Chicago Bulls: Indiana Pacers

3 Points: Nets now a bigger threat to Bulls?

April, 3, 2014
Joe JohnsonAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bulls are 2-1 against a Nets team that is 30-13 since the calendar turned to 2014.
Every week, Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. Would the Nets be a bigger threat to the Bulls in a first-round matchup compared to last season?

Nick Friedell: Yes. They have more of a veteran presence, and Jason Kidd seems to have found more of a rhythm as coach. But the difference is that the Bulls are also a better team than they were a year ago. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are playing the best basketball of their careers, and D.J. Augustin has become a closer for a team that was in desperate need of one. Combine those factors with the reality that Tom Thibodeau still runs one of the best defenses in the league, and it's easy to understand why the Bulls would still be the favorite in that series.


If the season ended today, the Bulls would play the Nets in the first round. Who wins?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,525)

Jon Greenberg: Given the relative good health of the Bulls right now, I'd say no. Remember, the Bulls were up 3-1 on Brooklyn after the "Nate Robinson game." But that would be the last game that Luol Deng (botched spinal tap) and Kirk Hinrich (calf injury) would play. Unless their opponent is LeBron James or Kevin Durant or the Spurs, the Bulls' biggest foe is the Bulls. As well as the Nets are playing now that they're in harmony, I think the Bulls, who won two out of three against Brooklyn this season, can take them. It might take seven games again, but as we know, this team rebounds quite well from losses. Since Jan. 1, they've lost consecutive games just once, road defeats at New Orleans and Sacramento. While Robinson's heroics were crucial last year, Augustin is a much better point guard and Chicago's finest, Noah and Gibson, can carry a team.

Scoop Jackson: Yes. They've found their flow and to be honest, it's a little scary. Since the day 2014 began (or since Kidd stopped wearing ties), they are 30-13, playing like one of the best teams in the NBA. And they've been doing it for the most part with Kevin Garnett "resting" with an injury that, come playoff time, might be a blessing in disguise. The other thing that should be of concern to the Bulls when it comes to the Nets is payback. The Nets have a deep incentive to beat the Bulls to make up for the embarrassment the Bulls put on them last year in the playoffs. That alone will make the Nets tougher this time around. That, and the fact that this time they'll be playing with a sense of purpose and pride. Two things that were nonexistent last year.

2. Have the recent struggles of the Pacers changed your opinion of the Bulls' chances against them in the playoffs?

Friedell: No, because I've always believed the Bulls had a solid chance to beat Indiana. The Bulls are not scared of the Pacers, and they are confident they can beat them in a seven-game series. That confidence has never wavered. The Pacers' recent struggles have only reinforced that confidence.

[+] EnlargePaul George
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul George's Pacers were just 8-10 in March, including a loss to the Bulls.
Greenberg: Yes, of course. Teams that struggle like this don't just magically rebound once the postseason begins. It's possible, yes, but this is a broken, dysfunctional team. Before the Pacers' last game in Chicago, reporters were buzzing about team meetings and the general distrust that had mutated in the locker room. Getting rid of Danny Granger for Evan Turner was a chemistry backfire. Maybe Andrew Bynum can host a team bowling night? Could the Pacers avoid the gutter, though? Indiana can't score on anyone right now, least of all the Bulls, who scored an easy 89-77 win last week. Once the Bulls got rolling, it was clear they could at least drag Indiana through a long playoff series. Now, you wonder if the Bulls could close them out in six.

Scoop Jackson: Nope. In the end, I still believe that the Pacers have enough individual offense (and play respectable enough defense) to beat the Bulls in a seven-game series. But I do now believe that when that series ends, we will all walk away feeling that the Pacers didn't deserve to win the series, which is something I can say I didn't feel a few months ago. Unlike the Nets of last year, there is a sense of pride inside that Pacers locker room and organization, and at some point during the playoffs, it will kick in. David West will make sure of that. The question is, though, will that pride be enough to get them past another team once the Bulls put that pride to the ultimate test?

3. What will be the Bulls' biggest shortcoming in the playoffs?

Friedell: The lack of an elite-level, go-to scorer down the stretch. Superstars win in the playoffs, specifically players who can create and score whenever they want. As great as Noah and Augustin have been this season, neither have the type of offensive game to consistently create and score in big moments against the likes of LeBron and Dwyane Wade.

