The Bulls return to the road for an afternoon matinee, catching up with the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. This will be the first time the longtime Central Division rivals officially meet this season. The two teams tangled last month in a preseason tilt, also played in Indy, where the Pacers ran away with a 105-87 victory. Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young sat out for Chicago that night, however the Pacers decided to go with regulars most of the way. The only primary player Indiana couldn't test out was All-Star Victor Oladipo who isn't expected to play before January 2020, as he's still healing from a serious leg injury suffered last year.
Today's contest is the second in a busy string of four games in six days for Chicago. Friday night at the United Center the Bulls took on Windy City favorite Derrick Rose and the Detroit Pistons, winning 112-106. And then after today's tip the Bulls will face LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday at the UC, and fly to Atlanta overnight to meet the Hawks on Wednesday.
The Pacers come into this afternoon a bit gimpy, as not only is Oladipo out, but most likely they'll be without center Myles Turner, who last week badly sprained his right ankle against Brooklyn and is listed as questionable. Turner, a 2015 first-round pick was averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in four games before going down. However, even without two regular starters in Oladipo and Turner the Pacers are still very dangerous.
Acquired in a three-team trade back in July, veteran forward TJ Warren comes into today's contest putting up a little over 15 points a game, while returning 6'11" power forward Domantas Sabonis leads the way at 22.8 points and 10 rebounds. Indy's backcourt is also loaded with top-shelf talent, directed by free agent pick-up Malcom Brogdon (22 points, 5.3 rebounds, 11.3 assists) and fellow free agent signee Jeremy Lamb (17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 50% FG).
Chicago's team defense cannot permit the Pacers offense to roam free and create chaos this afternoon. Collectively, the Bulls must communicate and trust one another, keeping their heads in the game and understanding when to rotate and watch each other's backs. They need to hit the floor with a nasty, hardnosed attitude and deny the Pacers any freedom to swing the ball from side-to-side without paying some sort of physical and/or mental price. Chicago must force Indiana to burn extra energy, making them work hard for every point on every possession they get.
Offensively the Bulls again need to come out of the gates fast and stick to the plan throughout the afternoon. They are most effective when they quickly establish a fast pace. It's also vital the Bulls consistently battle on the boards at both ends of the floor — especially on the defensive end as doing that will help ignite their running game. Too often this season the Bulls have failed to wrestle rebounds and come out on top for loose balls. When those two things begin to go Chicago's way, better results overall are sure to follow.
Also, in order to succeed offensively, the Bulls must freely share the ball by making it skip from player-to-player and from one side of the floor to the other far more consistently, getting everyone to be involved in the action. Doing this will also force Indiana's defense to scramble and eventually break down.
The Bulls cannot be afraid to take their time offensively by making the "extra pass" to uncover open looks at the basket, be they drives through the paint or 3-point launches from behind the arc. Simply put, Chicago cannot allow themselves to be rushed or forced into taking contested jumpers. They need to knock the Pacers on their heels by persistently attacking at both ends of the floor as well as finding a way to get to the free throw line early and often.