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Indiana Visits Chicago in Central Showdown

Leading the team in points and rebounds, David West will look to propel the Indiana Pacers past Chicago on Tuesday.

Indiana makes the trip to Chicago Tuesday night in a game that may go some way to suggesting which of these teams is more likely to challenge for the Eastern Conference title this season.

A little more than a month into the regular season and the Central Division is looking like it could provide one of the more intriguing divisional races. Chicago currently sits at the top of the standings with an 8-7 record, followed closely by Milwaukee (8-8) and Indiana (8-9).

The Bucks have been something of a surprise this season, winning six of their first eight games. Five losses from the last six have caused the Wisconsin side to stumble somewhat and the jury remains out at this time. One thing’s for certain, the Bucks have every opportunity to contend this season thanks to the role injuries are playing within the division.

Chicago and Indiana – two sides expected to contend for the Central Division title this season – are both trying to weather the choppy waters left by knee injuries to Derrick Rose and Danny Granger respectively.

Rose has been absent since the first round of last season’s playoffs, and an estimated time of return is still very much up in the air. Granger was injured in preseason, has missed the first month of the season and is expected to miss another two months.

Both teams will look to take advantage of the other’s injury woes in a bid to win the division.

Indiana has not finished above Chicago in the Central Division standings since the 2007-08 season. The two sides have finished first and second within the division for the past two seasons, a span that coincides with LeBron James’ departure for Miami and the downfall of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A win for the Pacers on Tuesday night would generate some bragging rights, not to mention sending the team in to a virtual tie with both Chicago and Milwaukee.

A win could be tough to come by though. Indiana (8-9, 4-7 road) has struggled away from Conseco Field House this season, and will be up against a Chicago side that is 57-22 all-time against the Pacers in the Windy City. The Bulls have won the last three season series between the two sides, and have not actually dropped a series since 2003-04. An already road-weary Indiana side – which has played 11 of 17 games on the road so far this year – will be up against the wall.

Chicago however is by no means assured of a victory. As with the postseason, the Bulls have struggled without Rose and have not yet manufactured a three-game winning streak. Despite having all five of its starters average double-digits in points, the Bulls have been outplayed and outscored for much of the early part of the season. Chicago has only broken the 100-point marker three times this season.

Further compounding matters is the potential absence of Rip Hamilton. The veteran two-guard has averaged 13.9 points per game this season, second only to Luol Deng (18.1 PPG) for the team lead, but a left foot injury has him listed as day-to-day and most likely to miss Tuesday’s game. Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague will spell the former-Detroit man.

Despite the injury, bookmakers like Chicago in this one. The Bulls opened as 5.5-point favorites, a number that has dropped to 4 in the wake of Hamilton’s injury.

The Bulls are a woeful 4-11 against the spread this season, which will give the Pacers (8-9 ATS) a certain amount of hope and bettors something to think about.

The total is a low 183 points. The two teams combine for an average of 184 per contest, but both have seen the total go under in 10 games already this season.

Whilst the result of this game will not be decisive in terms of the Central Division this season, it should give us some idea of what to expect as we move on to the Christmas schedule – these two sides meet again on Boxing Day – and beyond.

Currently, bookmakers expect little out of Indiana, who has fallen from 14/1 to take the Eastern Conference in the preseason to 20/1 currently. The Bulls meanwhile have been static on oddsmakers’ lines, remaining at 18/1 to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy and 15/2 to take the East, both identical numbers to the preseason.

Chicago and Indiana will meet three more times this season: Dec. 26 (at Indiana), Mar. 3 (at Indiana), and Mar. 23 (at Chicago).

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