[+] EnlargeDJ Augustin
AP Photo/Michael DwyerD.J. Augustin's ability to create his own shot has been a boon to the Bulls since they signed him in December.
Greenberg: Easy, scoring. Or shooting. Shooting and scoring. This team struggles with offense in general. The Bulls have lost 14 times since Jan. 1, and they scored 90 or more points in only three of those losses. While scoring is the Bulls' most famous shortcoming, it's not impossible for this team to score. In the Bulls' 19 wins in February and March, they've averaged 100 points. But like everything else with this team, it starts with defense. When the Bulls get on the run (see the YouTube video of Noah on the break set to "Born to Run"), they're fairly dangerous. But in a grind-it-out, half-court game, they need to be clicking, in rhythm, as Noah runs the offense from the top of the key. It'll be interesting to see how the Bulls rise to the challenge in the postseason.

Jackson: In one sentence? Not having an Option 1/Alpha Dawg/Hype Beast scorer to regularly dig them out of those double-digit deficits they are going to find themselves in during the playoffs. A player who has the ability, consistency and pedigree to drop 20-23 points in every game regardless of who they are playing and can counter LeBron if they face Miami and/or Paul George if they face Indiana and/or the Joe Johnson/Deron Williams/Paul Pierce trio if they face Brooklyn. Other than that, I really don't think any other shortcoming exists.

Gibson dominates in 'dogfight' with Pacers

March, 24, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls are not scared of the Indiana Pacers. They think they can beat them every time they hit the floor, and they get angry when they don't. Taj Gibson embodies this attitude, and sounded especially proud of his team's effort in Monday night's 89-77 victory. The veteran forward was frustrated by the way he played in Friday night's loss in Indianapolis -- frustration which spilled over in his postgame comments when he said some Indiana players were "flopping."

Gibson was determined to change his fortunes in this game, setting a tone early on that the rest of his teammates followed. He showed the emotion that has defined the Bulls, and scored 23 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the process.

"We're not scared of anybody, really," Gibson said. "We're really not. It just comes down to guys just playing hard. People don't understand we like a dogfight. We like to be physical. We like the physicality of the game. We're not really focused on guys coming in scoring like 150 points. We're going to wind you down and we're going to fight and you're going to be feeling it the next day. And that's what kind of game it was tonight: It was a dogfight."

Gibson and the Bulls got exactly what they wanted. They thrive off the fact that teams think they can outmuscle them and they scoff at the notion that Indiana is a better team. The reality for the Bulls is that they believe they can knock off the Pacers in a seven-game series should they meet in the playoffs. A notion that was only strengthened after such a solid performance on Monday.

"We love it," Gibson said of the physical nature of the game. "You see Joakim [Noah] amped. Everyone on our team was amped because if you want to say it's a rivalry -- they're in the Central Division. We're both fighting for the same thing. We both want to get to the championship level and one day hopefully pass the Heat. Both teams are fighting for that and every game is a step to get better. And tonight we took another step to get better."

[+] EnlargeTaj Gibson
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast"You're going to be feeling it the next day," Taj Gibson said of opponents having played the Bulls.
The Bulls took that step by being the aggressor in the second half. They knocked the Pacers in the mouth and didn't allow them to set the type of tone they had on Friday. For Gibson, that meant bringing his passion to both ends of the floor and staying out of foul trouble, something he didn't accomplish the last time around.

"Every game is different," Noah said. "But I knew Taj wanted that game bad. I said right after [Friday's] game, 'I'm really excited about having an opportunity to play these guys again.' Taj played big for us. Every game is different, but he definitely came with a great mindset and set the tone for us tonight."

In Gibson's mind, the difference was that he was more assertive.

"I just took my looks," he said. "When it came to me, I didn't hesitate. All year long I've been taking my looks. That game, I just didn't come out with my normal spunk I normally do. ... I was frustrated and I was focused. I wanted to play good in the Sixers game [on Saturday], I wanted to play good tonight. I was focused on this game and we all were. I just focused."

Gibson's teammates fed off of the focus he described. As a group, the Bulls wanted this game badly. It was clear from the emotions that Gibson and his teammates displayed all night. They believe they are still the second-best team in the East behind Miami, and they wanted to prove it on Monday.

"You go down the list, every night guys have had different nights where they've upped the level of play of their teammates," Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy said. "So tonight, Taj was that to go along with Jo. But I thought everybody really played well, really brought it, and it was good to see."

Nobody was happier with the result than Gibson. After such a strong season, it was strange to see him play so poorly against an Indiana team he is usually so eager to face. He made sure he didn't make the same mistakes twice -- and he took some extra motivation from the words he heard from Pacers players throughout the night.

