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The Bulls resume their rivalry against the Indiana Pacers tonight at the United Center. In addition to Paul George's gruesome leg fracture during FIBA exhibition play, Indiana has been plagued by numerous other injuries including those to David West (sprained ankle), George Hill (knee) and our old friend CJ Watson (foot). With the departure of Lance Stephenson to join MJ and Big Al in Charlotte, the Pacers have had trouble finding baskets not unlike last year's Bulls and are just 3-7 on the season. Their additions from
the garbage pile free agency include interim starters Donald Sloan and CJ Miles, as well as former All-BAB First Team member Rodney Stuckey (who is also out with a foot injury).
WHEN AND WHERE
United Center at 7:00 PM. Will be on WGN as well as ESPN-1000 radio.
Derrick RoseKirk Hinrich vs Donald Sloan
Sloan has had a solid season thus far filling in for Hill and Watson, averaging 13 points, 5 boards and 5 assists. A capable three point shooter (37% on the season), he exploded for 31 points against the Wizards on November 5th. Even though Rose is out, Kirk Hinrich should be able to step right in and still win the matchup against Sloan.
Jimmy Butler vs CJ Miles
Jimmy has had a spectacular season in his contract year. Butler dominated his matchup against Demar Derozan on both ends on Thursday, and has scored under 19 points just twice all season long. Did I mention that Jimmy "Max" Buckets is doing all this with a 52/38/80 shooting split? CJ Miles has been a solid shooter throughout his career, but has struggled this season and played only 5 games due to migraines. He's shooting just 25% from the field and 17% from deep, and being guarded by Butler isn't going to help him find his offense.
Mike Dunleavy vs Solomon Hill
Hill was picked 23rd overall by the Pacers in last year's draft, and is getting an opportunity to play this season with 33 MPG. He is averaging 12 points and 5 boards, but ultimately, Dunleavy should be able to provide his usual dose of lights-out shooting, good passing, solid defense and gritty charges.
Pau Gasol vs Luis Scola
West has missed the entire season so far and is not expected to return tonight. He has had big games against the Bulls in the past, with a big reason being Carlos Boozer's inability to defend anything non-stationary. Luis Scola is expected to once again start in his place, and although his addition was celebrated, the Pacers have done jack shit since then. Gasol's length should bother him inside and make him resort to his midrange game, which is effective but not as dangerous as his crafty inside game of fakes and scoop layups. On the other end, expect the Pacers to be in a quandary: sticking Scola on Gasol lets POW! use his size advantage en route to another efficient scoring game, but letting Hibbert guard Gasol could mean Noah having a field day on the glass. Just a hint of the matchup problems that the new Noah-Gasol frontcourt creates, and it should be interesting to see how Vogel plays it.
Roy Hibbert vs Joakim Noah
Roy Hibbert was mediocre for most of last season. We're talking levels of mediocrity that we haven't witnessed since Kwame Brown's debut. Hibbert's season highlight was probably getting blocked by former Bull Kyle Korver. His 2014-15 campaign has been much better, with averages of 15 points, 9 boards and 3 blocks, but he is still wildly inconsistent and has mostly feasted on weak frontcourts- he has scored a total of 6 points on 1-11 shooting in TWO GAMES against the Wizards. Going up against the length of Noah and Gasol while lacking the explosiveness to finish inside is rarely a fun experience. With Noah regaining his rhythm (10/11/6 over the last 3 games), the Bulls should win this matchup easily.
We could just say that Taj Gibson would be the best player on the Pacers right now and leave it at that, but the Bulls bench unit has had some growing pains. Taj Gibson, Kurt Hinrich and Aaron Brooks are part of Thibs' regular rotation, while McDermott and Mirotic have seen a few minutes mostly in the first halves of games. Thibodeau has said many a time that he loves the rookies, and reaffirmed that Friday, but that isn't likely to translate to more minutes anytime soon. This is a golden opportunity for the rooks and forgotten man Tony Snell to showcase their ability to play on both ends.
On the other end, Ian Mahinmi has always been a staple on the Pacers' bench since getting there, and continues to get his usual 16-17 minutes per night. AJ Price has been a solid pickup after being waived by Cleveland, and has played 5 games for Indy, shooting a solid 41% from deep. The Pacers have leaned heavily on their bench, mostly out of necessity with so many injuries, and two (interesting) guys to watch might be Chris Copeland -who is once again chucking away with 7.5 3-point attempts a game despite shooting just 32% from deep and 37% from the field- and former Sixer and man-who-looks-like-a-seven-foot-toddler Lavoy Allen. Allen has always been a project throughout his NBA career, but is putting up per-36 numbers of 12 points, 12 boards and 1.5 blocks.
The starters should win their matchups easily as long as they don't lay an egg, but the bench needs to perform as a cohesive unit and hit their shots tonight if Jimmy and co are to get a meaningful breather in the second half.
Prediction: Bulls 108 Pacers 85
Other noteworthy stuff
- Since Rose's MVP season, Donald Sloan has switched teams five times.
- CJ Miles scored 26 points off the bench on 6-7 shooting from deep when the Utah Jazz blew out the Bulls 132-108 in March 2010. This guy is streaky.
- Pacers forward Wayne Shittington's real name is actually Shayne Whittington
- Hibbert's flop against Noah is arguably one of the 10 best flops of 2014. Incredible agility and body control is needed for a 7 footer to pull that off. He even missed the layup to make it look convincing! Of course, Noah has his own little version of the "I got shoved in the back" flop going on for a few years (it was probably a necessity when practising with Boozy). The matchup at center will be interesting to watch for this reason.