NBA Preview: Despite Rose's Injury Bulls Will Stay Atop the Central

2011–12 record: 50–16

WHAT THEY'VE GOT: A new identity. With Derrick Rose out until midseason with a torn ACL, the heartbeat of the Bulls is now center Joakim Noah. Noah has the potential to put up a double double every game, and his tenacious D sets the tone for a unit that was the stingiest in the NBA last season. The Bulls' offense will rely on forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. And when Rose is back in the lineup, the Bulls will present matchup problems for just about every team in the league.

WHAT THEY NEED: A respectable record until D-Rose returns. To fill the void, Deng and Boozer must pick up the offensive load.

BOTTOM LINE: With a grab bag of scorers and airtight defense, Chicago should be a high playoff seed with or without Rose.

[Must Read: 10 Questions With the Bulls' Carlos Boozer]


2011–12 record: 42–24

WHAT THEY'VE GOT: A true team. Without any superstars, Indy quietly had the third-best record in the East last season. Center Roy Hibbert is a solid rebounder and shot blocker, and forward Paul George is expected to contribute more on offense, but the Pacers are a squad that is greater than the sum of its parts.

WHAT THEY NEED: A clutch shooter. The Pacers reliance on spreading the ball can also be a problem. In end-of-game situations, they often go to the top scorer, forward Danny Granger. But Hibbert and George need to step up.

BOTTOM LINE: The Pacers are considered a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference. Now they have to show they can hang with the Heat and the Celtics.

[Photo Gallery: NBA stars with new teams]

2011–12 record: 25–41

WHAT THEY'VE GOT: A base to build on. Center Greg Monroe made a huge jump in production last season that saw his scoring increase from 9.4 to 15.4 per game and his rebounds from 7.5 to 9.7 per game. Guard Brandon Knight is coming off a successful rookie year — his 12.8 ppg ranked third on the team. Throw in the defensive potential of first-round pick center Andre Drummond, and Detroit has a bright future.

WHAT THEY NEED: An offensive game plan. Detroit doesn't shoot a lot of threes and lacks players who can slash to the hoop. So it's up to guard Rodney Stuckey to find a rhythm for the offense.

BOTTOM LINE: A .500 finish would be a big step toward returning Motown hoops to its former glory.

[Video: NBA rookie photo shoot]

2011–12 record: 31–35

WHAT THEY'VE GOT: A high-scoring backcourt. Guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combined for 39.5 points per game last year. If the Bucks can find a way to get both players in the zone and keep them there, they will be tough to slow down. Up front, Milwaukee is also boosted by much-improved forward Ersan Ilyasova.

WHAT THEY NEED: For all of their skill, Jennings and Ellis can be streaky shooters. After them and Ilyasova, Milwaukee is hurting for proven scorers. The Bucks also lack a premier defensive presence in the paint and on the perimeter.

BOTTOM LINE: If Milwaukee's offense can make up for its weakness on D, the Bucks could vie for a playoff spot this year.

[Must Read: 10 Questions With Kyrie Irving]

2011–12 record: 21–45

WHAT THEY'VE GOT: Someone to make Cleveland forget about LeBron. Point guard Kyrie Irving is a superstar in the making. The Rookie of the Year was everything the Cavs hoped he'd be when they drafted him first overall. Irving makes everybody around him a better player, which will certainly benefit Cleveland's other young stars, like guard Dion Waiters and center Tyler Zeller.

WHAT THEY NEED: A shoulder for Irving to lean on. Besides center Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers lack a player who has proved himself to be a difference maker in an NBA game.

BOTTOM LINE: Even if the Cavs don't win many games this season, with Irving, they will still be fun to watch.

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