The league is about one quarter of the way through it's shortened 2011-2012 campaign. Not enough time to have any idea what the final playoff seeding will look like, but enough time to separate the haves from the havenots. The Indiana Pacers are definitely a 'have'.
If I had sat down and been asked to predict the Bulls statement games this season, a game against the Indiana Pacers in late January wouldn't have been on my mind. However, sit amongst the Eastern Conferences' top six teams, tied for second in the loss column with five losses [second only to our Chicago Bulls of course].
The Pacers are two and two against quality opponents with wins against the Lakers and Hawks and losses to the Heat and Magic. They've also beaten Boston twice if we want to lump them in as a quality opponent.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are five and two against quality opponents with wins against the Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies [at home], Hawks [at home], and Magic with their only losses coming to the Hawks [in Atlanta] and Memphis Grizzlies [in Memphis without Rose].
Walking wounded update
In: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah - Both were reported to be fine after returning to the court last game and did not re aggravate their injuries.
Out: Luol Deng, Taj Gibson - Gibson is still listed as day to day and may come back Friday or Sunday, but his ankle is still too bad to play on tonight. Luol Deng is listed as week to week and will try to play the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his left wrist.
Keys to the game
Get ready for a fight
The Chicago Bulls are on a roll, but they've rolled through the dregs of the league. It's great that they've destroyed the bottom feeders, but they'll need to get their game faces on against Indiana.
The Pacers bring several things to the table that cause the Bulls to struggle.
1: They play with a lot of athleticism on the perimeter and can send recover quickly from double teams and traps on Derrick Rose.
2: They play five guys on the court who can score with tremendous balance which plays against the Bulls defensive strength of shutting down the ball handler through overloading him with defensive pressure.
3: The Pacers play like a goon squad. In the playoffs they got away with at least four flagrant fouls and looked as if they weren't above attempting to injury people to get a win.
Rip Hamilton changes everything
The Pacers went overboard attempting to coral Derrick Rose in the playoffs. A strategy that worked well when the Bulls struggled to find alternate scoring and play making, but a quick outlet to Rip Hamilton will give the Bulls another scorer/play maker to make the Pacers pay.
Unfortunately for Chicago, the advantage of having Rip out there will now be mitigated by not having Deng out there. The Bulls will now start Brewer in his place still giving the Pacers a perimeter player they can sag off on.
Can Boozer keep it going?
With the exception of the Nets game, Boozer has been rolling big time on offense [his stats were heavily inflated due to three scores in the final minute where the Nets left him alone under the basket attempting some type of trap].
The Pacers played against a hobbled Boozer in the playoffs, and if Carlos can give the Bulls a strong scoring effort it will give Chicago the offensive balance it needs to defeat the Pacers swarming defense.
The Bulls overload their defense on the strong side of the court which can be dominant against isolation players and superstars but cause greater struggles against more balanced attacks.
The Pacers have a more balanced attack, so the Bulls will need to be cognizant of their rotations and responsibilities to protect against the ball swinging to the opposite side of the court.
Chip on the shoulder
The Pacers have made plenty of improvements, but they're still a tier below this Chicago Bulls team. I expect the Bulls to come out tonight and prove it.