Pacers 'excited' to compete against Bulls

Derrick Rose found out how physical the Pacers could be during the playoffs last year. Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- After his team was eliminated by the Chicago Bulls in five games last season, Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger was angry, calling Joakim Noah's physical play "cowardly."

That was a heat-of-the-moment reaction, Granger says now, after a physical series on both sides. Hard fouls will return in this renewed rivalry, but not necessarily hard feelings.

"You're coming off a tough series and both teams are playing hard," Granger said before Wednesday's game against the Bulls. "It's over with. It's a new season. I'm not even worried about that anymore.

"There was a bad taste, but not about that, but the fact that three of those games we were winning and we kind of just let it slip through our fingers. That would've been a huge upset for us because we had just made a coaching change, and limped into the playoffs. We hadn't hit our stride. We let those games slip away."

The Pacers nearly suffered the same fate Wednesday, but they were able to hold on for a 95-90 win in the United Center. It was the Bulls' first home loss of the season as Indiana pulled to within 2 1/2 games of the Central Division leaders.

And the Pacers' celebration after the game didn't go over well with Derrick Rose, who told reporters: "I'll never forget how they celebrated just from winning this game. I can't wait to play them again."

With the addition of David West and Indianapolis native George Hill, the Pacers have built off that series and are one of the teams chasing the Bulls in the Eastern Conference through the first month. Given that these teams are Central Division rivals, these teams will see a lot of each other.

Indiana came into Wednesday's game with an 11-5 record, beating the Lakers and the Warriors on the road, before a lopsided home loss to Orlando.

Indiana has held half of its first 16 opponents to 90 points or less and lead the league by holding teams to a .413 shooting percentage.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who shed his interim tag after that series, said he hopes his players have a swagger after going toe-to-toe with Chicago last spring.

"We know we can play with these guys," he said. "We're off to a strong start. We feel like we're one of the best teams in the East and we're excited to compete against these guys."

Granger said he thinks the Bulls are the best team in the NBA right now, just ahead of Oklahoma City, and while he didn't see the first regular-season matchup as a statement game, he also thinks the Pacers are getting overlooked.

"I think a lot of people still don't believe we're as good as our record has shown," he said. "We were second (record-wise in the East) until we lost to Orlando the other night.

"You got those six teams in the East fighting for those top spots and Chicago's not even that far ahead of everybody else. I don't think teams think we should be there yet. I think they won't be convinced until 30 games left in the season when we're still there."

Granger said he admires the way the Bulls play defense, joking that either Tom Thibodeau is giving them "special juice" or "they got earpieces in."

Granger doesn't think the Bulls are vulnerable without Luol Deng, either.

"They went, what, 4-1 without Derrick Rose?" he said. "It don't matter if Derrick Rose is out, it don't matter if Carlos Boozer is out, it don't matter if Luol Deng is out. They still got a damn good chance of winning every game they play."

Does this have the making of that classic Bulls-Pacers rivalry from the Jordan era?

"I think it will be," Granger said. "Because the Bulls are going to be good for awhile, and our team is coming along. I mean, not only are we division rivals, but we're conference rivals. That rivalry is going to be there."