The Indiana Pacers have not been in the playoffs in a long time. Their reward for a solid season is that they get to play the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls were 62-20 on the year as they took their game to a much higher level in 2010-11. Here is a look at the matchups in this series:
POINT GUARD: Darren Collison came to the Pacers in a big deal last summer. He played in 79 games (all starts) for the Pacers this season and he averaged 29.9 minutes, 13.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The Pacers are going to need Collison to be a little more selfish with his own shot in order to make Derrick Rose work hard on defense.
Derrick Rose is the likely MVP of the NBA, and for good reason. Rose played in 81 games (all starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 37.4 minutes, 25.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Rose should be able to handle dealing with Collison, whose strong suit is not defense.
SHOOTING GUARD: The Pacers could start Brandon Rush, Paul George or Mike Dunleavy at shooting guard in this series. I think they will go with Brandon Rush. Rush played in 67 games (21 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 26.2 minutes, 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game. Rush is not outstanding in any facet but he should be able to average double figures in points as long as he gets enough minutes in this series.
Keith Bogans will start at shooting guard and he doesn’t add much. He played in 82 games (all starts) for the Bulls this year he averaged 17.8 minutes, 4.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Bogans does fit in good with the Bulls though because he isn’t required to take many shots.
SMALL FORWARD: Danny Granger is the go to offensive player for the Pacers. He played in 79 games (all starts) for the Pacers last year and he averaged 35.0 minutes, 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game. For the Pacers to do any damage in this series, they need Granger to be on his game and average 25 or more points per game in this series.
Luol Deng is one of the most underrated small forwards in the entire NBA. Deng played in 82 games (all starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 39.1 minutes, 17.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Deng is very unselfish on offense and he’s a much better defender than he gets credit for.
EDGE: VERY SLIGHT FOR THE PACERS
POWER FORWARD: When Frank Vogel took over as the head coach, one of the first things he did was put Tyler Hansbrough in the starting lineup and the results were good. Hansbrough played in 70 games (29 starts) for the Pacers this season and he averaged 21.9 minutes, 11.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game. Hansbrough is going to have to keep his game closer to the basket to deal with Carlos Boozer.
Carlos Boozer is still underrated as a basketball player. Boozer played in 59 games (all starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 31.9 minutes, 17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Boozer is a good #2 option on offense for the Bulls and he’s relentless in the paint on both offense and defense.
CENTER: Roy Hibbert had his best year for the Pacers. He got big minutes after Frank Vogel too over as the head coach as Hibbert is playing a big man’s game now. Hibbert played in 81 games (80 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 27.7 minutes, 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.8 blocked shots per game. Hibbert will have to stay out of foul trouble for the Pacers to have any chance of winning this series and that won’t be easy.
Joakim Noah is one of the toughest centers on the planet. Noah played in 48 games (all starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 32.8 minutes, 11.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steal and 1.5 blocked shots per game. Noah’s non-stop motor at both ends of the court is going to serve the Bulls very well in this series.
BENCH: The Pacers have a very veteran bench outside of rookie Paul George and power forward Josh McRoberts, and they will need them to all step up. SG/SF Mike Dunleavy played in 61 games (44 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 27.6 minutes, 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. I look for him to get big minutes in this series as the first man off the bench. Josh McRoberts played in 72 games (51 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 22.2 minutes, 7.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. I think McRoberts will get his fair share of minutes so that the Pacers can keep Tyler Hansbrough fresh while putting some pressure on Carlos Boozer. Rookie SG/SF Paul George should get some minutes in this series based on his play during the regular season. George played in 61 games (19 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 20.7 minutes, 7.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He has a nice upside and would probably abuse the Bulls’ shooting guards if given the chance to do that. Center Jeff Foster will also be asked to play some minutes behind Roy Hibbert. Foster played in 56 games (3 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 16.8 minutes, 3.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. Foster has the toughness to bang away against the bigs of the Bulls in this series. A.J. Price will give Darren Collison a blow when he needs one. Price played in 50 games (0 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 15.9 minutes, 6.5 points, 1.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. SG/SF Dahntay Jones is a good defender, so he could get some P.T. in this series. Jones played in 45 games (2 starts) for the Pacers this year and he averaged 13.1 minutes, 6.3 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game. Veteran SF/SG James Posey has hit some big shots in the playoffs in his career, so who knows if he’ll get a chance to do it again for the Pacers. Posey played in 49 games (0 starts) for the Pacers and he averaged 17.1 minutes, 4.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game.
The Bulls like to give the bench some run and they have a talented bunch. SG/SF Kyle Korver is one of the best long range shooters in the NBA and he will likely do some damage in this series. Korver played in 82 games (0 starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 20.1 minutes, 8.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Power forward Taj Gibson will give Carlos Boozer a break when he needs one. Gibson played in 80 games (19 starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 21.8 minutes, 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 1.3 blocked shots per game. SG Ronnie Brewer will likely get more P.T. than the Bulls’ starter (Keith Bogans). Brewer played in 81 games (1 start) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 22.0 minutes, 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Brewer is an outstanding defensive player. Point guard C.J. Watson will give Derrick Rose a break for 10-15 minutes per night in the playoffs. He played in 82 games (1 start) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 13.3 minutes, 4.9 points, 1.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. PF/C Kurt Thomas played well whenever called upon by the Bulls and I think he’s set up for a good series. Thomas played in 52 games (37 starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 22.7 minutes, 4.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Rookie center Omer Asik will also likely get a few minutes per game during the playoffs. He played in 82 games (0 starts) for the Bulls this year and he averaged 12.1 minutes, 2.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game.
EDGE: SLIGHT FOR BULLS
COACHING: Frank Vogel instilled toughness into the Pacers when he took over as the head coach when Jim O’Brien was fired. The Pacers were 20-18 (52.6%) under Vogel, so the guys like to play for him. It will be interesting to see what kind of gameplan he has set up for the Bulls as he says his team is not intimidated by them.
Tom Thibodeau waited his turn to be a head coach in the NBA. He was more than ready for the job as he led the Bulls to a 62-20 (75.6%) record is his first year in charge. I think Thibodeau is ready for the challenge of getting his troops ready to excel for the playoffs.
PREDICTION: The Pacers are a great story in returning to the playoffs but I just can’t see them winning this series. In fact, I don’t see them winning any games. I like the Bulls to win this series in four games.