Analysis: Despite capturing the East's No. 1 seed, the Pacers enter the playoffs as a team in need of a reset. After carrying a conference-best 40-12 record into the All-Star break, Indiana has struggled to a 16-14 mark. The rut reached its lowest point on April 9 when, following a 2-7 stretch, coach Frank Vogel opted to rest all of his starters against the lowly Bucks (a game the Pacers naturally won).
While the Pacers have maintained a stellar defense that surrenders 92.3 points per game and holds opponents to 42 percent shooting, the offense has frequently fizzled in the season's second half. Indiana is plagued by an unproductive second unit (28th in bench scoring) even though midseason acquisitions Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum were meant to alleviate those concerns. Turner has averaged 6.8 points in 20 minutes off the bench after scoring 17.4 points in 54 starts for the 76ers. Bynum has made just two appearances but could still be a factor in the playoffs if his knees allow it.
Though the Pacers lack the positive momentum they'd hoped for heading into the playoffs, the goal remains the same: finally break through the Miami Heat and into the NBA Finals.
Analysis: Just three months ago, the Chicago front office appeared to throw in the towel on the season, trading the versatile Luol Deng to Cleveland for a slew of low-end draft picks, Andrew Bynum (who was promptly waived) and cap space. In theory, this wasn't the worst of decisions. At the time of Deng's departure, the Bulls were just 14-18. Worse, franchise star Derrick Rose succumbed to another catastrophic knee injury, one that would sideline him for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. With a loaded upcoming draft, building for the future – and, for parsimonious owner Jerry Reinsdorf, avoiding the luxury tax - seemed like the right play.
Unfortunately for Reinsdorf, Tom Thibodeau's crew had a different itinerary. Since the Deng trade, the Bulls own a 34-16 record, finishing 4th in the Eastern Conference. Joakim Noah has elevated his game to an All-NBA level, averaging 12.6 points, 11.3 boards and 5.4 assists per contest. D.J. Augustin, picked off the NBA scrapheap following the loss of Rose, has become one of the league's best reclamation stories, leading the Bulls in scoring since the Deng trade. Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler are two of the better defenders in the Association and, despite their rising ages, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer continue to be offensive threats.
Though they lack the star power of other conference contenders, the Bulls are the opponent no one wants to meet this spring.
Chances of Winning Conference Semi-Finals: Pacers 25.3%- Bulls 34.1%
Average Score: Pacers 92.6- Bulls 93.9
Series MVP: Joakim Noah - 12.2 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 5.4 APG
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