Big questions for a Wednesday pair
The Bulls are in Indiana to take on the Pacers. The Mavericks are visiting the Thunder. Our 5-on-5 team shares some thoughts on the doubleheader (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).
1. Bulls or Pacers: Whose fans should feel more optimistic this season?
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Insider: These teams have incredibly similar profiles, but if pressed I'd have to go with the Bulls. Mostly that's because I think they'll win an eventual seven-game matchup between the teams. While they're close at three positions, Derrick Rose has a bigger advantage over George Hill than Paul George has over Luol Deng. I also like Chicago's bench a little better, though I'm not thrilled with either group at the moment.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: Bulls fans. That's because they have Derrick Rose. I know he's struggled early on but anyone who thinks he will struggle all season is crazy. He is a better all-around player and a better all-around shooter than he's ever been. If the Bulls can stay healthy they are the biggest challenge to the Heat because they have Rose.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Indy. I think by now it's pretty well established that I'm really high on the Pacers and have been long before they got off to this great start. They're so much deeper than they were, Paul George appears to have taken another step and they've built up a lot of valuable continuity over the past few seasons trying to close the gap on Miami. I understand the widespread respect for Derrick Rose, but I still found it surprising that the Bulls got so much more preseason love than Indy. Chicago still looks a scorer short to me and has to convince the NBA world that it can stay healthy.
Jared Wade, 8 points 9 Seconds: Pacers. Their team was one game away from the NBA Finals last season, and it has started off this season as the last undefeated team. We shouldn't read too much into November results -- and Chicago will be fine -- but Indiana's mission to win a ring couldn't have started off better.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Pacers. They're a team that was within a game of the NBA Finals and they addressed their biggest issue. They're deeper, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert are a year older and a year improved. Things have to feel pretty good in Indy right now.
2. Rose or George: Who will make more noise in the MVP race?
Doolittle: If the Bulls win at a high level, Rose will get all the credit. George, on the other hand, will have to share praise with Roy Hibbert, who may be headed for Defensive Player of the Year honors. It probably depends on which team wins more games, and since I think Chicago is a little better, I have to go with Rose.
Friedell: George has been great to start the season but Rose is only going to get better. He just has to continue shaking off all the rust. George is an awesome player but Rose's storyline will be too hard to ignore if he can stay on the floor.
Stein: The reflex answer is D-Rose because he's already been there and because he's so far and away Chicago's featured guy. But who wants to rush out and dismiss P-George now after the way he's started the season? If I could personally attend more of George's games, I'm pretty sure he'd be a lock for the top five in MVP voting, because he always blows up the box score in my presence.
Wade: Paul George. Voters love a comeback story, but Rose already has a trophy and George looks poised for a Bob Beamon-esque leap forward this season. It will remain LeBron's award to lose, with Kevin Durant and Chris Paul close behind, but George should remain on the fringe of the conversation as long as he continues to lead this Indiana juggernaut.
Young: Rose. Once he gets rid of the rust, Rose will put up numbers, the Bulls will win a bunch of games and the undisputed people's champ will pick up a lot of buzz. The MVP is almost as much about the story as it is about the production and no one is in a better position for that than Rose.
3. Thunder or Mavs: Whose start should have their fans happier?
Doolittle: Oklahoma City, because not only do the Thunder have a higher upside for this season, but a couple of early factors are working in their favor. First, Russell Westbrook mostly looks like himself, even if his shooting is understandably rusty. Also, the Thunder have actually been better with Kevin Durant off the floor. That won't last, but it does serve as an early indicator that Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson will be able to supply some of the bench impact lost when Kevin Martin departed.
Friedell: Thunder. They got Russell Westbrook back. It's that simple. The Thunder are a title contender with him back in the fold.
Stein: OKC's. The Mavs have played better so far and have turned some heads back home with an offense that's proven as potent as the locals were promised. But Russell Westbrook is back a month early, which is another way of saying that it doesn't matter how the Thunder have looked so far. Their fans have to be giddy to see him recover so quickly as lonely as Kevin Durant looked without him.
Wade: Mavericks. Only the Clippers are stacking points at a better clip so far, and the Dirk Nowitzki/Monta Ellis scoring combo is arguably the league's best. Time will change that as Ellis reverts toward his normal efficiency numbers, but all signs point to Dallas returning to the postseason and posing a threat to the West's top teams.
Young: Thunder. They're 2-1 with two ugly wins over mediocre/bad teams, and a blowout loss on the road to the Wolves. But they got Russell Westbrook back, which is by far their biggest win of the opening week.
4. Dirk or KD: Who will retire with more MVP awards?
Doolittle: Well, Nowitzki will end up with one, so you have to go with Durant. You can pencil KD in for at least one award because of LeBron fatigue, maybe even this season. He's also four years younger than LeBron, so he should have a window to himself in a few years.
Friedell: Durant. If LeBron weren't in the picture, KD would already have a few. His time will come.
Stein: Hard to go against Durant here when he only just turned 25. But I get where you're going with this question. He's got to win the first MVP trophy just to catch the inventor of the Unguardable One-Legged Fadeaway … and LeBron appears to be in no mood to relinquish the MVP trophy anytime soon. I'm going to say that Durant ultimately finds a way to win at least two of these, but read here to find out why LeBron remains the heavy favorite to keep Durant stuck on zero MVPs after this season.
Wade: Push. Dirk isn't going to get another one and, while I can certainly see Durant winning two, history suggests it's a tough feat. Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant each failed to earn a second MVP trophy. Looking at that list, it's hard to assume even a player as great as KD will get two.
Young: KD. Dirk has one, and at 35, probably isn't going to be winning any more. Durant just turned 25, has three runner-up finishes for the award and will be in the conversation for the next 10 years most likely. Just playing the odds here.
5. Who wins on Wednesday night?
Doolittle: I'll take the Bulls in Indy. Chicago has the urgency of avoiding a 1-3 start, and has a couple of days' rest while the Pacers played on the road on Tuesday. Oklahoma City is a better team and is playing at home, so the Thunder.
Friedell: The Pacers and the Thunder. Bulls fans will press the panic button -- but they shouldn't. This team is still going to be very good, they just need more time to come together.
Stein: Indiana and Oklahoma City. The Pacers are in the sort of groove that -- along with all the hate that flows between these two teams -- they won't be slowed by the fact they're on the second half of a back-to-back. The Mavs, though, will not be helped by the fact they played Tuesday night while OKC rested. They were hoping to catch the Thunder before Westbrook was back and definitely won't be glad to see him.
Wade: Pacers and Thunder. Indiana has it rough coming off a game Tuesday night in Detroit, but I like both the home teams to win Wednesday night. The Bulls remain a bit off-kilter and the Mavericks, as well as they're playing, don't have Durant and Westbrook.
Young: Pacers and Thunder. Going with the home teams. The Bulls are probably the most desperate of the four, but the Pacers are playing fantastically. The Mavericks are a somewhat surprising 3-1, but the Thunder were a lot more comfortable with Westbrook back. And there's also the fact OKC has won 10 straight against Dallas, including the four-game sweep in 2012.