Bulls vs. Pacers: Key Players in Eastern Conference Showdown

Sam StrykerContributor IIIFebruary 4, 2013

Pacers forward Paul George dropped 34 points on the Bulls in their last matchup.
Pacers forward Paul George dropped 34 points on the Bulls in their last matchup.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls square off tonight in a matchup of the Eastern Conference’s top two defenses. Stopping the other team will be at a premium in tonight’s matchup in Indianapolis. 

If Indiana wins, the Pacers will extend their win streak at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to 14 games, according to ESPN. Their current home win streak of 13 games is the longest in team history since the squad took 14 in a row from Nov. 28, 2002 to Jan. 26, 2003. 

Several players will play crucial roles in determining the victor between two of the East's top teams.

According to ESPN Chicago, Bulls forward Joakim Noah does not expect to play Monday due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Forward Carlos Boozer is also expected to be a game-time decision for the Bulls. 

Noah leads the Bulls in rebounds, steals and blocks per game and Boozer is second on Chicago in hauling in boards. 

In other words, the Bulls are missing some of their defensive dynamite in what should be a low-scoring contest against the Pacers. 

As such, forward Luol Deng will have to step up his game if Chicago expects to pass the test against the Pacers. Deng leads the team with 17.3 points per game and is third in rebounds on the team, following Noah and Boozer. 

While he isn’t going to dominate the boards or light up the Pacers, the Bulls need Deng to step up his game both on offense and on defense, especially with Noah and Boozer both potentially out.

If the Pacers want to extend their hot streak at home, small forward Paul George will have to lead the charge. The Indiana star leads the team with 17.3 points per game on the season, and in his last 10 games has raised that clip to 18.7 points per game.

George dropped 34 points on the Bulls in the teams’ only matchup so far this season in December. The Pacers would love for him to perform anywhere near that level Monday night. 

Pacers center Roy Hibbert will be another key player in tonight’s matchup. At 7-foot-2, Hibbert is a force down low, averaging 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. In what is expected to be a defensive battle in Indianapolis tonight, Hibbert is the type of player who could sway the game in the Pacers’ favor.

Wednesday against Detroit, Hibbert delivered one of his best performances of the season, scoring 18 points and hauling in 11 rebounds. If he can play at a similar level tonight at the Bank Life Fieldhouse, it could be enough to push the Pacers to victory over the Bulls. 

All statistics are gathered from ESPN.