In the packed and brutal race to season’s end in the Eastern conference, the Indiana Pacers‘ have had their longest home win streak over the last three months which has helped them stay ahead of the pack. They are a dangerous contender going into the finals, even though they will qualify into the lower half of the playoff berths, they are a team that have a lot to prove and could bounce a favourite in the first round.
The Chicago Bulls on the other hand have had major road woes, and is one of the major reasons why as of today, they are not in a playoff position. Tuesday night they’ll try to help their cause and infuse their play with energy, hoping to lift their postseason chances.
Indiana is 39-34, and pushed a half-game ahead of eighth-place Detroit with a 104-101 win against the Houston Rockets this past Sunday. That win was the Pacers’ third victory in a row on home court. Paul George scored 16 of his 25 points in the opening period and Monta Ellis added in 23 points in his team’s third win in four overall contests.
The Pacers will be playing hard and will want to try to match their four-game home win streak which they had back in December, from the 11-18. They’ll do this all the while trying to take another step toward their first playoff berth since the 2013-14 season.
“It’s a big game, probably the biggest game of the season for us right now,” George said. “We have a chance to put a team away and give ourselves one more game up in the win column.”
Indiana has a great chance to solify 8th position in the East when facing the fading Central Division rival Chicago, who is under .500 at 36-37 on the season. The Bulls dropped 2 1/2 games behind Detroit when it got its fourth straight defeat Monday, a close 102-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Bulls came back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter but just didn’t have enough gas in the tank to keep themselves from falling under .500 for the first time since 2014, when they were 24-25 on Feb. 6 of that season.
“We just fell a little bit short. There are going to be games like this where we play hard and compete, and still end up with a loss. But I like that we competed tonight,” point guard Derrick Rose said. “We’ve just go to keep it up. We know it’s going to be hard. We’re still fighting. We’re still trying to find our rhythm.”
Many think that Chicago’s chances of breaking out of its funk is highly unlikely. More immediately, they will be trying to avoid a tie with its longest losing skid this season, from Feb. 5-18. The prospects don’t look promising. Their road record is horrible, having lost 11 of 12 on the road, included recent loses to New York and Orlando in their last two away games.
It seems the team knows it’s at a crossroads. They reportedly had a meeting after getting badly beaten 111-89 by the Magic on Saturday. The Bulls have given up an average of 110.1 points in their last 15 road games, and will play six of their final nine games away from home. That bodes well for Indiana.
“Keep hope alive. We know that we’re in tough times right now,” Bulls’ Derrick Rose told local media. “We know that we still have nine games to go and we need everybody. … We’re trying to figure things out.”
In recent history, Chicago has not faired well in Indiana, they lost six of its last seven games played in Indiana and their most recent loss there was a bad one, a 104-92 defeat on Nov. 27. But the Bulls have won three of four overall against the Pacers. Even then it was close, since they needed Jimmy Butler’s alley opp layup with 1.2 seconds left in overtime for a 102-100 victory on a game played Dec. 30.
Butler ended up with 28 points and Aaron Brooks, averaging 7.2, had a season-high 29 points with Rose out because of an injury to his hamstring. George was held to only 19 points on 7-of-20 shooting after scoring a combined 59 points in his first two matchups this season. So they key for Chicago to make a run at this is to keep George at bay, and sink their points from the field and dictate the pace. Is that possible to do away from home court? Highly doubtful.
Our Pick: Pacers over Bulls, 98-94