"Coming from their bench they were talking so much trash," Gibson said. "And then you've got David West talking trash, you've got [Roy] Hibbert talking trash -- I don't talk trash, I just play my game. I'm not into that. I let the action happen and let it be done with. But I'm not really a talker unless they really want to bring it out of me."

They brought it out of Gibson in a big way Monday, and he delivered with one of his best games of the season.

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 89, Pacers 77

March, 24, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell

CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned an 89-77 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at the United Center.

How it happened: After playing poorly Friday night and calling out the Pacers for "flopping," Taj Gibson responded in a major way, scoring 23 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing effective defense on the blocks all night. Mike Dunleavy had a solid game, adding 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Paul George led the Pacers with 21 points, but it wasn't enough as the Bulls played one of their best defensive games of the season.

What it means: The Bulls are not afraid of the Pacers. They enjoy the physical style of play that comes when they face Indiana, and they remain confident they can beat the Pacers in a seven-game series. Coach Tom Thibodeau and his team did not like the way they performed down the stretch Friday night in Indianapolis -- and they were determined to fix their mistakes and finish this one off. They did that Monday night, by being the aggressor in the second half and making big plays when they needed them.

Hits: Joakim Noah had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but it was his defense on Roy Hibbert that was most impressive. Hibbert was 0-for-5 from the field and scored just three points.

Misses: Bulls rookie Tony Snell was 0-for-6 from the field.

Stat of the night: The Bulls outscored the Pacers 31-22 in the third quarter. They trailed 34-33 at the half.

What's next: The Bulls have three days off. They'll take on the visiting Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

Bulls focus on boards in Pacers rematch

March, 24, 2014
Powers By Scott Powers
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah is certain the Chicago Bulls will make the necessary adjustments to avoid being out-rebounded Monday by the Indiana Pacers by double digits like they were just three days ago.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah led the Bulls with 13 rebounds in their loss to the Pacers on Friday.
What adjustments? Noah won't divulge.

"I'm not going to tell you that at 10 o'clock in the morning," Noah said after the team's morning shootaround at the United Center. "We're going to make our adjustments. We're on edge. It's going to be a great game tonight. We're excited."

The Pacers reduced the Bulls' excitement when the teams last met on Friday by going on a 19-0 run in the third quarter and rolling to a 91-79 victory in Indianapolis. The Pacers out-rebounded the Bulls 51-36.

The Bulls and Pacers are two of the NBA's top rebounding teams with both rankings in the top 10. Both teams often thrive by grabbing more rebounds than their opponents, but Noah won't accept the idea the Pacers defeated the Bulls by beating them at their own game on Friday.

"That doesn't mean anything," Noah said. "We've got to go out there and try to win the game. Is rebounding one of our strengths? Yeah. Is rebounding one of their strengths? Yeah. At the end of the day, the game, it's about winning and, of course, rebounding helps winning. We can also put the ball in the hole more times. That's going to help you win the game, too."

The Bulls' rebounding hasn't met coach Tom Thibodeau's standards over the past six games. Since March 13, the Bulls have been out-rebounded by the Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets and tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said his team enters Monday's game with the same approach regardless of whether the Bulls are rebounding well.

"We always want to win the rebounding battle," Vogel said after his team's shootaround at the United Center. "We want to crash and keep them limited to one shot."

Thibodeau emphasized all of his players have to do a better job rebounding against the Pacers. Noah, with 13 rebounds, was the only Bull with more than five rebounds in their last meeting. The Pacers had four players with six or more rebounds.

"Well, they're big, so we have to gang rebound against them," Thibodeau said. "We have to get everyone in there and everyone involved. We have to go after them more."

Rapid Reaction: Pacers 91, Bulls 79

March, 21, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell

INDIANAPOLIS -- Let's take a quick look at how the Indiana Pacers earned a 91-79 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

How it happened: Paul George went off for a triple-double, scoring 10 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and passing out 10 assists, while Luis Scola chipped in with 19 points off the Pacers' bench as Indiana tightened up its defense down the stretch. D.J. Augustin and Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 17 points apiece, but the Bulls' offense created too big of a hole to crawl out of with a poor third-quarter performance.

What it means: This is exactly the type of game the Bulls can expect in the playoffs. Whether they play the Pacers or not at some point remains to be seen, but this was the type of hard-nosed, physical game it always is between these two teams. The defense was tough and the points were hard to come by. The difference was that the Bulls' offense disappeared for too long of a stretch during the third quarter, and it cost them. When they play against elite teams, the Bulls can't afford to be beaten up and down the floor on both ends.

