Pacers return to scene of the celebration


Mar 5

Chicago’s loss to the Indiana Pacers at the United Center on Jan. 25 left a bad taste in several Bulls player’s mouths.

Reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose, in particular, was less than pleased with the Pacers’ behavior immediately after the game.

“I’ll never forget how they celebrated just from winning this game. I can’t wait to play them again,” Rose said from the locker room that night.

So while you might expect the Pacers to be bracing for Rose’s best effort, Indiana coach Frank Vogel said he’s not taking the talk too seriously. And that’s no slight to Rose.

“I kind of laugh it off,” said Vogel following Indiana’s shootaround at the United Center Monday morning. “I’ve heard it, obviously. But really, to me, it doesn’t change anything. Derrick Rose plays every single night like it’s Game 7 of the Finals. So I’m not worried about him playing harder or having extra motivation.”

But judging by Indiana forward Danny Granger’s comments, the controversy—if you can call it that—is indeed on the Pacers’ minds.

Derrick Rose

“We heard what they said and we remember it,” said Granger, who scored 22 points when the Pacers handed the Bulls one of just two home losses this season. “So we’re aware of it, but I think we celebrate after every game we win. We’re always happy to win. I don’t know if we’re supposed to be sad when we win or what not, but it was a good win for us and it’s just what we do.”

As of late, the Pacers have been doing a lot of winning. Both teams enter Monday’s contest owning six-game winning streaks. But while Chicago has won 13 out of its last 15 games, Indiana had suffered five consecutive losses prior to turning things around.

“When you re-focus and get back to the basics of what got you winning, and you combine that with a stretch when you’re playing seven straight teams with losing records, you get on a win streak,” said Vogel. “But we feel good about the way we’re playing right now. I think we’re playing as well as anyone in the league and we’re looking forward to tonight.”

One element that will be different than the last time these teams met is the presence of All-Star forward Luol Deng, who was unavailable with a torn ligament in his left wrist in the first game.

“That’s a huge difference in their team when he’s out there,” acknowledged Vogel. “Obviously a deserved All-Star and it probably should not have been his first All-Star this year. He should have been an All-Star in years past as well. He’s just a tremendous defender, spaces the floor on the perimeter, drives, cuts, posts, comes off pin downs, hurts you in so many ways. He certainly gives [the Bulls] a whole new element.”

Granger, who will see plenty of Deng this evening, agreed.

“He’s been shooting it well lately and he’s a good defender,” said Granger. “He really makes them go on the defensive end from that wing position. I’m sure he’ll help them in this game.”

No, the Pacers admit, this is not just another game, an approach some teams prefer to take.

“It’s a big game because we’re division rivals,” said Granger. “We’re chasing Chicago record-wise, so it’s definitely important. We’re battling them for playoff positioning and we want to win the division. It’s a heated rivalry and should be a good game.”

“There are always certain games that have a big game feel,” added Vogel. “Our guys understand that and they’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The Bulls and Pacers will play just once more during the truncated regular season, April 25 in Indiana. But as they did in the first round of last year’s playoffs, another postseason matchup is a distinct possibility.

Entering Monday’s game, the Bulls have the NBA’s best record at 31-8 overall. The Miami Heat trail Chicago in the Eastern Conference by two games, while Indiana is there in the third spot, six games back at 23-12.

Could this be the early stages of a long-term rivalry between two Central Division foes?

“I hope so,” said Vogel. “Rivalries are made when both teams are getting wins. We played them close last year, but didn’t really get enough wins to consider it a rivalry. We got off to a good start by getting a win in this building our last time here and we hope to get another one tonight.”

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