[Thanks to Easy Eis for today's game preview -yfbb]
After dropping their first three games of the season (including a hilarious 20+ point home loss to the Jazz), the Pacers have rebounded to win six of their last seven with their only loss coming on the road to Cleveland by four points. Although the Pacers are still attempting to figure out a team rhythm on offense (20th in offensive efficiency rating at 98.9 pphp and 51.9% true shooting), their roster has no shortage of bucket-getters. It's so easy to forget that Monta Ellis jumped ship from Dallas last season to pick up a main role on the Pacers, and he's had some impressive performances out of the gate despite shooting a shade under 40% from the field to start the season. Meanwhile, George Hill is off to a blistering start from 3-PT range this season (45%), CJ Miles is a proven scoring threat when allocated volume, and the bench combination of Rodney Stuckey/Chase Budinger/Jordan Hill will ensure that offensive production never sharply declines when the starters are out of the game. They have a ton of room for improvement in this area but clearly have the personnel to make such strides. Oh yeah, and that other guy Paul George seems like he's back to being an elite player again too.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, both George Hill and Rodney Stuckey will be out tonight with illness and an ankle injury, respectively.
Defensively, the Pacers appear great with an efficiency rating of 98.0 pphp, but their rebounding rate that lies in the bottom third of the league highlights the biggest problem with this team: frontcourt depth. With Myles Turner expected to miss a couple weeks with a left thumb injury, the only remaining centers on this roster are Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill. Let me repeat that: The only active big men for the Pacers tonight (unless you count Paul George and I don't) are Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill. In theory, neither of those two can handle a Pau Gasol that received a full weekend of rest, so I would really expect Fred Hoiberg to force the issue of getting the ball in Gasol's hands tonight and letting him go to work. Given that two of the Pacers' point guards are out for the game tonight, I can't forsee why this would be difficult for the Bulls to accomplish (unless Rose starts seeing three of Monta Ellis for some reason). Although the potential that Joakim Noah starts tonight ahead of Nikola Mirotic allows the spacing issue to resurface, the substantial lack of talent at the frontcourt spots for the Pacers should be abused by the Bulls all the way to victory. If the Bulls lose this game, we will look back and see that the offense did not do a good enough job of getting the frontcourt involved. That, or the defense allowed three of the Pacers players' to score 20+ points each. Sadly, neither of these scenarios are entirely out of the question.
With all that being said, what the box score blueprint of the Pacers' last three wins will tell us is that they primarily rely on George to get things going offensively and then look for at least one other person to pick up the rest of the scoring slack. Given this, I think it should be relatively easy for the Bulls to limit the damage the Pacers do offensively tonight. They can let PG13 get his, but as long as the Bulls can keep the rest of the roster in check I think the Bulls shouldn't have much trouble getting a victory at home. When these teams play, they tend to bring out either the best play in each other or the worst, but at least this guarantees tonight's game should be nothing short of entertaining regardless of outcome.
Tip is at 8 ET, 7 CT on CSN. And Mike Dunleavy is still out.