Hits: Lance Stephenson had a nice game for the Pacers, scoring 15 points while shooting 7-for-11 from the field.

Misses: As a team, the Bulls shot just 36.4 percent from the field.

Stats of the night: The Pacers outscored the Bulls 31-19 in the third quarter. The Pacers led 44-43 at halftime.

What's next: The Bulls are right back at it Saturday night when they take on the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.

Bulls, Pacers ready for 'dogfight'

March, 21, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers do not like each other. They respect each other on the floor, but they don't like each other.

[+] EnlargeBulls/Pacers
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Bulls figure to be in for two intense games against the Pacers over the next four days.
"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."

Noah vs. Hibbert: As always, the matchup between Bulls center Joakim Noah and the Pacers' Roy Hibbert will go a long way toward determining the winner of this game.

"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.

Bulls get in last word vs. Pacers

November, 17, 2013
Padilla By Doug Padilla
CHICAGO -- After finally getting humbled on the basketball court Saturday night, the one-loss Indiana Pacers had no choice but to be the same way off it.

The Chicago Bulls put together their best game of the season in a 110-94 victory at the United Center, dropping the Pacers to 9-1 on the season.

That talk from Paul George recently that this is the Pacers' time and that the Bulls' era was in the Michael Jordan days was not only not repeated, there was an attempt to put it into perspective.

"That was completely taken out of context," George said. "What I meant by that is ... I agree what Derrick Rose said. It's not rivalry. We haven't won a championship, the team to beat is Miami, of course. All of that was taken out of context."

George's quote last week sure sounded as if he were was calling the Bulls yesterday's news.

"We want to step away from that shadow as the 'little brothers' of this division," George said, according to "Their success is the Michael Jordan era. This is a new age, this is a new team. It's ours till they take it."

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Rapid Reaction: Bulls 110, Pacers 94

November, 16, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell

CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls cruised to a 110-94 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night at the United Center.

How it happened: Luol Deng had 23 points and seven rebounds for a Bulls team that appeared to be on a mission throughout the night. Derrick Rose had his best game of the young season, scoring 20 points in 30 minutes. Kirk Hinrich chipped in with 13 points and eight assists off the bench as the Bulls set the tempo early on and never let up. This was the first Pacers loss of the season. They are now 9-1.

What it means: This was the best game the Bulls have played all season. They were physical with Indiana and did what they wanted to do on both ends of the floor. Their offense was smooth, and their defense was smothering. The Bulls played with a much better tempo and wanted to prove a point that they believe they are still the best team in the Central division. As usual, Deng was the stalwart on both ends and helped the Bulls get into a rhythm.

The best news of all for the Bulls is the fact that Rose played for the first time in almost a week after missing Friday night's game against the Toronto Raptors because of a right hamstring injury. After struggling a little early, Rose knocked down six 3-pointers and seemed much more comfortable on the floor.

Hits: Taj Gibson had a great night off the bench, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

Misses: Paul George was just 3-for-14 from the field.

Stat of the night: The Bulls shot 50.6 percent from the field.

What's next: The Bulls have a day off before facing off against the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night.

Bulls different -- not better -- without Rose

November, 15, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell
TORONTO -- The Chicago Bulls are not a better basketball team without Derrick Rose. Most knowledgeable basketball fans know this, but there will undoubtedly be some frustrated fans who watched Friday night's dominant 96-80 win over the Toronto Raptors and think differently.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose, Joakim Noah
Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/MCTIn spite of results like Friday's, the Bulls know that Derrick Rose is essential to their success.
Don't fall into the trap.

Obviously, the Bulls are a better team with the former MVP on the floor -- even as he continues to struggle to find a rhythm and stay on the floor. Rose sat out his first game of the regular season on Friday while recovering from a right hamstring injury, and the Bulls decided to play their most complete game of the regular season to date. Why did this happen?

It's because the Bulls know, having played without Rose all of last season as he recovered from reconstructive knee surgery, that they must play differently in order to win without him. They have to make the game a physical test and impose their defensive will on weaker opponents -- two points they accomplished in totality against the Raptors. The Bulls held the Raptors to 25.6 shooting in the first half and ran offensive sets with the type of precision that has been missing when Rose is on the floor.

