Pacers Take Notable 2-0 Edge on Bulls
It’s now February 5th and with over 58 percent of the regular season complete, the Pacers have to like where they stand in the race for the Central Division.
With their 111-101 win Monday over Chicago, the Pacers improved to 2-0 on the season against the division champs of the previous two years. Just over halfway through their divisional games, the Pacers are 7-2, with both losses coming on the road in Milwaukee. Only Miami (7-1) has fewer losses within their division.
So why is winning the division extra important? It ensures you of a top-four playoff seed and home-court advantage in the first round. At Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers have won 19 of 22 games, including 14 in a row, so it’s easy to see why they’d like more than a few home playoff games.
The Pacers and Bulls are neck-and-neck, Milwaukee is a few games back and both Detroit and Cleveland are out of the picture. Both the Pacers and the Bulls are waiting for their star player, Danny Granger and Derrick Rose, respectively, to return from knee injuries. Whichever player has the greater impact perhaps will help decide the division. If their records remain similar, which Pacers coach Frank Vogel expects, the Pacers need to win one of the two remaining meetings to take the season-series.
“I really feel like the final two games are going to dictate who wins this division,” Vogel said following the win. “Both of us are going to be right there at the end. I’m not sure when those games are but I think the head-to-head matchups are going to be how this division is going to be decided.”
George Hill agrees: “We stole one there and, at home, we did what we’re supposed to do and that’s win. The good thing is we got both of them so we just have to worry about the next one and the one later in the season. It’s good to go 2-0 to start with and worry about the rest of the games later.”
As of Feb. 5th, both the Pacers and Bulls are 29-19.
“It was a rivalry game,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said of the matchup. “We understand that every time we step on the court with them the two teams have something to prove to the other. We are trying to win our division, they are trying to win the division. Right now they have a 2-0 edge on us head-to-head, so they’re ahead of us in the standings.”
Last season, the Pacers won the first matchup in Chicago, but the Bulls took the final two games. Three of the past five meetings have been decided by five or fewer points. Because defense and rebounding are integral on either sideline, each team has successfully managed despite a key injury and has enough talent to make a push come late April.
“(Chicago) is division champs,” David West added. “We’re chasing them, so we just approached this game knowing how well they are coached and how well they play. They’re just a tough team and we knew we’d have to bring our best effort.”
The Pacers’ attention will continue to be solely on the next game as they try to build some separation while playing 10 of 12 games at home this month.
“We’re a focused group,” said All-Star forward Paul George. “Any time that we have a big task, we do a great job of getting prepared for it and we’re playing great right now.
The Pacers have set themselves up nicely by winning the first two battles, one in Chicago and one in Indy. Their next meeting is on March 3rd in Indianapolis and will be televised on ESPN.