Thus far, the Indiana Pacers have managed to stay atop the Eastern Conference’s Central Division by playing excellent defense. Ditto for the Chicago Bulls. While it is true Chicago currently holds a one-game lead over Indiana, the Pacers are looking to change that on Monday night in a game that is a makeup for a Dec. 26 game that was postponed due to a snow storm.
Unfortunately for Indiana, Monday night is the first in a series of back-to-back-to-back games, the first such stretch since last year’s lockout-shortened the schedule.
Coincidentally, both teams have managed to stay strong this year despite being without their star players for the entire season. Chicago has been without Derrick Rose all season; while Indiana has been without Danny Granger, who has not played at all this year due to a knee injury.
But with or without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are still a dangerous team thanks to strong play by defensive players Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, among others. In fact, a case can be made that Noah is a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Tom Thibodeau’s coaching has also been instrumental to their success this far. Defensively, they are third in the NBA in points allowed per game. In fact, they have not allowed more than 93 points in a game since their overtime win against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 18, 2013. They did not have Noah, Boozer or Kirk Hinrich when they played over the weekend, and you could barely tell the difference. And, they have the best road record at 14-7. But they will be facing an Indiana team that is 18-3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in and has won 13 straight at home in Indianapolis, including a decisive stomping of the Miami Heat last Friday.
In fact, the Pacers are #1 in defensive efficiency and 2nd in points allowed per game, yielding only 86.9 points per game at home and overall. Like Chicago, strong defensive play has ameliorated the effects of losing Danny Granger to a knee injury. And with strong play from the 22-year old Paul George, who scored a career-high 34 points and made several clutch throws in an 80-76 win over the Bulls 1 month ago, the Pacers have shown they have the personnel to be a real threat.
Chicago will try to use Deng and Jimmy Butler to keep George in check. But it will take some doing to go against the likes of Pacers’ Roy Hibbert and David West.
Regardless of the final lineup, it would be surprising indeed if tonight’s game were anything other than a low-scoring affair. One thing’s for sure: This will be an interesting contest, as both teams have managed to build somewhat of a rivalry over the past several years.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. EST. Indiana is the favorite by 5 points.