Bulls-Pacers Preview

The Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers have finished at the top of the Central Division in each of the past two seasons, largely due to their defensive prowess.

Defense continues to be both teams' calling card this year, though one is currently trying to rebound from back-to-back disappointments.

Chicago will travel to Indianapolis looking to avoid equaling a season-high three-game skid in a matchup with the surging Pacers.

Both Indiana and Chicago own two of the league's top scoring defenses at 89.9 and 91.0, respectively. But the Bulls' defense hasn't looked the part of late.

Chicago (15-12) has given up 212 points over its past two games, its highest two-game total of the season. The Bulls have let their last two opponents shoot a combined 52.8 percent from the floor - a number in stark contrast to their 43.1 season average.

The latest defensive meltdown was a 120-97 loss to Houston on Christmas night. It was Chicago's largest margin of defeat of the season and its most points allowed.

Making the loss even more bitter was the performance of Omer Asik, who tallied 20 points and 18 rebounds against his former team. Chicago didn't match the Rockets' three-year, $25 million offer sheet for Asik in the offseason.

Each Houston starter scored in double figures while Chicago's starting five combined to shoot 39.1 percent from the field. Nate Robinson led the Bulls with 27 points off the bench on 9-of-16 shooting.

"If you are not right and don't have an edge, you are not going to win without the right amount of intensity," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They completely outplayed us from the start."

A road game against a conference foe might provide a fix for the Bulls, as they're 6-1 in such games.

"In this league things change," forward Taj Gibson told the team's website. "It's no time to panic ... we just have to get ready for the next game, adjust, work on the fundamentals and get back to what we've been doing. We can't feel sorry for ourselves."

The Pacers (16-12) are finding success without reigning leading scorer Danny Granger. Despite being without the team-leading 21.6 ppg that Granger has averaged since 2007-08, Indiana has won three in a row and seven of eight.

In his absence, they've primarily relied on three players - David West (17.4 ppg), Paul George (16.3) and George Hill (15.0). Most recently it was West, who scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half of an 81-75 win against New Orleans on Saturday.

The Pacers trailed by 22 at one point and owed the comeback in large part to their defense. They won the third quarter 24-7 while holding New Orleans to 3 of 17 from the field.

Indiana's 40.8 percent field-goal defense is the best in the NBA.

"When you defend like we defend, you're definitely never out of the game," coach Frank Vogel said. "We're capable of having quarters like we did tonight where you're holding teams to seven points in the quarter. When you can do that, you can make up huge deficits."

The Pacers notched an 80-76 road victory over the Bulls on Dec. 4 with George scoring 34. The teams combined for 37.3 percent shooting.

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