Bulls-Pacers Preview

MJ and Reg

The Basics: Chicago (36-39) at Indiana (31-43). The Bulls are only 12-27 at home while the Pacers are 21-14 at home…which includes wins over the Cavaliers, Celtics, Lakers and Magic. In other words: Uh oh.

Advanced stuff: Chicago ranks 18th in Offensive Efficiency (104.7 points per 100 possessions) while the Pacers rank 20th (104.4). The Bulls are also 18th in Defensive Efficiency (105.7 points given up per 100 possessions) and the Pacers are 19th (106.2). So it’s basically a classic case of “The Resistible Force” meeting “The Movable Object.”

The season series: Chicago leads 2-1, and I know this is going to be a shocker, but the Bulls have two wins at home and one loss in Indiana. They won 104-91 on November 14 (thanks to Derrick Rose’s 23 points and 8 assists) and 112-106 last Saturday (behind Ben Gordon’s game-high 25 points), but they lost 98-91in their lone trip to Conseco Field House due to Troy Murphy’s explosion (14 boards and a season-high 27 points) and T.J. Ford’s clutch shooting (9 points in the final four minutes).

The stakes: The Bulls are trying to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the East — two games up on the Charlotte Bobcats — while entertaining slight hopes of moving up to seventh or maybe even sixth place…which is basically a “pick your poison” proposition, since the only difference that the seeding makes is deciding whether Chicago will be eliminated by the Cavs, Celtics or Magic. Barring some timely natural disaster that swallows all three cities. At that point, the field would be wide open.

Meanwhile, Indy’s playoff odds currently stand at 1.5 percent, so, for them, this is all about PACER PRIDE, BABY! In related news, a Google search for “Indiana Pacer Pride” nets two results.

Ominous stats, Part I: The Bulls have lost 18 of their last 21 games in Indianapolis.

Ominous stats, Part II: Indiana has held the Bulls to 95.7 PPG in their last six visits.

Ominous stats, Part III: Derrick Rose scored a season-low 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting the one and only time he played on the Pacers’ home court.

Players to watch: Ben Gordon is averaging 24.0 PPG on 50.9 percent shooting against the Pacers this season. However, he’s only 3-for-12 from downtown against them. Derrick Rose is hitting only 38 percent of his shots against Indiana, but he’s averaging 8.0 assists. Rose has only averaged more dimes against two other teams (Milwaukee and Sacramento).

Players to fear: Danny Granger is only shooting 35 percent against the Bulls this season, but he did score a game-high 32 points in Chicago last Saturday. Pacers rookie Brandon Rush has been on a mini-tear lately. He scored a career-high 29 versus the Bulls on Saturday and then matched it against the Wizards on Sunday…and he shot nearly 60 percent (26-for-44) in those two games. In fact, in the four games since he became a starter, Rush is averaging 21.0 PPG. Quite a rise above the 7.2 PPG he’s averaging for the season.

Injuries: LuolDeng is still out with that anterior right tibial stress fracture, which is code for “Done For The Season.” John Salmons’ groin is still smarting — which is why Vinny Del Negro held him out of the fourth quarter and overtime of Sunday’s loss to the Raptors — and he’s listed as “questionable.” Lindsey Hunter is suffering flu-like symptoms.

On the other side, Indiana is without Troy Murphy (sprained left knee ligament), Marquis Daniels (sprained right wrist) and of course Mike Dunleavy Jr. (right knee soreness).

Outlook: Grim. The Pacers are tough at home and the Bulls are bad on the road. Vinny has been using a seven-man rotation, and one of the best of those seven men — Salmons — will either be hampered by injury or won’t play at all. Chicago would have to be focused and determined on both ends of the court for the entire game (for once) to pull off a rare road win.



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