What to Watch For: Bulls-Pacers


For the second time this season, the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers will lock horns. The Bulls escaped with a win in the first meeting, but the Pacers enter Friday’s game with nine wins in their last 11 games.

To find something as confusing and mind-boggling as the Chicago Bulls sitting second overall in the Eastern Conference standings at the current moment, you would only have to look at the team that’s third overall in the East.

The Chicago Bulls (9-4) and the Indiana Pacers (9-5) are two of the league’s most befuddling teams. The Bulls were expected to open things up offensively this season, while the Pacers were expected to compete for a decent lottery pick for next year’s NBA draft.

In reality, the Bulls have been winning games with strong defense later in games, while the Pacers have been setting their opponents on fire with their outside shooting. The Bulls are sixth in the NBA with a 99.4 defensive rating, while the Pacers are shooting 41.6 percent from three-point range so far this season. (For the record, that 41.6 percent leads the entire NBA.)

Not only have the Pacers found a good stride on the offensive end, Paul George has officially returned to his elite status. In the first 14 games of the season, George is averaging 25.9 points per game on 45.8 shooting, along with 8.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists per contest. What broken leg?

Friday’s “What to Watch For” for Bulls-Pacers will be about one thing: Defending the three-point shot.

If the Bulls can’t contain Indiana’s hot shooting, the Circus Trip will end with a dud

During the first meeting between the Bulls and Pacers will be remembered for Jimmy Butler‘s outstanding defense on Paul George in Indiana’s final possession. Butler made a great play, but the main reason the Pacers were in the game was because of their 9-for-21 performance (42.9 percent) from three-point land.

Nikola Mirotic did a poor job keeping C.J. Miles from getting open looks (which was well-documented after the Bulls win on Nov. 16) and Miles shot 5-for-8 from deep to keep the Pacers in the ballgame. Not only is Miles shooting 46 percent from the floor this season, he’s shooting 45.9 percent from three.

The Butler-George matchup on the wing will steal the big headlines because of the seasons both players are having, but the underrated key to Friday’s game is being able to keep C.J. Miles from being George’s complimentary piece on the offensive end of the floor for Indiana.

Indiana Pacers shot chart from three-point land this season via NBA.com/Stats.

The Pacers are shooting 22.9 attempts from long range this season (320 attempts, 21st in the NBA), so they haven’t shot it as much as other teams (along with other teams having already played one or two more games this year), but when they do, they do it efficiently).

Meanwhile, the Bulls have only allowed opponents to shoot 33.9 percent from deep so far this year (13th in the NBA). In their win over Portland on Tuesday night, the Bulls held the Trail Blazers to 6-of-22 shooting from deep. Indiana only allows teams to shoot 32 percent from deep (fifth in the NBA), so the shooting and defending from beyond the arc will be the key for Friday night.

Times have changed in this rivalry, huh?

Other thoughts/notes on Friday’s game

  • In the first meeting, the Bulls had 26 assists on 35 makes. It’s a common point in the game, but when the Bulls share the ball, good things happen. Especially when the starting guard duo has 10 of those 26 assists.
  • Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah against Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi on the window could display how Friday night will go. Everyone but Noah (6) had double-digit rebounds in the first meeting, so if teams can’t find their grooves on offense (it happens often in these games), look for the bigs to contribute and do the dirty work on the glass.
  • Aaron Brooks (hamstring strain) will not play on Friday for the Bulls after straining his hamstring last Wednesday against Phoenix. George Hill missed the first meeting with an illness, but he will play on Friday for Indiana.

Next: Are the Chicago Bulls struggling with building chemistry early on this season?

  • Tip-off between the Bulls and Pacers is set for 7:00 PM CT from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. For the locals, the game will be on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and radio coverage can be found on ESPN 1000 Chicago around 6:30 PM CT.