- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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"Yeah, definitely," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said regarding the hatred between both teams. "In the same division, they're playing extremely well right now. We need to go in there and handle business. I think it's known well enough that they don't like us too much. The feeling's mutual, I guess."
The interesting part of the Bulls/Pacers rivalry, which will be renewed Friday night in Indianapolis, isn't that each side believes it is better than the other, it's that both teams are inevitably caught in second place behind the Miami Heat. For the past three years, both teams have been jockeying for the second position with Miami, but the Heat have never publicly acknowledged a rivalry with Chicago or Indiana.
The Bulls can't focus on their place in the Eastern Conference ranks on Friday night and again Monday when the two teams play in Chicago. They just have to find a way to knock out a Pacers team that has been up and down over the last couple weeks.
"Two really competitive teams that just want to show who's better than who," Butler said. "I feel like both teams got a lot of good players, do a lot of things well. So it's going to be a dogfight to the very end I can tell you that."
But the respect between both clubs is clear, especially from the coaches. Tom Thibodeau and Pacers coach Frank Vogel have always spoke highly of the other.
"When you study championship basketball it's built this way," Thibodeau said of the Pacers. "They have great size up front. They have quality depth. They play inside out. They share the ball. Great defense, great rebounding, put the team first. I think Frank's done a good job, a great job with them. They've got great direction from their management. We've got great respect for them."
Vogel believes that the fact the teams will play each other twice in four days will benefit his club.
"I think going against their defense will be good for our offense," Vogel said. "If you don't execute every cut, every screen, every set up, then they'll embarrass you and they'll stifle your offense. So it'll certainly be a good test for us and hopefully help us improve."
"He's great at defending, protecting the rim," Noah said. "So we're just going to have to try and move his big [butt] around."
The last word: "To me, you prepare the same way. I think (the media) get up for certain teams and overlook others. We understand that everyone's capable of winning in this league. You can't get to this league without having great talent. So you have to be ready every night. Hopefully you establish a routine of preparation and how you get ready to play -- and you take it step by step." -- Thibodeau on whether he worries players may be too pumped up before certain games.