The two standouts of the Central Division meet tonight in Indianapolis. The Bulls, coming off a disturbingly close victory over the 76ers, face the Pacers for the first time since dismantling them in mid November. Derrick Rose scored 20 points on 16 shots in what was probably the best game of his brief comeback season. It was awhile ago, is what I’m saying. For all the talk of the Pacers decline, their record since the All-Star break (10-6) is right with the Bulls (11-5). Nine of those 16 games since the break were at home for Chicago, with only 7 home games the rest of the way. I went through that digression to reinforce this point: any idea that the Bulls are “a lock” to upset the Pacers in a prospective second round matchup is dangerously premature.
As far as this game is concerned, this should be a good benchmark for the Bulls, being only their sixth game against a likely Eastern Conference playoff squad since the break (they’re 3-2 in the previous five). The Bulls have managed to stay healthy through this recent run, and, though we have to assume it will run out at some point, we know they can adjust to injuries as well as anyone. The Pacers, meanwhile, will be without Bull for a Day Andrew Bynum for the foreseeable future, if not the rest of the season.
Andrew Bynum is out indefinitely with continued soreness and swelling in his right knee, the Pacers announce.
— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) March 21, 2014
Ian Mahinmi recently made his return to help bolster the Pacers’ frontcourt, though. They’ve been arguably the best team in the NBA for most of the season, and while there are certainly faults in their armor, eventually they’re going to get back to throttling people again (I mean, maybe they won’t because Evan Turner is awful and their defense is in shambles, but you have to assume). This is still the #1 team in the Eastern Conference, so perhaps reports of their demise were exaggerated.
Probable Staring Lineups
Chicago Bulls (38-30, 2nd in Central, 4th in East)
C: Joakim Noah, 6th season. 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists.
PF: Carlos Boozer, 12th season. 14.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists.
SF: Mike Dunleavy, 12th season. 11.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists.
SG: Jimmy Butler, 3rd season. 12.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists.
PG: Kirk Hinrich, 11th season. 8.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists.
Indiana Pacers (50-18, 1st in Central, 1st in East)
C: Roy Hibbert, 6th season. 11.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks.
PF: David West, 11th season. 14.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists.
SF: Paul George, 4th season. 22.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists.
SG: Lance Stephenson, 4th season. 14.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists.
PG: George Hill, 6th season. 10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 asssists.
Key Matchup(s): Joakim Noah vs Roy Hibbert. In all fairness, this could just be Joakim Noah vs his opponent for the rest of the season, because for all intents and purposes, Joakim Noah is the Bulls. Hibbert has definitely stepped his level of play down from where it was in the beginning of the season, but he’s still every bit a viable candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. These two are as close as we have to legit pivotmen in this league, and they will do battle tonight for Central Division supremacy*
*just kidding, the Pacers’ magic number is like 3. They’ve won this division already.