Indiana and Chicago both seek to reverse their recent subpar play as the Central Division rivals meet at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Pacers have dropped three of their last four games and now lead the Milwaukee Bucks by just percentage points for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls—losers of three in a row—are in ninth place, 2 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the final playoff spot and five games in back of the Pacers and Bucks.
Indiana has lost its last two games by double-digit margins, 103-88 Sunday to Boston and 105-75 Tuesday at Memphis. The 30-point margin at Memphis was Indiana’s second-most lopsided defeat of the season, and its worst since a 122-90 loss Nov. 16 at Charlotte.
“It was a disappointing performance, I’ll leave it at that,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “… We’ve got two games now where we’ve had disappointing stretches. We have to do better than that to keep any legitimate playoffs hopes alive.”
Jeff Foster and Anthony Johnson led the Pacers with 15 points each. Indiana’s defense allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 51 percent from the field, and has allowed opponents to score more than 100 points in each of its last three losses.
“We’d like to get out and run and do some good things on offense,” Carlisle said. “But if you can’t get the stops, it’s going to be hard to do that. We’re going to have to be better at both ends, but after the last couple of games on the defensive end, that is going to have to become more of a priority for us.”
The Bulls fell behind by as many as 27 points Sunday against Washington, before mounting a late comeback which ultimately fell short in a 113-104 loss.
“We waited 2 1/2 quarters before we got any energy going,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “Once we did, we were able to chip away at it and give ourselves half a chance.”
“I can’t allow us to be blaming other factors for the way that we play. There’s a very simple thing to do under those situations, and that’s play better,” Skiles said. “We’ve done that a little bit too much this year: blame the refs, blame other situations, and that’s not a belief system that I can endorse—ever.”
Hinrich scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting before fouling out. Skiles said the third-year guard may have been bothered by a sore right elbow, but Hinrich called the injury “just something minor.”
Chicago won its only other visit to Indiana this season, 101-89 on Jan. 21. The victory snapped a 14-game road losing streak for the Bulls against the Pacers dating back to 1997-98, Michael Jordan’s final season in Chicago.