Chicago Bulls (31-8) vs. Indiana Pacers (23-12)

Bulls vs. Pacers — 7pm on WGN

Last time these two teams met, it was without two of the Bulls most powerful assets. Derrick Rose was dealing with a toe injury and Luol Deng was sitting out to rest a recently torn ligament in his wrist. Although Rose played in the last meeting, he wasn’t anywhere near the guy he can be or to the status he says he’s at right now.

Rose has revenge on the mind as the Pacers are welcomed into the United Center tonight.

The most fascinating part of the matchup is it feels like a rivalry. That hasn’t been the case since arguably a time when guys named Miller and Jordan were involved.

But tonight in Chicago the atmosphere is different. The Bulls not only have revenge on the mind, but they have the aknowldegement that they have revenge on the mind.

By this, it means everyone involved is well aware of the rekindling of a great Central Division rivalry, one that will carry well into future seasons. The Pacers aren’t the lowly thugs recovering from the Malice at the Palace anymore. Behind Frank Vogel and an array of dangerous weapons like Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger, the Pacers are a legitimate contender.

Maybe they don’t quite have the skills to be legitimate championship contenders yet ready to hold their own against Miami, but stranger things have happened in the NBA. If anything, the Pacers will be leaps and bound better then the team that ruffled the Bulls feathers ever so slightly last April in the playoffs.

Right now if the playoffs started, the Bulls would own the top seed but Indiana’s not far behind and isn’t the eighth seed they were last year. Indiana would own the third seed.

That’s right, the Pacers are the third best team in the Eastern Conference and, like predicted before the season on Pippen Ain’t Easy, are just a few bad Chicago injuries away from giving the Bulls a run for their money.

The Pacers would most likely escape the first round, unlike last year, as they’d have a home court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks. Chicago, as it stands now (but will without a doubt change) would face the Knicks.

But all that is in the future, and right here — tonight — the Bulls are wounded and angry. They felt, not unlike the Pacers sentiment about the opening round of the playoffs last year, that they should have won the first meeting between the two this year.

The common consensus among Bulls fans is that had Luol Deng played and Derrick Rose been fully healthy, the game isn’t even a contest.

We will see that theory put to the test in downtown Chicago tonight in what very well could be a playoff meeting the occurs deep in the postseason with everything on the line.

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