Indiana has proven they can play Chicago tough.
Despite losing that series to Chicago, they gained experience and hope. They battled the Bulls closely in every one of those games, surely sparking momentum for this season.
That momentum has spirited their fast start and they currently possess the third best record in the Eastern Conference.
Prior to the season, who would've predicted the Pacers as the third best team in the East come the All-Star break?
Competing against squads like Orlando, Boston, Atlanta and New York, the Pacers figured to get lost in the shuffle. But they're right in the thick of things and ahead of some quality, veteran ball clubs.
But are they elite? Can they beat the undisputed two top teams in the East—the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls?
What bodes well for the Pacers is their grittiness on defense, as well as their length and athleticism.
Danny Granger is always capable of pouring in 20 to 30 points, big man Roy Hibbert is now an All-Star, veteran David West can manufacture points in the low post and youngsters Paul George and Darren Collison contribute in a handful of ways.
But how do the Pacers solid options match up against their potent foes in Miami and Chicago?
Let's start with the Miami Heat.
The Pacers simply don't have the firepower to hang with the star-studded cast from Miami for a seven-game series. Yes, they could maybe upset Miami in one game (or two), but defeating them in a playoff series is highly improbable.
What verifies this is that the Pacers have been absolutely shellacked by the Heat in their two meetings this season. It's looked like the junior varsity was taking on the varsity in these two matches.
Maybe the Pacers could knock off Miami in a couple years, but the outlook this season is undoubtedly bleak. The Pacers should just hope they can somehow avoid Miami come the playoffs.
The Chicago Bulls are a different story.
The Pacers already proved they could play the Bulls tough in last year's playoffs, and even beat the Bulls at the United Center in their one matchup this season. There's a rivalry brewing between these two teams and a 2012 playoff matchup would surely not disappoint.
The Pacers match up much better against Chicago than they do Miami. While the Heat are all about speed and firepower, the Bulls are more defense and team play. Chicago doesn't necessarily overpower teams, but rather wears them down.
Can the Pacers beat the Heat or Bulls in the playoffs?
For some reason, the Pacers don't wear down against Chicago, and this ability could make for a brutal, lengthy series come playoff time.
Plus, Indiana has shown the ability to contain Derrick Rose, even using the versatile Paul George on him at times. The Pacers will surely force the Bulls other players to step up, particularly Carlos Boozer, who struggled in last year's playoffs against Indiana.
Therefore, there is a plethora of interesting factors in speculating a potential Pacers versus Bulls playoff matchup. Unlike Miami, the Pacers certainly stand a chance against Chicago.
If I had to pick who would win a Bulls-Pacers playoff series, I'd still pick Chicago, but in six or seven.
And truthfully, none of us should be shocked if the Pacers upset the Bulls come playoff time. It's definitely not outside the realm of reason.