With each team's star player out because of a knee injury, the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers have struggled to sustain consistent success.
Trying for a season-high third consecutive victory, the Bulls will be minus another starting guard Tuesday night when they look to continue their recent home dominance of the Pacers.
Chicago (8-7) expected to struggle at times while Derrick Rose recovers from a torn ACL, but it has won three of four following a three-game skid. Veteran Richard Hamilton, however, will join Rose on the inactive list for the time being because of torn tissue in his left foot.
Second on the team averaging 13.9 points, Hamilton hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final 20 seconds Saturday after sustaining the injury and finished with 15 points in the Bulls' 93-88 win over Philadelphia.
Though Hamilton's absence presents another obstacle for Chicago - Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler are the candidates to step in - the club remains confident.
"In the past three years with (coach Tom Thibodeau), we showed as the season went along we got better as a team," forward Luol Deng told the Bulls' official website. "I expect us as a team to improve. We're coming on to 20 games when teams start to show what they can do."
Deng had 25 points, seven assists and seven rebounds Saturday while Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah each scored 12 and combined for 25 boards. The Bulls held the 76ers to 3-of-12 shooting from 3-point range and outrebounded them 50-37, following up last week's rout of Dallas to win back-to-back games at the United Center for the first time this season.
Chicago has limited its last four opponents to an average of 86.3 points on 42.0 percent shooting after yielding 100.6 on 46.1 percent from the field while losing four of the previous five.
"The thing for us is to concentrate on improvement," Thibodeau said. "We are moving in the right direction. We are still not a 48-minute team. There were stretches where we played well defensively, we have to do it consistently throughout the game."
The Bulls have managed to consistently play well defensively while holding Indiana to 92.4 points per game on 42.0 percent shooting to win 14 of 16 at home in the Central Division rivalry, including playoffs. Deng has averaged 19.5 points on 49.1 percent shooting while playing in 13 of those games.
Indiana (8-9) continues to play without star Danny Granger, who is likely to miss another two months because of a left knee problem. Despite ranking near the bottom of the NBA with 90.9 points per contest, the Pacers have managed to hover around .500 because they are among the best in points allowed (91.9) while averaging a league-high 47.4 rebounds.
Indiana had won two in a row and five of seven before falling 103-92 at Golden State on Saturday. David West scored 23 points and George Hill added 19, but Paul George missed seven shots and did not score while the Pacers grabbed a season-low 36 boards.
Despite the defeat, West (17.8 ppg) continues to help fill the scoring void left by Granger. He's averaging 23.0 points on 58.5 percent shooting in his last six games.
"He's playing at an All-Star level right now," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "There's no other way to look at it. He's carrying the load."
West, however, has averaged 11.4 points on 32.4 percent shooting in his last five at Chicago.
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