What to Watch For: Bulls-Pacers


The new modified version of the “Circus Trip” begins for the Chicago Bulls this week. But, before they take off for four straight road games, they’ll host the Indiana Pacers. Here’s a few things to watch out for in the first of two meetings between the two teams in the next 11 days.

Before LeBron James‘ return to the Central Division at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, the two best teams in the division were the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls. Before last season, the Bulls and Pacers split the previous four division titles.

On Monday night, the Bulls and Pacers will renew their divisional rivalry in the first of four meetings this season. During their preseason match-up on Oct. 20, Indiana got 26 points and 13 rebounds from Paul George, but the Bulls had six different scorers in double figures and won 103-94 in Chicago.

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Since then, the Bulls have started their first season under Fred Hoiberg at 6-3. It’s been a rollercoaster for the Bulls early on, but they’ve won three of their last four games coming into Monday. The Pacers are rolling after their 0-3 start. Indiana has won six of their last seven games and Paul George is looking like the Paul George of old already.

Before Monday’s game, here’s a quick list of a few things to watch out for in Monday’s meeting — the first of two between the teams in the next week and a half.

Jimmy Butler vs. Paul George

The NBA has an elite group of guys that can produce on both sides of the floor for their respective teams. Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler and do-it-all forward Paul George are in that select group. George got the better of Butler during their Oct. 20 meeting, but Butler’s team came out on top.

Both players led their teams in scoring, while George leads the Pacers in rebounds per game (8.8) and Butler leads the Bulls in steals per contest (1.9). It’s a premier match-up that will entertain and could possibly decide the outcome of Monday’s game.

The battle of the boards

Usually, the team that controls the glass wins this match-up. During the Thibodeau days in Chicago, the winner would be the first team that cracked the 85-point plateau. Even with a new head coach for the Bulls and a new offensive scheme for the Pacers, the team that can control the tempo and the boards will probably win.

The Bulls are fourth in the NBA in total rebounds per game (47.6), while the Pacers rank 26th (42.0). Indiana has looked for more ways to score, but against the depth of the Bulls front court, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel may look to a guy like Jordan Hill to provide energy off the bench and keep the Bulls bigs from dictating the window.

Who steps up for the Bulls?

It’s not that Jimmy Butler can’t produce offensively while guarding one of the league’s better players. It’s just a harder task for Butler to take on while playing 35+ minutes. Butler was huge in the last game for the Bulls down the stretch with 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting against the Charlotte Hornets. Monday will bring the task of guarding Paul George (mentioned earlier).

So, who steps up offensively for the Bulls?

This past Friday night against Charlotte, Pau Gasol chipped in 19 points and 13 rebounds in 28 minutes, while Joakim Noah scored just three points, but controlled things with 18 rebounds. Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore quietly also had nice games on Friday.

The big takeaway from the offense on Friday was Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Rose combining for just 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting.

Butler will need help and two stars specifically for the Bulls have to bounce back and give Butler some offensive relief.

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Game info:

  • Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM CT from United Center. Local coverage can be found on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
  • The Bulls will also debut their new “Chicago Pride” uniforms on Monday night.

Along with the Knicks, the Bulls will wear these uniforms three more times against their other three Central Division rivals this season.