Chicago Bulls (15-12) @ Indiana Pacers (16-12)
I don't remember the reason, but I didn't actually get to watch the first Bulls-Pacers matchup back on Dec. 4. It's probably better that I didn't, because it was uglier than Ronnie Brewer's jumper.
The Pacers edged the Bulls 80-76 in a defensive struggle worthy of Big Ten basketball lore. Despite the solid defensive effort from the Bulls, Paul George dropped 34 points on 14-25 shooting. Meanwhile, Luol Deng scored 17 on 5-15 shooting and Boozer pitched in 14 on 7-13 from the field.
Needless to say, the Bulls cannot allow another similarly heroic effort from George if they hope to snag a win on the road (which would be nice, as the Pacers are a half game ahead of the Bulls in the Central division).
The same dramatis personae will take the floor for the Pacers. Roy Hibbert mans the middle, averaging 9.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.86 blocks per game. No, Hibbert is not the flashiest or most athletic big man, but he is a serious shot blocking force and can hit the glass with impunity (5th in the league in offensive rebounds).
David West leads the way for Indiana in points, averaging 17.4 per from the power forward spot, also pitching in 8.1 boards per game. The aforementioned Paul George pitches in 16.3 ppg and 7.1 rpg; Kirk Hinrich has gotten torn up by Jeff Teague and Jeremy Lin in back-to-back games, so he'll need to play a solid defensive game this time around if the Bulls are to have a chance.
Rounding out the rest of the rotation, the Pacers also feature such frontcourt pieces as SF Gerald Green, PF Tyler Hansbrough, SF Sam Young and C Ian Mahinmi. The Pacers are obviously a frontcourt-oriented team, with only George, 3-point shooter Lance Stephenson and backup PG D.J. Augustin the only Pacer guards getting meaningful minutes.
If you like low-scoring frontcourt battles, this is the game for you. Here's the player comparison for Noah and Hibbert based on the 2011-12 season numbers:
Again, these comparisons are far from perfect without the context of each individual game situation in mind, but it does provide a general sketch of what went on when both Noah and Hibbert were on the floor at the same time last season.
Points of Concern
Simply put, fatigue is a concern. The Bulls are of course short-handed, what with the absences of Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton, and when I watch the Bulls there is always a morbid, pervading sense that this is a team that is hanging by a thread at all times, an awkward Noah ankle twist or a hard knock to a Deng shoulder away from oblivion (i.e. major minutes for RADMAN).
Other points (isn't Bulls basketball one giant monolithic concern anyway?):
- Can the Bulls stop Paul George from experiencing an offensive supernova redux?
- Bulls guards (and bigs) finishing at the basket in the face of Hibbert's shot-blocking presence
- With the Pacers' rebounding prowess essentially neutralizing the Bulls' biggest asset, can Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich and Marco Belinelli give the Bulls a semblance of consistent scoring? Was the game in Madison Square Garden a mere outlier for Kirk Hinrich?
- Can Nate Robinson score in parts of games that actually matter?
- Strong first. The Bulls can't afford to fall behind early like they did last night against Houston. If you're looking for a college football equivalent, the Bulls are a triple option team: good with the lead (if you ignore the Milwaukee game), not good at playing from behind.
- Guard play. Just like the Memphis game, this is one that will probably be determined by guard play. Kirk Hinrich absolutely needs to bounce back and find some sort of confidence in his shot.
- Turnovers. In a game like this, each possession is precious. On average, the Bulls and Pacers are just about equally careless, with the two teams averaging 15.5 and 15.4 turnovers per game, respectively. This won't be a speedy game with lots of transition opportunities, so the Bulls can't afford to pointlessly throw it into the stands too often.
- Neither team hits 90.
- Carlos Boozer gets at least three shots blocked and produces the audible sounds to prove it (i.e. AYYYYYY).
- Double-doubles for both Hibbert and Noah.
- Bulls 82, Pacers 87.