It's never too early to break down a possible NBA playoff series.
Okay, maybe this is a tad early, but with the Chicago Bulls three games up on the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with five games remaining and the Indiana Pacers locking up the eighth spot, with no chance of moving up to the seventh, it would seem the Bulls will pull the Pacers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Pacers won't be a cake-walk, as the last meeting between the two teams showed, but the Bulls should take care of them.
In the two teams' last meeting, the Pacers won 115-108 in overtime—a game in which Derrick Rose scored a career-high 42 and the Bulls overcame a 20-point second-half deficit.
The Bulls ran into a scorching Tyler Hansbrough, who dropped 29 points and hauled in 12 rebounds, making it his third game of the week with at least 29 points.
Probably should mention those two previous games of 29 points or more were against the New York Knicks, who aren't big on the whole "defense" thing.
Since then, Hansbrough has cooled off, averaging 11.6 points per game in the 10 games since.
If you recall, this was the game where Rose made three free throws with 1.2 seconds left to force the game to overtime, but the Bulls simply were outworked, losing the rebound battle and allowing 23 second-chance points.
Joakim Noah had just three rebounds. But this was all without Carlos Boozer, who had missed his fifth straight game at that point and it was back-to-back road games for the Bulls.
But enough excuses.
The Bulls didn't play defense, allowing the Pacers to shoot 58 percent in the opening frame and allowing 100 points for just the second time in the team's previous 13 games.
Since the Pacers loss, the Bulls went seven straight games without allowing 100 and eight of the latest nine.
Before the loss, granted under different coaching for the Pacers, the Bulls handled the Pacers quite easily, defeating Indiana 110-89 and 96-86 in January. In both games, the Bulls were with Boozer, but were Noahless.
We learned something about Rose in each game. In the Jan. 14 game (96-86), Rose bounced back from a night in which he shot five-of-17 in a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats with a 29-point, 10-rebound night in which he shot 11-of-21 against the Pacers. The Bulls also held the Pacers to 33 percent shooting.
In the game two weeks later, Rose scored 20 points on eight-of-17 shooting and dished out seven assists with two stomach ulcers.
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien was fired the next day.
And finally, in the teams' first meeting of the year back in December, the Bulls demolished the Danny Grangerless Pacers 92-73, with Boozer scoring 24 points and bringing down 18 rebounds and Rose scoring 17 points and dishing out 12 assists.
So, what have we learned?
Without Boozer the Bulls are 0-1 against the Pacers. With Boozer the Bulls are 3-0 against them with Boozer averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds on nearly 52 percent shooting.
Between Josh McRoberts, Roy Hibbert and Hansbrough, no one can really match-up with Boozer on Indiana.
Pacers are making the the team's first playoff appearance since the 2005-06 season. Only Granger has ever played in the NBA playoffs of the starting five of Paul George, Darren Collison, Hibbert and Hansbrough for Indiana, so Rose and Noah won't be the only young players looking for their first playoff series win in the NBA.
A glimmer of hope for Indiana is that the Bulls have only faced the new offensive system, which is slowed down to benefit Collison, Hibbert and Hansbrough, once and it resulted in a Pacers victory.
The bad news for Indiana is that the Bulls were without Boozer on back-to-back road games and the Pacers squeaked by in overtime.
Pacers may win one game, but will need a lot of help from some inexperienced and overmatched players to make this a series.
History Lesson: The Chicago Bulls have not met the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs since the Eastern Conference Finals of the 1997-98 season.
Bulls won a thrilling series in seven games, winning 88-83 in Game 7 and moving on to defeat the Utah Jazz for Michael Jordan's sixth and final championship—unless he comes back again.