Bulls (48-16, won last 1) @ Pacers (42-23, won last 1)
* 97.88 ppg (10th) vs. 94.45 points allowed (10th)
* 43.8% FG (24th) vs. 43.6% FG allowed (6th)
* 44.03 rppg (4th) vs. 42.28 rebounds allowed (17th)
* 18.65 appg (28th) vs. 14.06 TO pg (9th)
PG-Derrick Rose vs. George Hill
SG-Rip Hamilton vs. Paul George
SF-Luol Deng vs. Dahntay Jones
PF-Carlos Boozer vs. David West
C-Joakim Noah vs. Roy Hibbert
Chicago-Taj Gibson, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik
Indiana-Tyler Hansbrough, Leandro Barbosa, Darren Collison, Lou Amundson
Injuries of note
Indiana-Danny Granger (out, rest/knee)
In the truest sense, whether Pacers or Bulls fans want to admit it or not, Indiana is Chicago’s little brother. Statistically the teams are very similar, but the Bulls are better. Both teams are very deep, but the Bulls are deeper. Both teams have hard-nosed, hustle-first big men, but Chicago’s are a second tier NBA starter and a very solid backup, and Indiana’s are a pair of undersized reserves who would struggle making the rotations of title contenders elsewhere. Both have microwave-type offensive specialists, but Chicago’s are a savvy vet with title experience and an elite-level three point shooter, and Indiana’s is a half-year rental castoff. The one glaring dissimilarity between the two teams is obviously Derrick Rose, a world-class, true star, something the Pacers haven’t had in quite a few years.
Rose is only a game removed from a lingering injury that derailed this abbreviated season, and kept him from defending his MVP crown that he rightfully earned last year. But in some ways that may be a blessing in disguise. Rose will soon get his legs back and be fresh for a title run, and Tom Thibodeau was able to keep the Bulls playing contender basketball in his absence. The Bulls’ coaches may rest Rose, and the rest of the starters a little tonight, but they’ll all play, unlike Indiana’s core, who will certainly be without Danny Granger, and may be missing George Hill and Roy Hibbert for large chunks of the game. Indiana was able to beat Detroit on Monday without any of those guys, but a full-strength Chicago team, even with starters playing only 75% of their normal minutes, would have run over the short-handed Pacers in that situation.
There’s some level of pride to winning tonight. The Pacers would like to beat Chicago at home to finish off the team’s best regular season in nearly a decade, but Frank Vogel and the rest of Indiana’s underrated coaching staff will play it smart. I am admittedly disappointed that this may be the end of the 2011-12 iteration of this oft-heated brotherly rivalry. It would take Indiana doing the unthinkable (advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals) for them to meet the Bulls again. But I’m able to see past my hatred for Chicago, and my desire to beat them one more time, and consider the playoff implications of needlessly playing starters with the #3 seed already locked up. Besides, there’s a good chance Tyler Hansbrough, Lou Amundson, Jeff Pendergraph and Kyryrlo Fesenko hurt someone tonight, and that’s a huge plus. No, I’m only kidding. I wouldn’t wish any Bulls players to get hurt, right? Right?
Prediction: Bulls 94, Pacers 82
At the very least I’d like to see Fesenko get as many minutes as he can handle, and I’d also like to see Darren Collison actually do something correctly playing with the Pacers’ second unit. He’s been an unmitigated disaster as a bench player, and if the Pacers expect to get 15-20 productive minutes a night out of him during the playoffs, they’re going to need him to step his game up, starting tonight.
Lucas Klipsch believes in justice. Follow him on Twitter @LukeNukem317