"He's a leader of our team," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rose. "He runs the offense and we expect him to play good defense. But Kirk [Hinrich] proved last year that he's more than capable of running the team. So I like the rhythm that we had. We know that with Derrick out we know we have to play a certain way. And we need everybody. That's why it's a team."

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Noah brushes off George's comments

November, 8, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah brushed off Paul George's assertion that his Indiana Pacers had supplanted Noah's Bulls as the Central Division's best team.

"It's all good," Noah said after Friday's shootaround before the Bulls take on the Utah Jazz. "It's game five of the season, man. It's a long journey. We'll see those guys again."

George and the Pacers dropped the Bulls to 1-3 after a 97-80 victory on Wednesday night in Indianapolis and then told that Indiana is leading a new era in the league and the Bulls are old news.

“We want to step away from that shadow as the ‘little brothers’ of this division,” George said. “Their success is the Michael Jordan era. This is a new age, this is a new team. It’s ours till they take it.”

Bulls star Derrick Rose said in the preseason that he didn't believe the Pacers were a rival to the Bulls, just the Miami Heat. On Friday, Noah didn't want to get caught up in the any kind of rivalry talk.

"To me it doesn't matter," he said of a potential rivalry with the Pacers. "They want the same things that we want. And anybody who wants what we want I don't really like at this point so right now it's not about them, it's not about anybody, it's about us. We got to get better. That's our mindset -- it starts with [Friday night]."

Rapid Reaction: Pacers 97, Bulls 80

November, 6, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell

INDIANAPOLIS -- Let's take a quick look at how the Indiana Pacers earned a hard-fought 97-80 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

How it happened: Paul George had 21 points and six rebounds while David West added 16 points and 13 rebounds as the Pacers rolled to 5-0. Luol Deng had a nice night for the Bulls, scoring 17 points, but it wasn't enough for a Bulls squad that continues to struggle offensively.

What it means: The story remains the same for the Bulls. They're playing tough enough to win; they just can't hit enough shots down the stretch or make enough defensive stops when it matters most. After a promising first half in which Derrick Rose scored 12 of his 17 points, he couldn't find his rhythm in the second half as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided to stick with Kirk Hinrich throughout much of that time.

The Bulls shouldn't be worried that the sky is falling because they still have plenty of talent on this team. But Thibodeau has to be concerned that his team's offense continues to falter down the stretch in games. Obviously, Indiana is one of the better defensive teams in the league. But the Bulls were getting good looks just the same; they just weren't making their shots.

Hits: Hinrich had a good night off the bench, scoring 12 points and recording five assists.

Misses: The Bulls were just 5-for-20 from the field in the third quarter.

Stats of the night: The Pacers closed the game on a 30-11 run. The Bulls turned the ball over 18 times, resulting in 29 Indiana points off those turnovers.

What's next: The Bulls face off against the Utah Jazz on Friday night at the United Center.

Bulls have their closer back in Rose

October, 18, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- After watching Derrick Rose torch his team to the tune of 32 points in 31 minutes Friday night, Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel spoke for all 21,783 people in attendance at the United Center when the topic of the former MVP came up during his postgame remarks.

"Same old Derrick Rose that I remember before the injury," Vogel said. "He's special."

That might be the best word to sum up Rose's performance given the circumstances. Forget the fact that Rose put up 32 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds in a preseason game. It's the fact that he did all that in just his fourth professional game in a year and a half. The funny part is that Vogel, Rose's own teammates and Rose himself don't seem surprised by the fact that the 25-year-old has returned to form so quickly. While many around the country will be surprised that Rose is having the same success he did before the injury, Rose took the performance in stride.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Matt Marton/USA TODAY SportsMore important than Derrick Rose's 32 points against the Pacers is his presence on the floor to be Chicago's closer, something the Bulls have missed since his injury.
"God is good, man. God is good," Rose said. "I've been working hard, man. Super hard. I think that I'm one of the hardest-working guys in the league, if not the hardest. During the summer, I work out three times a day and really concentrating on everything I'm doing and really taking care of my body, so I'm just trying to make the game easy and just trying to do anything individually to help my team."

The key for Rose and the Bulls is that, for the first time in almost a year and a half, Rose actually closed a game. He played the final 5:50 and did all the things the Bulls needed him to do down the stretch -- knocking down big shots along the way.

"You can tell his confidence is just growing and growing," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "His timing is coming around. His explosion has been there since the beginning. We have seen it the entire training camp and practices. Each game he has his timing on his jump shot, he is taking contact and he has made some great passes, too. His missed shots -- I'm confident he will eventually knock down."

