Preview: Big Time Eastern Conference Showdown

5 03 2012

Coming off a brilliant day of NBA basketball on Sunday, Monday has one match-up that is bound to bring excitement to the TV screen.

The Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers face off tonight at the United Center at 7:00 P.M. CT.

These teams couldn’t be coming into this showdown more hot than they are right now.

Currently riding a six-game win streak due in large part to Derrick Rose scoring at will (25.7 ppg during the streak) and Joakim Noah gobbling up the boards (13.7 rpg during the streak), The Bulls look like true contenders. With Richard Hamilton finally back in the lineup, each Bulls player seems to be figuring out his role to help the team win. Even though most of the players have contributed during this streak, Rose, Noah and Luol Deng have been the backbone for this league-best 31-8 team.

They haven’t received the same amount of attention as the Bulls, but the Pacers just keep winning. Holding the fifth best record in the league and the three seed in the East (23-12), Indiana has also won six straight games and won them handily. Even though they faced the Bobcats and Hornets each twice, they have outscored their opponents by 17.5 points during this streak. Danny Granger and All-Star Roy Hibbert have both been playing exceptionally well during this stretch but the entire team has stepped up. In the Pacers’ last five wins, six of their players have scored in double figures.

These two teams also have had some history going back to last season. They faced off in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and the Bulls won that series in five games. This season, the Pacers handed the Bulls one of their two losses at home on Jan. 25. A usually introverted Rose remembers how the Pacers reacted after this victory, Alan Ferguson of NBA.com reported.

“I’ll never forget how they celebrated just from winning this game,” Rose said. “I can’t wait to play them again.”

A lot is on the line for these two teams.

The Bulls hold the top seed in the Eastern Conference with the Heat’s recent two-game losing streak. If the Bulls want to continue forward with hopes of grabbing the top seed in the East (something they need if they want to take down Miami in the playoffs), they need to take advantage of the Heat’s struggles by racking up the wins. A victory against a hot Pacers team would be big for the team’s psyche.

The Pacers – who have been my dark horse team from the start of the season – haven’t been able to convince most of the national media that they are legitimate (yet). Even though 13 of their 23 wins have come against the Nets, Bobcats, Hornets, Warriors, Raptors and Pistons, they can’t control their opponents. They keep pushing through their schedule no matter who they are playing. However, a five-game losing streak against quality opponents in early February didn’t help their image. Capturing another win at the Bulls’ arena would persuade many people that Indiana is a team ready to make a deep playoff run.

Get ready for another great day of NBA basketball – “Big Things Are Coming.”

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