The United Center will be buzzing when the Chicago Bulls take the floor against the Indiana Pacers. In a showdown featuring the top-two teams in the NBA Central—a win by the Bulls would make them the team to beat.
With Taj Gibson out and Derrick Rose being a day-to-day player, the Bulls are experiencing the rigors of a shortened schedule. At 16-3, the Bulls have the NBA's best record and arguably the best team.
Beating the Pacers further proves that point.
At 11-5, the Pacers are one of the NBA's better teams. Rugged on defense, their physical play bothered the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs last season. They were the only team in the NBA Central to hand the Bulls a lost last season.
Indiana presents some not-so-clear matchup problems for Derrick Rose and Co., while Rose seemed to have his way with the Pacers guards. Pacers' Coach Frank Vogel keeps Darren Collison and George Hill running off of screens set by center Roy Hibbert and power forwards David West and Tyler Hansbrough.
This strategy worked to perfection in the playoffs. Instead of Hill and West, Vogel had A.J. Green and Jeff Foster running the same screen-and-roll plays. This left Derrick Rose tired a bit, but left him open to elbow and forearm shots in the chest. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were constantly out of good defensive positioning.
Boozer seems to wilt in the games played against Indiana. The defense Hansbrough plays on Boozer is in one word—harassing. Hansbrough is constantly in Boozer's face and matches him step for step. The Bulls must game-plan for this.
Some may suggest the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder as the best in the league.
The Heats' Dwyane Wade has missed seven games due to injury, which has resulted in a few chemistry issues. While Wade has been hobbled, Chris Bosh is playing the best basketball of his career—basically picking up where he left off in the NBA Finals last season.
LeBron James has been simply amazing for Miami. Though they have had a few bumps in the road, their 12-5 record is very respectable.
As for the Thunder, they are the only other team to have swept the dreaded three games in three days.
They are a scary team, but they do not play in your older brother's Western Conference. There isn't a strong team in the West besides Oklahoma City. The Clippers, Lakers and Mavericks are solid, and I expect the Clippers to be the biggest threat to Oklahoma City with Memphis and Denver lurking as dark-horses.
Neither team is of the caliber that the Bulls, Heat, Magic, 76ers, Hawks and Pacers are.
Six of the teams with the top-eight records reside in the Eastern Conference. With the overall competition being better—more consideration must go to the Bulls.
The Bulls have a 5-2 record versus teams with a winning-record. Their two losses have come on the road. Also, when you consider the idea that the Bulls have yet to play more than five games at full strength, their record looks even better.