Scott Skiles led the Chicago Bulls to their first playoff appearance since 1998 last season, then watched as every team around him in the Central Division upgraded in the offseason.

Cleveland brought in a trio of players to complement LeBron James. Ron Artest rejoined the Pacers, the Bucks got back T.J. Ford and landed Bobby Simmons, and the Pistons hired Flip Saunders.

On paper, it looked as if every team improved.

"Well, everyone in the division is better," Skiles said Wednesday before the Bulls lost to the Knicks. "I don't think they look better, I think they are better."

It didn't appear that way for the Bulls, whose biggest offseason move was trading C Eddy Curry, their leading scorer last season, to New York after he wouldn't agree to take a DNA test to see whether he had a fatal heart condition.

So instead of worrying about trying to keep up with his division rivals, Skiles is choosing to ignore them and just focus on grabbing a playoff spot.

"There's also two other divisions in the East, and the top eight teams go," the coach said.

"There were times last year when we would have been in first place in the [Atlantic] Division but were still in third place in ours. So we have to look at that as a whole."

* SURGERY FOR SUNS' GRANT: F Brian Grant underwent surgery on his right knee yesterday and is expected to be out for three months.

The surgery, performed by team physician Tom Carter, repaired the patella tendon and removed bone spurs on Grant's kneecap.

-- From News Services

Phoenix forward Brian Grant will miss three months after right knee surgery.