Bulls-Pacers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 03, 2013
With their highly ranked defense playing especially tough lately, the Indiana Pacers seek to extend their lead in the Central Division over the offensively challenged Chicago Bulls. The Pacers will try for their seventh win in eight games overall and third in a row over the Bulls on Sunday night when they meet in Indiana. Following back-to-back home losses, Indiana held just a one-half game lead over Chicago on Feb. 12 before stretching its advantage with six wins in its last seven games. Paul George had 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Roy Hibbert had 18 points in a 93-81 at Toronto on Saturday. Even after the Bulls (34-25) picked up a half-game in the standings with a 96-85 win over Brooklyn on Saturday, Indiana (37-22) still has a chance to match its largest division lead at four games. The Pacers have featured a stingy defense that ranks near the top of the NBA in points allowed (89.6), defensive field goal percentage (41.4) and 3-point percentage (31.6). Indiana, however, has been even better in those areas lately, limiting opponents to 85.6 points per game and 38.0 percent shooting - 25.8 percent from 3-point range - in its last seven contests. "We are in a tough playoff race so we understand that our defense is going to give us a chance," forward David West told the team's official website. The low-scoring Bulls, meanwhile, hope they've put their offensive troubles behind them following Saturday's 96-85 win over Brooklyn. They averaged just 85.7 points on 41.5 percent shooting over a seven-game stretch before hitting 52.1 percent, their best shooting effort in almost two months, against the Nets. Joakim Noah enters this contest on a tear after finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in the win. The All-Star center also had 23 points, 21 rebounds and a career-high 11 blocks against Philadelphia on Thursday. "It's been an up-and-down year,'' Noah said. "But I really feel like when we're playing our best, we can really beat a lot of people. So the potential is definitely there.'' Noah missed a 111-101 loss at Indiana on Feb. 4 due to a foot injury as West, George and George Hill combined for 72 points. Nate Robinson, who had 19 in that contest, also scored 19 in an 80-76 home loss to the Pacers on Dec. 4. Luol Deng continues to battle a mouth injury and had eight points on 3-of-10 shooting on Saturday. He's totaled just 22 while shooting 8 for 29 from the floor in his last two trips to Indiana. George had 34 points and nine rebounds to lead the Pacers to their road victory in December before finishing with 21 and 11, respectively, in last month's home win. West led the way with 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting as Indiana made 52.7 percent from the field in that contest. The Pacers are averaging 109.5 points - 15.6 above their season average - in their last four home games. They'll try to continue that surge against a Chicago team that has held its opponents to 86.1 points per game in its last eight.
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