NBA Central: Pacers Extend Win Streak, Bulls Aim to Keep Pace

By Daniel J.

Most bettors would have called the Indiana Pacers a dark horse to come out of the Eastern Conference this season and although some will still consider them to be in that category, it’s hard to call them anything but a pure contender now.

The Pacers extended their winning streak to four games on Saturday after defeating the Detroit Pistons for the second night in a row, this time by a score of 90-72. On Friday night, it was even worse for the Pistons, as they fell 114-82 to Indiana.

The Pacers demonstrated their defensive prowess by forcing the Pistons to miss 16 of their first 17 shots from the field. George Hill led the way for Indiana offensively, scoring 17 points, while 2013 All-Star Paul George added a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

The win also vaults the Pacers into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Miami Heat – who are on a 10-game winning streak – by five and a half games, but at the moment, they appear to be the only team that has a real chance to dethrone the defending champions from the East.

With one of the best defenses in the league and a superior rebounding team, the Pacers actually match-up better against the Heat than most teams. The Heat are ranked last in the NBA in rebounding – although they shoot so well it usually doesn’t matter – and the Pacers could take advantage of their size and strength against Miami. But of course, with all the talent Miami has, it would likely still prevail.

With Indiana and Miami both surging, the Chicago Bulls – currently in second place in the Central – need to find some wins in order to keep pace in the East. Today, the Bulls will have a chance to do that as they are in action, but it won’t be easy. They are going on the road to one of the league’s most hostile environments and will play one of the NBA’s best teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Surprisingly, the Bulls have played  better away from the United Center this season, but playing at OKC is always a unique challenge. The Thunder are a near flawless 24-4 in their own building and are one of two teams with 40 or more wins (40-15).

However, both teams have struggled a bit lately. The Thunder have only won six of their last 10 and the Bulls have only won four games in the same stretch. It should be an interesting match-up considering the Bulls play defensive-minded basketball and the Thunder are the opposite, putting up a league high 106.7 points per game.

There’s not much doubt that the Thunder should earn the victory, but as a nine-point favorite, taking the Bulls to cover seems more lucrative. Chicago is a strong team that often plays in close games, win or lose, so expect them to battle and slow the Thunder’s tempo enough to cover +9 on the road today.