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Bulls vs. Pacers game preview and thread: can the “Big Three” do it again?

Chicago is inching back towards .500

Indiana Pacers v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Tonight, our Chicago Bulls will try to ride the momentum of their Atlanta Hawks victory Monday towards another win in the second game of a back-to-back set, this time on the road against a careening Indiana Pacers team missing its best player. Indiana hasn’t played since a Saturday loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Chicago is on a three-game win streak at present as its schedule eases up ahead of the impending All-Star break. The Bulls’ “Big Three” of probable 2023 All-Star small forward DeMar DeRozan (averaging 26 points during the two games he’s been available), shooting guard Zach LaVine (averaging 25.7 points during the streak) and center Nikola Vucevic (averaging 24.3 points and 15 rebounds) has taken charge of late. Vucevic has notched 11 straight double-doubles. 21-year-old starting power forward Patrick Williams might have had his best game of the year last night, with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double. Even with Javonte Green struggling through a lingering knee issue (uh oh), the Bulls’ defensive efforts of late, keyed by a scrambling Alex Caruso, has been solid.

The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t won a game since Tyrese Haliburton incurred a left elbow sprain and mild left knee bone contusion against the Knicks two weeks ago, and accordingly have lost their last seven contests in a row. Facing off against a tired Bulls team on the start of a three-game road trip could be a bit of a lucky break, if Chicago lets a banged-up Indy club stick around throughout the night.

At 22-24, Chicago is mere percentage points behind the 23-25 Pacers. A win tonight would move the Bulls to the Eastern Conference’s ninth seed, which doesn’t sound like much, until you take stock of the East standings, and realize that Chicago is merely three games behind the conference’s sixth seed, Jimmy Butler’s Miami Heat. Granted, the Heat will most likely make a move at the February 9th trade deadline to improve its team, while the Bulls front office might just leave this top-heavy club twisting in the wind rather than addressing its obvious weaknesses (three-point shooting, lack of a healthy playmaking point guard who isn’t 36, wing defense, frontcourt depth).

Regardless, Chicago is capitalizing on this light stretch, and if it keeps this up could benefit by a climb up the standings. The Bulls’ schedule through the rest of the month is fairly light, so Chicago has a unique opportunity to keep stacking up wins. The team should win tonight, as well as Thursday against the Hornets, Saturday against the Magic, and maybe even Tuesday against the middling Clippers, who are just 4-6 in their last 10.

Injury Report: Goran Dragic is dealing with a non-COVID-19 illness and is not traveling with the team for this three-game road stint. Javonte Green and Lonzo Ball are still recovering from their respective knee surgeries.

Beyond Haliburton, the Pacers are also missing ex-Bulls center Daniel Theis, and may be without rookie guard Andrew Nembhard, who is questionable with a non-COVID-19 illness of his own.

Time: 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago