Bulls-Pacers Preview


Having clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference while sitting idle the last few days, the Chicago Bulls could use the next game to rest Derrick Rose and Luol Deng before the playoffs.

However, coach Tom Thibodeau hinted earlier this week that might not happen.

Looking to get their starters some rare minutes together, the Bulls plan to be at full strength Wednesday night when they visit the Indiana Pacers.

Chicago clinched the East's best record for a second straight season Tuesday when Miami lost to Boston, giving the Bulls home-court advantage through the conference finals. They still have a chance to earn it through the NBA finals, currently tied with San Antonio for the league's best record.

Chicago is coming off a 98-83 win over Dallas on Saturday.

Thibodeau hinted Monday that no matter where the Bulls (48-16) stood going into Wednesday, he planned on using all of his starters, at least for a bit. It helped that the Bulls have had a three-day break since their last game.

"I like where we are in terms of having the opportunity to rest guys. ... We have no one in the top 25 in the league in minutes," he said. "It's good for us."

Injuries to Rose, Deng and Richard Hamilton have limited their time with fellow starters Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah to 14 games together. Rose returned Saturday following a three-game absence due to a sore foot. He's played in only four of Chicago's last 20 games.

As Rose continues to work off the rust - he scored 11 points against Dallas and admitted to some confidence issues when driving the lane - Hamilton is finally playing the way the Bulls envisioned. He scored at least 19 points for the fourth time in seven games Saturday and has reached double figures in four of five.

Deng scored a game-high 22 versus the Mavericks in his second game back after missing two with a rib injury.

While the Bulls haven't been at their best lately, going 6-5 this month, they look forward to fixing any remaining issues as the regular season winds down. Their finale is Thursday against Cleveland.

"Two more games, big games for us," Deng said. "We're still not there quite yet, but almost there."

These teams have split two meetings this season - both in Chicago - after Indiana's first-round playoff loss to the Bulls last April in a five-game series which included four games decided by five points or fewer.

"They put up a fight every time we play them," Rose said last month. "I think it makes us better as a team."

With the No. 3 seed in the East locked up, Indiana (42-23) rested three starters in a 103-97 win over Detroit on Monday. Paul George scored 27 points while Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and George Hill got the night off.

The Pacers have won 12 of 14. While they figure to rest some of their starters in their regular-season finale, they realize the importance of chemistry and momentum.

"I just think in terms of mental preparation, just want to kind of keep the train going," David West said. "We've been playing some good ball. We've been sharing the load in terms of what we're doing. I think it's just a good idea to keep that rolling."