton (1st round, 8th overall, Alabama)

Key losses: LeBron James, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon

When you lose a player of LeBron James’ caliber, it is very difficult to rebound right away. The Cavaliers didn’t waste time in the offseason when they locked up forward Kevin Love on a four-year $120 million extension. Love is expected to carry the load for Cleveland, maybe putting up the numbers that he had when he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2008-14. Love’s last season in Minnesota, he averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.

Rookie Collin Sexton will have a great leader to learn from in former Jazzman George Hill, as the Alabama product looks to transition as the franchise point guard. Sexton averaged 19.2 points and 3.6 assists per game for the Crimson Tide last season.

Who will fill the void at small forward? It looks to be Cedi Osman, the problem is that he only played 61 games in his rookie season and averaged 4 points per game. Cleveland hopes to see major growth from former Jazz swingman Rodney Hood, whose season average dropped significantly from 16.8 with the Jazz to 10.8 in Cleveland. Hood needs to have a great season as he is in the final year of his contract.

Prediction: 38 wins, miss playoffs

Chicago Bulls

Last season: 27-55, last in Central Division, missed postseason

Key additions: Jabari Parker and Antonio Blakeney

Draft picks: Wendell Carter Jr. (1st round, 7th overall, Duke) and (Chandler Hutchinson (1st round, 22nd overall, Boise State)

Key losses: Jerian Grant, Noah Vonleh and Paul Zipser

The Bulls will start the 2018-19 season without one of their starters, Lauri Markkanen suffered a high grade lateral right elbow sprain. He suffered the injury on September 27 and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. That is a big hit for the Bulls, Markkanen had a fantastic rookie season in 2017-18, averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 36 percent from the three-point line.

Forward Jabari Parker was a huge pick up for the Bulls as he returns to his hometown. Parker averaged 12.6 points per game last season, but the question is can he stay healthy? In his four year NBA career, Parker has played 51 games or less in three of his four seasons. If he can stay away from the injury bug, he will be a huge asset in Chicago.

Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. comes to Chicago as one of the highest ranked defenders in the 2018 draft class. Combine that with his 6’10, 255 lbs frame, the 19-year old has a very high ceiling.

The rebuild hangs on the shoulders of their backcourt duo, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. LaVine only played 24 games for the Bulls last season after recovering from a torn ACL, that he suffered in the 2016-17 season. In the small amount of games last year, he averaged 16.7 points per game. Dunn showed signs of why he was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft, after scoring just 3.8 points per game in his rookie season with Minnesota in 2016-17, he bumped that average all the way to 13.4 per game last season in Chicago after being traded for guard Jimmy Butler.

Prediction: 31 wins, miss playoffs

Atlantic Division Preview

Southwest Division Preview

Southeast Division Preview

Pacific Division Preview