The Indiana Pacers come to town tonight to face off with the Bulls at the United Center in what was perhaps the 2nd biggest rivalry of the Thibs era during LBJ's time exhibiting his talents down in South Beach. Though this season, the rivalry seems to be set to simmer than set on full blast.
Going back to their last meeting with the Bulls, the Pacers have posted a 4-2 record (including a win at home against the Bulls) averaging 100.6 pts on offense while only giving up a paltry 94.8 pts on defense. Indiana has worked its way up the standings in the East to the current 7th seed in the playoff picture despite being without star Paul George all year.
Granted two of those wins came over lesser opponents (ORL and NY), but the other two came against other playoff teams (CHI and MIL). In general, the Pacers have been trending upwards after experiencing a 7-game losing streak in mid-January and have doubled their win total since snapping the streak (15-6). With Paul George looking to return soon, the Pacers could be a tough 1st rd match-up come playoff time.
The Bulls on the other hand have free fallen to the number 4 spot since posting a 1-5 record dating back to their last meeting with the Pacers, averaging 95.8 pts on offense while giving up 103.3 pts on defense. The lone win came over the Tank Commanding 76ers. The Bulls seem to be running on fumes after appearing to run out of gas in their last two games against the Bobcats and Thunder.
Unless you've been living in Kirk's Well for the last few weeks, we're all aware the Bulls have been without Rose, Butler and Gibson (and it appears that will still be the case tonight). And despite the improved play of guys like Mirotic and Snell and some useful minutes out of seldom used McDermott and Mohammed, the void left by our injured players is becoming more noticeable.
I expect tonight's game to have the grinding feel that we've come to expect in Rose-less games, and that will probably suit the Pacers just fine. Though they do have some offensive fire power with Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench and George Hill upping his offensive production as of late, too. The Pacers will also rely on some balanced production from West, Miles, Hill, and Watson. Scola and Copeland also have the ability to get hot off the bench, and Mahinmi and Allen provide solid defense and rebounding, and with the Bulls short-handed, this could be an issue tonight. Hibbert seems to have regressed some this year, but is still a presence in the paint on defense and has the ability to alter shots and will probably spend most of his energy tonight trying to hold Gasol in check, letting West guard the less offensive-minded Noah.
Without Rose and Butler in the line-up, the Bulls are going to have to rely heavily on ball movement/off ball movement and can hopefully knock down open looks, as they're primarily a jump shooting team these days.
BULLS Projected Starters: Brooks, Snell, MDJ, Gasol, Noah
PACERS Projected Starters: Hill, Miles, Hill, West, Hibbert
The Pacers should have a slight edge in the backcourt tonight with Hill having a definitive size advantage over Brooks. He'll also be able to use his length to disrupt Brooks defensively as well. Stuckey is a stout and strong SG, akin to Jimmy Butler, and with Kirk always seeming to have one foot in the Well these days, expect Snell to log a lot of minutes tonight to try and counteract the match-ups.
I'm looking for Niko to continue his increased production and hopefully create some match-up problems for the Pacers, and expect Nazr to get some burn tonight given the Pacers' frontcourt depth.
Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day and some of us may be a bit hung over from the celebrating. The Bulls seem to be as well since posting back-to-back quality wins against the Wizards and Thunder a couple weeks ago, leaving the local media to focus more on the frayed relationship between Thibs and the Org and his minutes mgmt (despite him extending the rotation and not practicing on off days), etc. There's a saying in sports that "Winning cures all". Let's hope the Bulls can reignite the rivalry and cure our collective hangover starting with a win tonight, because KC's trademark buckets of cold water don't seem to be doing the job.
Game time is 7pm CST on CSN. For those of you who loathe the local broadcast team, my wife (an avid Bulls fan in her own right) suggested earlier this season that we play "That's what she said" while watching Bulls games, which tends to help with the local calls. For example... The Bulls should look to pound the ball down low....That's what she said. Brooks pokes one in....That's what she said. Oh my....That's what she said.