The 19-12 Milwaukee Bucks currently are mixed into a competitive race in the central division with the newly assembled Chicago Bulls (17-10) half a game ahead and the young Cleveland Cavaliers (18-12) close behind.
Last year, the Bucks went 46-26 and were the only team in the central with a winning record and a playoff spot.
The Pacers finished second in the division last year with a 34-38 record. They got into a play-in matchup with the Washington Wizards, but they lost the one-game contest 135-134.
About 40% of the way through the 2021-22 regular season, the central has risen in competitive nature and currently possesses the No. 2 (Bulls), No. 3 (Bucks) and No. 4 (Cavaliers) teams in the eastern conference.
The Bucks’ success can be attributed to their deep lineup that features six double players scoring in the double digits. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, newcomer Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton are all scoring over 10 points per game (ppg).
Allen has been the biggest surprise for the Bucks after they acquired him from the Memphis Grizzlies in a trade.
He has put up career-high numbers in scoring, 3-point percentage, rebounds and blocks in his first season with the 2021 NBA champs.
The Bulls start off hot after their offseason free agency splash
The Bulls’ success has come in large part due to the scoring efforts of Zach Lavine and Demar Derozan.
This dynamic duo is the only pair of teammates to accompany one another in the top ten scoring list for the regular season.
The newly born Chicago team also added Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in the offseason. Caruso is the current NBA steals leader, as he is averaging 2.2 per game.
The Cavaliers’ young squad has a promising start
The Cavaliers have come out to a strong start due to their depth in what is an extremely young lineup where the top five scorers are all under the age of 25.
Those scorers are Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and rookie of the year candidate Evan Mobley.
Mobley, the USC product, has helped round out a lineup that will have to bear the rest of the season without Collin Sexton, their leading scorer in each of the last two years.
Looking at the games ahead
Despite the central being deeper and more competitive than in years past, the Bucks have come out to a 6-0 record in divisional round games.
They also have the two-time MVP in Antetokounmpo, who has been nothing short of stellar by starting the year with at least 25 ppg and 10 rpg for the fifth consecutive year.
The Bucks next divisional round matchups will be against the Cavaliers on Dec. 18 and the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 3.