(Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

Game Preview: Indiana Pacers Set to Battle Bulls

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Chicago Bulls (38-30) at Indiana Pacers (50-18)

Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse – Indianapolis, Indiana
Tip: 7:00 p.m. ET
Television: Fox Sports Indiana
Line: Indiana -6.5

A matchup with the Chicago Bulls looms for the Indiana Pacers tonight, and the Vegas odds call for a Pacers win. Chicago might have something to say otherwise, however, with the way they’ve been playing recently.

Although the Bulls are not going to catch the Pacers in the divisional race or conference standings, they could very well move up to as high as the third seed in the East come playoff time. That says something about a team that lost its best player, Derrick Rose, to injury in November and then traded another core player, in Luol Deng, to Cleveland.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau leads Chicago into Bankers Life Fieldhouse tonight for a showdown with Central Division foe Indiana. The Pacers have not been playing their best basketball of late, which is a concern but not yet a big problem.

Indiana holds the top seed in the East and leads second-place Miami by three games heading into tonight’s battle.

In scouting Chicago, a number of keys should be addressed. One of those being how to limit center Joakim Noah in all facets of the game.

Noah is undoubtedly one of the most well-rounded big men in the NBA. The University of Florida product has really developed his game since being drafted. Noah is now an All-Star and one of the top defenders in the Association. He averages a double-double, is a more-than-willing passer (and good at it), and an overall scrappy player — a trait that bodes well for Thibodeau’s coaching style. With the way he has led the short-handed team and racked up triple doubles of late, many pundits are starting to see him as the third-most-deserving player, after LeBron James and Kevin Durant, for the MVP trophy.

Indiana leads the league in team defense, but Chicago is right behind them statistically. The Bulls focus on similar strategies the Pacers do:  defensive rebounding, defending on ball-screens and forcing outside jump shots.

Another key for an Indiana victory tonight is matching Chicago’s guard play.

Starters Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler defend well and can get hot offensively. Backup point guard D.J. Augustin, a former Pacer, comes off the bench and has made it rain since being acquired by the Bulls via trade with Toronto. He leads their team in scoring among active players.

Prediction: No question this game could be ugly offensively. Until the Indiana Pacers prove they can beat a quality opponent late in the season, Chicago wins 88-84.

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Tags: Indiana Pacers

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