Good times back in Chicago

Oct 17, 2006 7:00 AM

Since few handicappers make much of preseason games in the NBA, the way to make money in the early going is trying to figure out ”˜over / under’ win totals.

Our approach was to initially look at the league’s regular season standings for the past two years. Then we examined free agent signings, trades and draft picks.

Right now, two players stand out. Adam Morrison looks like the real deal for the Carolina Bobcats, who continue to wisely stockpile talent through the draft.

Ben Wallace leaving Detroit for Chicago was the blockbuster move during the offseason. It shifts the balance of power in the Central Division from Motown to the Windy City.

In the East, we’re curious to see if Isiah Thomas will continue to screw up the New York Knicks, which signed Jared Jeffries to a five-year, $30 million deal. That was the largest, and quite possibly the dumbest, free agent lock up. But what else is new from a regime that dropped the Knicks to a brutal 23-59 record last year.

Out West, the focus is on Phoenix and whether Amare Stoudamire can regain his form of two years ago. If so, he needs to again fit in with a Suns ballclub that created a chemistry with Boris Diaw. Steve Nash will try to win his third straight MVP title, this time without the mullet.

Hair-raising news to be sure.

Enough foreplay. These are our early bulls and bears in the 2006-07 NBA market that tips off Oct. 31. All the projected totals are listed in GT’s updated odds (page 19).

Chicago 48½: The Bulls were a .500 team (41-41) a year ago, six wins less than the preceding season. I’ll place the blame on inconsistent guard play from Ben Gordon. Kirk Hinrich was a standout on the Team USA in the world championships and Big Ben gives the Bulls a huge inside presence. Gordon can carry a team on his back and is a big time shooter down the stretch. We see the Bulls for at least 50 wins. OVER.

New Jersey 48½: The Nets won the Atlantic by 11 games and only improved by four victories from the previous season. The Big 3 (Kidd, Carter, Jefferson) are back and should feast upon a weak division. It’s time for Jersey to finally crack the 50-win barrier. OVER.

Detroit 49½: The Pistons won 64 games last year, so the projected total obviously was reached with the Wallace defection. Teyshaun Prince can now have that career season both on offense and defense, but Larry Brown’s coaching magic is missed. Detroit won the Central by 14 a year ago. That won’t happen this season. UNDER.

Charlotte 33½: The win expectation is certainly attainable considering the past history. The Bobcats won 18 games in their first season, then improved to 26 a year ago. Now with a healthy Okefor along with the energetic Morrison, 35 is in range. OVER.

Orlando 38½: We saw this total and nearly lost our cookies. Dwight Howard is a double-double machine and looking like a bigger Kevin Garnett. There’s always the Grant Hill health saga, but Jameer Nelson has established himself as a quality guard. The Magic are deep and hungry. We see them above .500 and that would mean at least 42 wins. OVER.