Rose's presence not only gives the Bulls confidence they can win any game, it also provides them with a crucial component that was missing last season -- a finisher at the end of the game. Nate Robinson played that role for the Bulls a couple times during the playoffs, but they didn't have a consistent star they could lean on when times got tough late. Now they do -- again.

"We got our closer back, Derrick," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "He took over late, and it was great."

Rose took over in a game that felt nothing like a preseason contest. He was one of many starters who stayed in all the way until the end. It was a great experience for a player who hasn't had many of them over the past 18 months.

"It felt like a playoff game," Gibson said. "It really did. They were cheap-shottin'. I'm in pain right now … But it was crazy the way the guys were flying. Bodies were just going left and right. [Thibodeau] was yelling, their coach was yelling. The refs had a heart attack. They probably thought it was a walk in the park but they were really getting screamed on by Thibs every play down. But it was a great game."

Most of all, it was a reminder. A reminder for both Rose and all the fans who doubted his return that he is ready to dominate games again. For the Bulls, it was a reminder that with Rose back on the floor, anything is possible.

"It felt good being out there," Rose said. "But I'm just happy [Thibodeau] gave me the opportunity and that we won the game. I would have been hurt if we would have lost this game tonight with us coming back and having to fight back almost the entire game."

Rose: Pacers-Bulls rivalry will be stronger

October, 5, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell
INDIANAPOLIS -- Derrick Rose knows that the rivalry which has developed between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers is only going to grow stronger over the coming years. While there may be some lingering bad blood between the two teams -- two years ago Rose got angry when he felt the Pacers celebrated too much after a regular-season win over the Bulls -- the respect factor on both sides is palpable.

"They proved their point in the league," Rose said. "They made a difference. They made it far last year to the conference finals, and they have young players where we're going to grow old playing against each other in this league. Especially with the team that they have; they have good players, old veterans, adding [Luis] Scola and other players like that, it's just going to get tougher. But at the same time, we've been putting in our work and practicing hard too."

Watson sees similarities between Vogel and Thibs: New Pacers point guard C.J. Watson couldn't help but smile while comparing his new coach, Frank Vogel, with one of his old ones, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

"They're very similar," Watson said. "I was talking to [Carlos Boozer] about that last night. I think Vogel's just a little more nicer than Thibs sometimes. But they're both very similar. They're pretty strong on defense, preach defense, and that's most of the similarity I think."

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Pacers-Bulls rivalry still going strong

October, 4, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell
INDIANAPOLIS -- The significance of Saturday's preseason opener between the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls isn't lost on Frank Vogel.

"This might have more attention for a first preseason game than maybe any game in the history of the league," Vogel joked after Friday's practice. "With Danny Granger coming back and Derrick Rose's return … It will be exciting, but it still is just the first preseason game."

While that might be the mantra Vogel wants his team to remember, the young coach also acknowledges that he still considers the Bulls a rival.

"To me, any team that's competing for the East is a rival," Vogel said. "They're in our division, clearly our top competition to win the division again and repeat as the division champs, so, sure, I would say [they're still a rival]."

His players agreed with that assessment.

"I think Chicago will always be a rival," Granger said. "When you go to the United Center, it's crazy. They have a big home-court advantage there. They have a huge following, not only locally in Chicago, but nationally as well, and I think they'll always be a rival to us.

"We're really close, so a lot of times there's a lot of Bulls fans here, and vice versa. I think as long as we're in the division, we're going to be rivals."

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Pacers expect to see the same Rose

October, 4, 2013
Friedell By Nick Friedell
INDIANAPOLIS -- Roy Hibbert has no doubt what kind of Derrick Rose will be on display Saturday night when his Indiana Pacers face Rose's Chicago Bulls.

"Same Derrick Rose from two years ago," Hibbert said after Friday's practice. "(I'm) happy he's healthy. (He's) a competitive person, and it's going to be a battle out there."

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the NBA will benefit from the return of Rose, who will play Saturday in an NBA game for the first time since he tore his ACL on April 28, 2012.

"I think he's probably going to play great," Vogel said. "He's going to move great. From what I hear he's moving fantastic and he feels strong so I think (his return) is good for the league. I'm sure there might be a little bit of rust because he hasn't played game minutes in a while but I think he's going to move well."

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Jimmy Butler
20.1 3.3 1.8 39.5
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.9
AssistsD. Rose 4.9
StealsJ. Butler 1.8
BlocksP. Gasol 2.2