While many have been quick to dismiss the Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose sidelined, coach Tom Thibodeau's team is eager to prove its doubters wrong.
After six consecutive losing campaigns, the Sacramento Kings are also looking to surprise.
Chicago tries to continue its recent domination of Sacramento as both teams kick off their seasons Wednesday night at the United Center.
After finishing an Eastern Conference-best 50-16 last season, the Bulls entered the playoffs with legitimate title hopes before Rose tore his left ACL during Game 1 of a first-round loss to Philadelphia. It's still unknown when the league's 2010-11 MVP will be able to return to the court.
"We all know us being without D. Rose we'll probably be the underdog in every game we play," Carlos Boozer told the team's official website. "That's all right. We're ready for that challenge. We'll be ready to play every game."
With Rose out, Chicago will look for even more from Luol Deng. The All-Star forward, who played through a torn ligament in his left wrist last year, ultimately opted against surgery and insists he's good to go.
"Trying to do too much would be the biggest mistake I could make," said Deng, whose average of 15.3 points ranked second on the team behind Rose's 21.8. "I know how good I could be when I'm myself. For all of us as a team, no one individual is going to do what Derrick did. As a group, we all have to commit. I'm really looking forward to it."
While the Bulls won 18 of the 27 games Rose missed during the 2011-12 regular season thanks to impressive efforts from their bench, similar displays could be hard to come by with Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver no longer around. Chicago, though, brought back veteran guard Kirk Hinrich for a second go-round and could receive a spark from Nate Robinson.
"I think even if you win a championship, you come back the next day and people will doubt you," Deng said. "It's just the way it always is. I think as a team - we hear things all summer - you know what's being said. The best thing that we do as a team is we really focus on what we have to do day-in and day-out. We don't try to get caught up in what's going on outside these four walls."
Chicago has taken seven of eight matchups from Sacramento, including four in a row by an average of 16.8 points.
The Kings, who went 22-44 last season, compiled a West-worst 6-27 road record - one of several areas they're hoping to improve upon in 2012-13. Sacramento will also need to clamp down on defense after finishing last in the league in both opponent field-goal percentage (47.6) and points allowed (104.4).
"We have to surprise people because we're no one in the NBA," coach Keith Smart said. "We have to pull out all the stops to try to grow as a team."
After averaging 18.1 points and a team-best 11.0 rebounds, DeMarcus Cousins seems primed for another big season. The Kings will also be looking for second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas to take his game to the next level after he averaged 15.1 points and 5.4 assists over 41 games when playing at least 24 minutes.
Selected fifth overall in this year's draft, Thomas Robinson could also contribute for the Kings, who went 5-2 during the preseason.
"I'm very pleased," Cousins told the team's official website. "(There's) definitely a big improvement with this team this year so far. We learned a lot. We improved a lot and accomplished a lot this preseason, so hopefully it can carry over to the regular season and we can turn things around here."
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