Published January 13, 2015
The Indiana Pacers are playing their best basketball of the season and they'll need it Sunday night when they host the Chicago Bulls in a crucial Central Division showdown.
The Pacers have won six of their last seven games and that's put some separation between themselves and the Bulls. Indiana is three games ahead, but this should set up as an interesting battle.
The Pacers are 24-6 at home, which is the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are 17-11 on the road and that is the best away record in the East.
Indiana had a five-game winning streak snapped on Thursday when the Los Angeles Clippers came to town and left with a 99-91 victory. The Pacers rebounded quickly with a 93-81 road win on Friday against the Toronto Raptors.
"We are in a tough playoff race so we understand that our defense is going to give us a chance," David West said after the victory over the Raptors. "Tonight we were a little tired, but we just came in with the effort and the energy on the defensive end, slowed them down and made enough plays to win."
After sitting out the Clippers game for his part in a skirmish with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, Roy Hibbert returned against Toronto with 18 points. Paul George paced the Pacers with 22 points and 10 rebounds and West also had a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards.
The Pacers haven't allowed 100 points in their last eight outings. They share the NBA lead in opponents points allowed at 89.6, and not far behind in third are the Bulls.
Chicago has won two straight after a rough patch saw the Bulls drop five of seven. The Bulls toppled the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, then dispatched the Brooklyn Nets, 96-85 on Saturday in the Windy City.
Joakim Noah was once again dominant. Against the Sixers, Noah posted a 23- point, 21-rebound, 11-block triple-double on national television. He became the sixth player in NBA history with a triple-double featuring at least 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks. The other five were Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shawn Bradley, Shaquille O'Neal and Elvin Hayes. (Remember, blocked shots were not an official stat when players like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell dominated.)
Noah followed it up with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals in Chicago's 96-85 victory on Saturday.
"This is my job and this is my life," said Noah. "Everything is built around this. There's nothing better right now than winning basketball games. It's been an up-and-down year, but I really feel like when we're playing our best, we can beat a lot of people."
Even Indiana, Joakim?
"They're playing very good basketball," Noah said of the Pacers. "It's going to be a big game tomorrow. So I'm excited for it."
Richard Hamilton missed another game with back issues and didn't travel to Indianapolis with the team.
The Pacers won both matchups this season and are 22-6 in their last 28 against the Bulls in Indiana.