First of all, before we go any further, please accept a sincere apology for the pun in the title. That was horrible.
Anyway, the Chicago Bulls are headed into a bit of a tough stretch, especially with Rip Hamilton out for at least the next week — and probably a lot longer — while Marco Belinelli takes his place in the starting lineup. They enter a run of four games in five nights, with three of them coming against divisional foes. After they play the Indiana Pacers tonight, they head to Ohio to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers, followed by a day off and a trip up to face the Detroit Pistons. While it seems silly to deem three games in December as possibly crucial down the stretch, a chance to rack up three division wins against teams the Bulls should probably beat is one they need to take advantage of.
The Pacers were supposed to wrest control of the Central Division from the Bulls this year. They'd rebuilt their bench after it did them in against the Miami Heat back in May, and the Bulls were — and are — looking vulnerable. Then Danny Granger hurt his knee and everything fell apart.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what's wrong with them, so it's best if we let Grantland's Zach Lowe do it. This piece is from three weeks ago, or thereabouts, but it's still probably worth looking at. The offense is gone, and while the defense is still solid — HoopData has the Pacers and Bulls tied for second in defensive efficiency — Indiana would rank dead last in offense if not for the hapless Washington Wizards.
The Bulls and Pacers also happen to hate each other, so this would definitely feel like a statement win if the Bulls can pull it out. Then again, if a team that is third in their division loses to the division leader — I know, caught me by surprise too, but the Bulls do currently lead the Central — how much of a statement is that really?
On the other hand, the Pacers do present a potential problem for the Bulls that has nothing to do with Marco Belinelli starting tonight. Indiana's starting bigs match up poorly with the Bulls. David West has been fantastic recently and Carlos Boozer has about as much chance of guarding him as you do. Joakim Noah could do it, but then Boozer would have to guard Roy Hibbert, who you would probably do better against than he would.
So, actually, their starting bigs don't match up poorly with the Bulls so much as Carlos Boozer matches up poorly with them. Regardless, the game will likely hinge on who holds the edge inside.
It's hard to say if they'll ever actually guard each other — they probably won't, so make of that what you will — but they serve similar functions for their teams. Both are very good passers for their positions, and are comfortable in the high post area. West is a much better jumpshooter, although Noah has improved a lot, and Noah's a better passer, but they both function as the hub of the offense a lot of times. If either one happens to be off his game, their team could be in trouble.
Probable Starting FivesCarlos Boozer, Chicago, Chicago Bulls, David West, Indiana Pacers, Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli, NBA, Roy Hibbert