March would qualify as the dog days of the NBA regular season, when playoff spots are secure at the top half of the conference and it's hard to push the proverbial peddle to the metal every night with 70 games behind you and the ones of real importance still a month in the future. As we've seen with the Pacers and Heat lately, maintaining intensity at this point in the calendar is nothing to be taken for granted. It's part of the reason why the Bulls have been so impressive against a very difficult schedule this month, and why their 89-77 victory at the United Center over Indiana on Monday felt so good.
"We want to step away from that shadow as the ‘little brothers' of this division," George said. "Their success is the Michael Jordan era. This is a new age, this is a new team. It's ours till they take it."
The truth is that I do really like this Pacers team and I've maintained throughout the season that they have a great chance at beating the Heat in the playoffs. It's no secret that Indiana has struggled since the calendar flipped to 2014 and Paul George has gone from a dude considered by some to be the third best player in the league to a guy shooting 37 percent in March after shooting 40 and 41 percent in February and January, respectively. Miami and Indiana have fallen off to such a significant degree that it puts faint hope in your mind that maybe the Bulls have a puncher's chance in the playoffs. I'm not sure if I'm there yet, but wins like this bring the topic to the forefront of my mind.
The story of Bulls-Pacers on Monday was the story of most Bulls games: Chicago locked Indiana up when the Pacers had the ball and abused them inside with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Indiana might have the best front line in the NBA if that title doesn't belong to the Bulls, but Noah and Gibson simply outworked and outplayed their counterparts on Monday. Noah is the player with the MVP chants and the one who has overflowing admiration from the entire city at this point, but his phenomenal season shouldn't make you forget about Gibson. It's a two-man game for the Bulls, and Gibson is a very much a significant factor in it. He kicked Indiana's ass on Monday night for 23 points and eight rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting. He also did this:
It's important to note that Roy Hibbert only played 26 minutes because of foul trouble, and was held to three points and five rebounds on 0-for-5 shooting. We'll credit Noah for that, though, because why not?
Also: Hinrich! Kirk was feeling it particularly in the second half, catching fire at one point to finish with 18 points.
The Pacers shot 37 percent from the field. The Bulls shot under 42 percent. It wasn't the prettiest win, but beating the Pacers always rules. I'm not ready to say the Bulls can beat Miami or Indiana in the second round yet, but here's hoping I'm wrong. This team is making me start to believe with victories like this one. Let's keep it rolling. Only 11 games left in the regular season!