The two top teams in the Central Division will clash today as the Chicago Bulls travel to Indiana to take on the Pacers. This game has been on Chicago's schedule for a while now as this game was originally set to be played back on December 26th. Due to severe weather conditions, the game was called off and rescheduled to be played today. Coming into this game, the Bulls and Pacers sit atop the Central Division standings with one game separating the two.
As always both the Bulls and the Pacers match up extremely well with one another. Both teams have solid big men, good wing players, and, for the previous game, sub-par point guards. But the equality of the teams goes far beyond just who is on the roster as these teams match up in most statistical categories. Like the Bulls, the Pacers are: one of the worst offensive teams in the league as they score 92.0 points per game, one of the best rebounding teams in the league with big men who crash the boards with seemingly unlimited energy, and one of the best defensive teams with solid defenders scattered throughout the roster. The only major advantage Chicago has in this game is better ball movement.
What I'm getting at is that this game is fairly evenly matched on paper when both of these teams are relatively healthy. Unfortunately for Chicago injuries have recently begun to ravage the team. At this point, both starting center Joakim Noah and starting point guard Kirk Hinrich are slated to miss another game with plantar fasciitis and an undisclosed elbow injury, respectively. Carlos Boozer's status for the next game remains in doubt as well with a hamstring injury that has left him day to day; however, the conservative approach the training staff has been taking this year indicates Boozer may end up sitting once again.
Couple these injuries with the fact that both the team is now on a seven man rotation that has featured four of the starters playing over 40 minutes a game for the past two road games and things are not looking bright for Chicago. It'll be an uphill battle for sure, but after seeing what the team pulled off against the Atlanta Hawks in the last game, I wouldn't put anything past a Tom Thibodeau coached team.
While I do not believe this matchup will be a massive game changer, I believe that this could be the most fun matchup to watch throughout the night. In one corner, you have George who has recently been named to his first All-Star game, something many basketball writers have been expecting since he entered the NBA just one season ago. George is an excellent defender and can generate a good amount of offense and the improvement he's shown in such a short period of time has been impressive.
In the other corner, you have Chicago's fan favorite Jimmy Butler who's recently play has many people's heads turning. While many writers expected Butler to display great improvement this year (see ESPN's "NBA Rank"), many didn't quite expect this. At the moment, Jimmy Butler leads the Bulls in true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, offensive win shares and win shares per 48 minutes all while posting the lowest turnover percentage with the least usage rate on the team. Butler has also scored in double digits in nine of the last ten games. He has one double-double in this time period and has come one or two rebounds shy of posting double-doubles in three more games.
The matchup should be an intense and physical back and forth battle and could be the first of many to come.
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