The Indiana Pacers are getting set to host the Chicago Bulls in what should be a thrilling mid-season battle between two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
These two rivals last met in early December, with the Pacers pulling out a 80-76 win after a low-scoring, back-and-forth defensive affair. They were supposed to rematch the day after Christmas, but inclement weather postponed the contest.
Finally, after a two-month wait, we’re able to see Indiana and Chicago go at it with a lot more than you’d expect on the line for a February game.
Let’s take a look at where you can watch the action, take a look at a brief injury report, highlight some keys to the game, predict a winner and more.
Start Time: Monday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. ET
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
TV Info: CSNC (Chicago), FxMW (Indiana)
Live Streaming: NBA League Pass (Paid subscription required)
G George Hill, DTD, Shoulder
F Danny Granger, OUT, Knee
G Kirk Hinrich, OUT, Elbow
F Carlos Boozer, DTD, Hamstring
C Joakim Noah, OUT, Foot
Key Storyline: Central Division
These two rivals will be doing battle with the tight race for the Central Division of the Eastern Conference on the line.
Which team will win the Central Division?
Prior to tip-off, the Bulls have a slim lead, but that could dissipate with a Pacers win on Monday. Chicago is 29-18, one measly game ahead of Indiana—a franchise that has scrapped its way to a 28-19 record.
Considering the Bulls have a much tougher road ahead (18 games against .500 or better teams, 20 of their 35 remaining contests will be on the road and just 21 of those come against the East), it’s going to be imperative that they beat the Pacers.
With Indy facing off against just 16 teams above .500 and playing 20 of their last 35 games at home (with only nine matchups vs. the West), the Bulls are going to need some luck in order to capture the divisional crown for the third straight season.
Key Matchup: Roy Hibbert vs. Taj Gibson
Because of the injuries to Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, coach Tom Thibodeau has been relying on Taj Gibson to play huge minutes, and the third-year forward has often been the only big out on the court for his team in these past few games.
He’s certainly stepped up, playing all 48 minutes in last Friday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets (16 points on 8-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds, two blocks, two assists) and 45 more in a thorough victory against the Atlanta Hawks—garnering 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting, pulling down 19 boards, blocking three shots and dishing two dimes.
However, at 6’9”, 225 lbs., Gibson doesn’t possess the prototypical size to bang in the middle against some of the leagues bigger, better centers.
One of those is the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert, a 7’2”, 280-pound behemoth that has developed into one of the best defensive pivots and a sound offensive force over the pat few years.
The Indiana 5 is finally starting to bust his shooting slump that seemed to last the entire season, coming on strong in a blowout victory over the Detroit Pistons and wound up scoring 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and pulling down 11 boards.
On paper, Hibbert should absolutely destroy the Chicago big on both ends of the court, but Gibson is a scrappy defender and is always hustling to collect easy points.
This battle could be much more evenly matched than anyone suspected prior to tip.
Predicted Starting Lineup and Key Reserves
Bulls Starting Lineup
G Nate Robinson
G Richard Hamilton
F Jimmy Butler
F Luol Deng
F Taj Gibson
G Marco Belinelli
G Marquis Teague
F Vladimir Radmanovic
Pacers Starting Lineup
G George Hill
G Lance Stephenson
F Paul George
F David West
C Roy Hibbert
F Tyler Hansbrough
F Sam Young
C Ian Mahinmi
G D.J. Augustin
With the Central Divisional crown potentially on the line, you can expect both sides to bring their ‘A’ game and leave it all out on the court.
Unfortunately, Chicago is extremely undermanned and will likely have to start a unit that includes the likes of Nate Robinson playing a vital role as a point guard. The Bulls were able to somehow win on the second night of a back-to-back this past Saturday with this group, but we imagine the strain on the starters legs will start to show in this one.
Thibs is running his first 5 into the ground, and desperately needs to return some players to injury in order to get some help off the pine and more evenly distribute the minutes.
On the other side, coach Frank Vogel has his key Pacers players well rested after beating the Miami Heat on Friday and they should be looking to give 100 percent going into this first leg of a back-to-back that includes a matchup with the Hawks on Tuesday.
Which team will win?
While that game is also important, Vogel understands that winning the division and knocking off Chicago is going to be much more important than saving legs for Atlanta.
We expect the Pacers come out running and gunning up and down the court on Monday and win this one big—especially if Noah, Hinrich and Boozer are out of the lineup.
Indiana Pacers 90 – Chicago Bulls 83