Thanks to ChiBullsFan4Life for today's game preview -yfbb]
The first time these teams matched up was back on November 15th in what proved to be a quintessential "trap" game for the Bulls. Coming off a win over the Raptors and sitting on the doorstep of the 2-week long circus trip, the Rose-less Bulls played like junk (save for Jimmy Butler, who was his usual awesome self with 32 points on 10-17 shooting) and lost 99-90 to the George-less, West-less, Hill-less, Sloan-less, Stuckey-less Pacers at home (yeesh).
Fast forward a month and a half, and the Bulls are healthy and rolling. The Pacers, meanwhile, are also starting to get healthier, although their superstar, Paul George, still probably isn't coming back this season. Let's take a look at what else has changed since these 2 teams last met up.
For the Pacers:
Offensively, this team can't score. Roy Hibbert's offensive game has more comedy value than actual value, and he's averaging fewer than 7 boards for the second straight year. Meanwhile, Hibbert's front court mate, David West, is starting to show his age, averaging his fewest points per game (12.7) with the worst efficiency (46.5% from the field) since his second year in the league.
As a team, the Pacers are averaging 94.7 points per game, which is bottom-5 in the league. George Hill's return from a knee contusion that caused him to miss the first 28 games of the season might help a little, but this is a team in desperate need of offensive playmakers. Even Paul George's eventual return won't make this offense Championship-caliber.
If there is a silver lining, the Pacers still defend extremely well in Frank Vogel's system. Hibbert is an elite rim protector, and the Pacers allow just 96.5 points per game, which is tied for fewest in the association.
Despite their 11-20 record, the Pacers still sit only 3 games out of the playoffs (LOL Eastern Conference), and their -1.8 point differential is 8th best in the conference.
For the Bulls:
The Bulls are finally healthy and are playing the best they have all season. Rose hasn't missed a game due to injury in over a month. Jimmy Butler is playing like a God. With Brooks, Mirotic, and Gibson coming off the bench, the Bulls almost have an embarrassment of riches.
As long as the Bulls take care of business against weaker competition in the coming days, they will likely make a run up the Eastern Conference standings.
In short, life is good right now for the Bulls.
What to Watch for/Prediction:
This should be a win for the Bulls, though the Pacers defense may make them work a little harder than they'd like. As aforementioned, the Pacers don't pack much punch offensively, but one guy to keep an eye on is Bull-Killer Luis Scola, who seems to transform into LaMarcus freaking Aldrige every time he plays us (he had 21 on 10-12 shooting against us on November 15th).
I think the Bulls come out prepared for this one, not wanting to lose twice to the hapless Pacers in the same season and win this won in a laugher.
Prediction: Bulls 106 Pacers 79