The Chicago Bulls avenged a loss from last week by defeating the Indiana Pacers 89-77 on Monday, and there is a chance that the teams could meet in the second round of the playoffs. If this is the case, the Pacers would be big favorites, but it would undoubtedly be an intriguing battle. And although it’s impossible to take everything that happened in two games and apply it to an entire series, some key matchups emerged over the past week that would definitely matter in a seven-game set.
Roy Hibbert vs. Joakim Noah – The obvious starting point in the series is between two of the best centers in the game. Interestingly enough, though, this matchup doesn’t usually decide the outcome between the two teams, because the two big men do a great job of neutralizing each other.
Hibbert’s length bothers Noah more than any other center in the league. When Noah tries any running hook in the lane, he has to use enough wrist to get it over Hibbert instead of just floating it towards the rim like he normally does. This makes the shot much more difficult. In addition to shooting, Hibbert’s length doesn’t give Noah as much room in the passing lanes, although Noah still managed eight assists on Monday. If Noah can be efficient offensively and manage to be the playmaker he normally is, count it as a win for the Bulls.
On the other end, Noah has improved at defending Hibbert the last few years. Most of the improvement comes before Hibbert even gets the ball, as Noah’s better at forcing him away from where he wants to get on the floor. Hibbert doesn’t have to be a monster scorer for the Pacers against the Bulls like he does against the Miami Heat, but he needs to do better than make no field goals like he did Monday. He has to get some second chance opportunities and make Noah pay when he helps on drives.
George Hill vs. D.J. Augustin – The Bulls love using two point guards in the fourth quarter, but it can backfire against the Pacers. Hill has the length and playmaking ability to score on Augustin, and it is clear the Pacers try to make the Bulls pay by keeping Augustin out there. If Hill can consistently dominate this matchup offensively, look for more of Mike Dunleavy in the fourth quarter.
David West vs. Taj Gibson – West tends to get going early against Carlos Boozer, but it is late in the game that he’ll need to make some shots, whether off post isolations or jumpers from the high post on the weak side. West is a mismatch for most bigs because he can make jumpers but is as strong as an ox when he goes inside. Gibson’s rare blend of athleticism and strength allows him to recover quickly on West after helping, while also being able to body him up in the lane. West has to use his craftiness to score on Gibson, and if he can help get him in foul trouble (like when Gibson fouled out against Indiana on Friday), he can give the Pacers a huge boost.
On the other end, Gibson must be dominate for the series if the Bulls want to pull the upset. His post moves and quickness can give Indiana fits, and with the Pacers so concerned about keeping Noah off the offensive boards, Gibson can get second chance opportunities as well. The likely Sixth Man of the Year needs to produce for the Bulls, and the Pacers know shutting him down is key.
Paul George vs. Bulls defense – Defending George is a team effort, and it all starts with Jimmy Butler. Butler does a great job of getting through the down screens set for George and funnels him into help. This is where the mobile bigs have to do their job and bother George, who likes to use his size to get good looks in the lane. If the Bulls can bother George early in the game, he’s much more likely to force bad shots later on. If he gets hot early, he can carry an offense that is sometimes stagnant.
There are plenty of other factors that would come into play between these two teams, but these are some keys to a series. And although it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing basketball when these teams get together, it would sure be a fun, hard-fought series.
Donnie Kolakowski is a writer on RantSports.com. Follow him on twitter @zenoknows.