Pacers Preview: Can the Pacers and Bulls Rivalry Finally Be Restored?

No NameAnalyst IJanuary 14, 2011

Michael Jordan against Reggie Miller. If you were a kid growing up in the 90s like myself, there wasn't really much more excitement than when these two got together.

Granted, the Knicks and Pacers had some amazing playoff moments too, a la Reggie, Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Spike Lee. Basically though, those series were being played to see who would get to face Jordan and the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. Everyone knew the Pacers and Knicks had good teams capable of contending for a title, but the road always seemed to go through Chicago.

When Jordan decided to go play baseball in the 90s, the Knicks and Pacers were really the two fighting for the title. After Jordan came back, he was able to get himself another three-peat at the expense of both the Knicks and the Pacers. Think about the desire and will to win that Reggie Miller had. Think about that same desire in Jordan. These playoff matches were intense, and both of them were ready to go toe-to-toe.

Yes, Reggie gave MJ a taste of his own medicine with a little push off on an inbounds play, and was even able to get into the head of Michael so bad that it started a brawl. How many people can say they have done that? The fact is though, when the games were all said and done, Jordan always had Reggie's number. Who knows how many championships the Bulls prevented the Pacers from winning during Jordan's era.

Much like the Knicks and Pacers playoff series, the Pacers and Bulls were just as intense and exciting to watch. There were some legendary plays being made, and all-time greats playing the game. Those teams are long gone now, and the Pacers in particular have really fallen on hard times. Yes the Bulls struggled for a few years before they landed Derrick Rose, but the Pacers haven't had much success with Danny Granger trying to fill No. 31's shoes either.

These division rivals both had high expectations heading into this season. The Bulls more so than the Pacers, but Indiana felt like they were a playoff team, and if they don't make it they will be crushed. The Bulls on the other hand have one of the best teams in the league, and until earlier this week have looked unbeatable at times.

Derrick Rose is clearly an MVP candidate this year, and is one of the most electrifying players in the NBA today. Add Carlos Boozer and some great role players like Luol Deng, Kyle Korver and a healthy Joakim Noah, and there is no reason to think that this team can't make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The dramatic seven game series they gave the Celtics two years ago was no fluke. This team is for real.

Indiana meanwhile, has added some young guys and has finally gotten rid of pretty much all the "bad guys" left over from the brawl. This is a completely different team, and early in the season they looked like they could be the surprise team of the year in the league. A dreadful December though has left them trying to pick up the pieces. Jim O'Brien has been flirting with the lineup over the past few weeks, and he may have found a solution.

The emergence of second year PG Darren Collison is no fluke. He excelled in New Orleans last year with David West while they put teams into deadly pick and roll situations. This is how Darren was getting his 13, 14 assists per game. In O'Brien's offense up until last week, he had been averaging about three or four assists per game, but he has 21 in his last two games. The reason for this is a well-known player from North Carolina, Tyler Hansbrough. Like Collison, this too is Hansbrough's second year in the league, but neither of them played very much last year, virtually making this their rookie years. The two are working very well together in these pick and roll situations. Unlike Josh McRoberts and Jeff Foster, Hansbrough can easily knock down a 15 foot jump shot from any angle. Collison is explosive enough to get to the rim, which makes these two a great combo.

Friday night's game at Conseco Fieldhouse between the Bulls and Pacers will be an interesting matchup at the PG position with Rose and Collison. The Bulls won't have Noah at center, but they have other guys that are quicker that could give Roy Hibbert some problems on the perimeter. There will be a lot of guys seeing some time on the floor tonight, so there will be matchup problems all over the court.

The Bulls won the first of four games between these two this year on December 13th in Chicago. Now the Pacers will try to capture their third win in a row tonight, before they head out on a tough West Coast road trip. Chicago is coming off of a disappointing loss to the Bobcats earlier in the week, and they will be out for blood in this one. This game will be decided on the play of Derrick Rose though, which is how most of the season has been determined for Chicago.

It used to be Jordan, Pippen, Kerr and Rodman wrecking havoc in Indianapolis at Market Square Arena, now it's Rose, Boozer, Deng and Noah that will be trying to establish a new rivalry within the division at Conseco Fieldhouse. It's up to this new group to respond and play the way they are capable of playing. The trade deadline is coming up next month, and these teams might do some shifting, but right now Paul George needs to keep playing well of the bench. The same goes for either Brandon Rush or Mike Dunleavy, whichever one isn't starting on a given night. Hibbert needs to slap himself and get back to his aggressive and contestant playing style.

Both of these teams could be considered on the upswing of things, and Indiana can really make some dramatic improvements over the offseason. It would be nice to have these two teams battling it out once again during the playoffs. The Knicks look like they could be a force in the future as well, so if all goes well, these three could find themselves going back at each other in the coming years. I'm sure Boston, Orlando, Miami and Atlanta will have something to say about that though.

Speaking of those golden days in the 90s, I feel we need to get something straightened out when the playoffs finally do arrive. Of course we can't bring back Reggie's Pacers, Ewing's Knicks or Jordan's Bulls (except on NBA2K11), but there is one thing we could bring back. If you are listening NBC, we need to get the theme music for the NBA Playoffs on NBC back on TV along with Marv Albert. Just hearing that music and Marv's overly-excited voice gets me amped up for some basketball no matter what time it is.

For now though, I will stick to Fox Sports Net and hope that the Pacers can put up a fight and finish off Rose and the Bulls tonight at Conseco. If they are somehow able to get their third win in a row, it could carry some much needed momentum and confidence heading into next week's rough West Coast trip.