The Bulls have their problems, still. A lot of them were still evident in Wednesday night's loss in Indiana, but over time you'd think that many will be fixed. But one that may not is the emergence of Paul George as the leader of the Pacers.
As Ricky pointed out before the game, throughout this 'rivalry' the Bulls have had their trump card in Derrick Rose. Both teams have had stellar defenses, but it takes someone who can transcend that opposing force to provide the balance needed to be a truly great team.
And it's not just hitting game-winners like Rose did in the Bulls lone win this year, but more the mindset that if your team is locked down against defensively there's someone to merely go to and provide something productive. George did not have the greatest game on Wednesday (and may not ever be that awesome against the Bulls given their wing defenders), with only 21 points in nearly 40 minutes on 6-19 shooting. And he didn't even score a field goal in the last 10 minutes when his team barreled ahead towards victory. But he did get to the line for two trips (going 4-4), had two assists and a big offensive rebound. The Pacers weren't a team lacking for a late-game option because they had George.
And the impact was maybe even more evident on the defensive end. Derrick Rose was also without a field goal in that time and had a turnover to his two assists, and this was in part because George was switched on to Rose and was extremely disruptive. Here was Rose after the game.
At the end, they put George on me instead of C.J. (Watson), and I guess that's what's going to happen in the fourth quarter. Almost every team did it — double-team or put a bigger guy on me. So that forces me to pass.
And here's George, apparently really feeling himself as his team's leader:
We want to step away from that shadow as the ‘little brothers' of this division. Their success is the Michael Jordan era. This is a new age, this is a new team. It's ours till they take it.
Kind of a...well, nonsense thing to say. But between that, Roy Hibbert campaigning for DPoY, and a the rest of a team that seem genuinely more pumped up for that game in Indy, the Pacers really believe they can usurp (or, in Paul George's world, stay on top of) the Bulls this season.
As my pal Doug at Bulls Confidential likes to say, this attitude of the Pacers towards the Bulls is sort of how our team feels about the Heat. And the Bulls believe, and have shown in some big regular season wins, that the Heat should fear them. Paul George was not really that good last year, still 'entering the conversation' which meant more buzz than production by the time the season was over. But he's still very young, and if he's improved like he's shown this season to the point where he's matching that hype, maybe the Bulls should be just as worried about the Pacers this year.