The two teams often get lost in the shuffle, but Monday night’s bout between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls deserves all of your attention. The two starless – and very, very good – squads battled in Indianapolis, and thanks to great games by David West, Paul George and George Hill, the Pacers won 111-101, forcing a tie atop the Central division. More apparently, it raised some questions: is Indiana becoming the best all-around team in the East?
The Pacers rank second in the league defensively, anchored by Roy Hibbert (who has seen his play improve as the season continues), Paul George (a newly-minted All-Star) and George Hill. They are young enough to improve between now and the end of the season (as opposed to, say, the Knicks, who will need some sort of intervention to keep their aging ship afloat), and athletic enough to knock around super teams like the Heat. Which they have already done twice this season, including a 102-89 spanking of Miami last Friday.
But what should really be putting the league on notice is that many of these defensive stoppers get buckets. Look at Monday’s stat line: George netted 21 points and Hill finished with 22. Factor in West – who has been playing out of his mind as of late – and Indiana consistently trots out three players that demand defensive attention. Four when Hibbert has the switch flipped.
Chicago, meanwhile, seems to have found a similar all-for-one recipe for success. Like Indiana, no team really wants to see the hard-hitting Bulls in the playoffs: Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer (don’t laugh) seem as motivated as ever, and coach-of-the-year candidate Tom Thibideau is even getting quality minutes from Nate Robinson. Chicago is a tough, scrappy team, and will pose a threat to any team that they draw, first round or otherwise. Multiply that statement by a thousand if a certain hometown hero does, in fact, return shortly after the All-Star break.