Central Division Match-up: Indiana Pacers at Chicago Bulls

Two red-hot squads get set to tip-off tonight at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, as the Chicago Bulls (31-8, 14-2 home) host the Indiana Pacers (23-12, 12-8 away) at 8:00 PM ET.

The Bulls and the Pacers both march into this evening’s contest on a string of 6th consecutive wins, so if there is one thing that’s certain in this clash of Central division foes, it’s that one way or another something has to give. The historical trends certainly would point to Chicago having the firm upper hand here, as Indiana holds just a 4-18 record against the Bulls in Chicago over the past 22 games played there, however, this is definitely not the same Pacers team from the last few years. Interestingly enough, the Pacers are one of only two teams to have beaten the Bulls on their own court this season, and after their well-documented celebration at the United Center after their 95-90 win on January, 25th, you can be sure that the Bulls aren’t taking them lightly in this match-up today.

A major key for the Indiana Pacers, something that they have continued to do all season long when winning games, is to get all their top scorers involved. In the last game against Chicago, 6 Pacers players scored in double figures, and there’s no coincidence that in the last 5 straight wins for Indiana, they’ve had their top 6 scorers break into double digits each time. There’s plenty of things to like about this style of team, where 7 players are scoring better than 8.7 points per night on the season, and each of those players are playing at least 24 minutes/game. More impressively though heading into tonight’s match-up, the Pacers just tied an NBA record for scoring more than 100 points while holding the opposition to under 90 points (accomplished over 3 consecutive games), showing that aside from their scoring ability, they are also big on defense. The Pacers are well-coached under Frank Vogel, and have plenty of talent in the form of big shooting forward Danny Granger (18.3 points/game, 4.4 rebounds/game), center Roy Hibbert (13.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg), the speedy point guard Darren Collison (11.5 ppg, 5.2 assists/game), power forward David West (12.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and the youngster Paul George (12.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Collison is the only one of this starting group not over 6’8″, so the Pacers are formidable as expected in the paint, grabbing 44.5 rebounds/game (3rd in the NBA), and also play tough defense in the middle, with the team allowing 91.9 points/game to opposing offenses. This is a well balanced bunch, outscoring their opponents by 17.5 points per game during their six-game run, which is averaging 8 points per game more than their season average along that span (104 points vs. 95.9). They will certainly be a worthy adversary against Chicago this evening.

If I were a Bulls fan, I’d be a lot more concerned about this match-up based on what Indiana has done recently, had I not stopped to take a look at what Chicago themselves has been doing over the past few weeks of play. Aside from the fact that Chicago is the best team in the NBA by record, is ranked 7th in scoring (97.7 ppg), 2nd in points allowed (88.3) and 1st in assists (23.3), the Bulls have also gone 6 straight games without losing, and have an impressive 13-3 record since February 1st. What’s equally impressive is their recent wins in very tough environments, coming off a 96-91 win at Philadelphia last night, as well as a 96-89 win at San Antonio 4 days before that. Aside from what could be called a fluke at home against New Jersey on Feb. 6th, in which the Bulls were defeated by 12 points (minus Derrick Rose, but still a bad performance against a team with an 8-game losing streak), the Bulls haven’t lost at home since meeting with the Pacers the last time out, and there’s no question that everyone in a Chicago jersey remembers hearing the Indiana celebration in the locker room next door after that loss.

Derrick Rose (22.8 ppg, 7.7 apg) may have the biggest chip on his shoulder coming into this game, as he did last night in Philly where he put up 35 with 8 assists in the win after getting blown out a month earlier by the 76ers. Rose and the Bulls as a whole struggled down the stretch against Indiana the last time out, with Rose scoring just 2 points in the 4th quarter and Chicago held to just 36 points in total during the second half, so improving upon those shortcomings will be critical to the Bulls’ game plan tonight. Notably absent from that game however was Luol Deng (15.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Chicago’s second leading scorer and a huge asset inside the paint, who should be looking to have a better night tonight after going 3-for-11 with just 8 points against Philadelphia yesterday. Depth-wise, the Bulls do match up very well with Indiana, with big men Carlos Boozer (15.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Joakim Noah (9.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and Deng suited for containing the likes of the Pacers big line-up. I also like how they match-up with Rose at the point against Collison, C.J. Watson (9.8 ppg, 3.9 apg) backing up, and with Rip Hamilton (12.1 ppg) as a good veteran presence on the outside. Hamilton looks to be getting back into a scoring groove after missing time due to a goin injury, and having shot better than 60 percent in his last two games, he could be in for a key contribution tonight at home.

Betting Lines for Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers at Oddsmaker Sportsbook

With two teams in peak form right now, this should be an exciting match-up for basketball fans and online sports betting fans alike. At Oddsmaker Sportsbook, we find the Chicago Bulls as the money line favorites in this match-up, with -310 odds to win straight up. Considering their record for success at home against Indiana, who comes in as a +255 underdog on the money line, there’s certainly good reason for the Bulls getting such high odds here.

Perhaps a better look for online sports betting then is the points against the spread, as Chicago gets -7 (-110 odds), while Indiana is a lofty +7 underdog (-110 odds). With both these teams playing so well lately, and Indiana getting an extra day of rest compared to the Bulls, the spread starts to look pretty good for backing the Pacers to stay within the 7 points allotted to them here.

On the over/under which stands at 188 points tonight, this is a tough call to make if only for the fact that in the last match-up the two teams put up 195 points, and during each team’s 6-game winning streak, they are both scoring plenty of points while at the same time playing stand-up defense. So which will it be tonight? Will Chicago come looking for payback, score tons of points and play great defense to keep the total under? Will Indiana keep the game close the whole distance, and both teams help to break through the over mark in a faster paced game than expected? While we don’t know which side is going to have the better game, with the two sides confident on offense and looking to push the ball tonight, the over bet may just be the best way to wager tonight against the total points.

Our Pick to Win:

While the Pacers are set up nicely to give Chicago a big challenge, especially with the fact that Chicago had to travel home last night from Philadelphia, Chicago is going to be all-in for this game tonight with a full roster this time, as well as having an eye for redemption. Derrick Rose has made his case clear that when another team leaves a chip on his shoulder, he likes to repay them for the favor. I fully expect Rose to once again be the scoring leader tonight, and I’ll look to the Chicago front court to be much improved in this match-up with the presence of Luol Deng, enough so that the Bulls win the battle of the boards, outscore Indiana in the paint and keep Indiana well shy of the 104 points they’ve been putting up on opposing defenses. That said, I think we’re going to see a very good game from Indiana tonight as well as their top scorers are playing in harmony with one another right now, and with both teams shooting well lately, I like a high-scoring game to make for an exciting contest at the United Center. Chicago edges out Indiana by a score of 97-92.

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