After coming oh so close to knocking off one of the better teams in the Western Conference on Wednesday, the Bulls will have to regroup physically and mentally for Friday’s visit from the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana is 5-3 on the young season after beating the Knicks on Wednesday, 107-101. Reserve big man Domantas Sabonis hit all 12 of his field goal attempts on the way to scoring a game high 30 points, while All-Star guard Victor Oladipo scored 11 of his 24 in the 4th quarter.
Oladipo has been battling a case of bronchitis over the last week, but he’s expected to play against the Bulls. After increasing his scoring average by nearly 8 points a game last season, Oladipo has focused on improving his 3 point shooting this year. The former Indiana University star is shooting just over 41% from beyond the arc, while averaging 22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 and a half assists and one and half steals.
Oladipo and Zach LaVine are two of the most explosive shooting guards in the league, so watching that match-up alone should provide plenty of entertainment value.
The Pacers were one of the big surprise teams in the league last season, earning the #5 seed in the East after posting a 48-34 record, and this year they have their eyes on gaining home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
Indiana has a solid starting 5 with Oladipo and veteran point guard Darren Collison in the backcourt, and talented young center Myles Turner, veteran power forward Thaddeus Young and 3 point shooting threat Bojan Bogdanovic up front. GM Kevin Pritchard strengthened the team’s bench by adding Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn and former Bull Doug McDermott in free agency, but to this point the Pacers are still looking for more consistency at both ends of the court.
The Bulls easily handled Indiana in a preseason game at the United Center, but you can throw that result out now. The Pacers are already looking up at Milwaukee in the Central Division standings and they’ll be focused on taking care of business against the Bulls as they start a weekend back-to-back that includes a home game against Eastern Conference favorite Boston on Saturday.
Here’s what the Bulls have to do for a chance at getting their 3rd win of the season.
1. CONTROL THE BOARDS. Rebounding continues to be an issue for the Bulls, with Denver’s overtime win on Wednesday the direct result of their work on the offensive glass. Rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. has to keep Turner from getting 2nd chance opportunities for Indiana, while Jabari Parker and Chandler Hutchison need to focus on boxing out the power forward tandem of Young and Sabonis.
2. LIMIT THE “O” FOR OLADIPO. Oladipo’s improved three point shooting makes him an even tougher cover this season. He loves to push the ball in transition and pull up for threes while the defense is still retreating. Plus, Oladipo is adept at getting to the rim and drawing fouls, so the Bulls’ front court players will need to make the correct reads when Oladipo is on the attack.
3. KNOCK DOWN OPEN 3-POINTERS. The Bulls’ near upset of Denver on Wednesday was keyed by their 47% shooting from the 3 point line. With Ryan Arcidiacono taking on a bigger role in the half-court offense, the Bulls’ drive and kick game ran at high efficiency against the Nuggets. They’ll need to make upwards of 15 threes for a good chance to beat the Pacers on Friday.
Friday’s game will be NBC Sports Chicago’s first Authentic Fan night of the season at the United Center with special in arena promotions. Also, former Bulls’ star Horace Grant makes his season debut as a guest analyst, joining Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and me for Pre and Post Game coverage from the Atrium.
Bulls Pregame Live gets things started at 6:30, then Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play by play call on NBC Sports Chicago and the MyTeams app at 7. If you’re going to the game, make sure to drop by our set and say hello.