Analysis: Although Miami and Boston garnered much of the preseason hype, Chicago entered the season as dark horse Eastern Conference contenders thanks to offseason acquirements of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. Yet few would have projected prosperity for Tom Thibodeau's team after significant injuries to Boozer and rebounding wizard Joakim Noah. While Thibodeau's defensive dexterity and Luol Deng's dependability facilitated consistency, Derrick Rose was Chicago's stalwart in the absence of the Bulls' big men. Averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists, Rose's offensive imagination is often overlooked due to the team's imposing defense (91.3 points allowed). However, his creativity helped guide the team through a delicate assimilation period, integrating Boozer (17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds), who had missed training camp, and Noah (11.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), who had yet to team with a formidable forward in his young career. Besides the fearsome foursome of Rose, Boozer, Noah and Deng, Chicago boasts a potent bench of Taj Gibson (7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds), sharpshooter Korver (8.3 points, 41.5 three-point percentage) and Ronnie Brewer (6.2 points, 1.3 steals). Thibodeau's reps as an assistant in Boston will alleviate any qualms concerning a lack of playoff experience amongst the roster, rendering the Bulls as challengers for the Eastern Conference crown.
Analysis: The Pacers were 17-27 when coach Jim O'Brien was terminated in late January. The team responded by winning seven of the next eight, but since that juncture has returned to the prosaic performance that got O'Brien booted. Danny Granger is maddeningly inconsistent, and seems to be the only Team USA member who didn't benefit from the FIBA World Championships last August. Granger saw dips in points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage, and his shut-down defense has suddenly become suspect. Darren Collison didn't carry the momentum from his 1st team All-Rookie season in New Orleans, as he failed to make noticeable advancements in Indy. The Pacers do feature a ferocious frontcourt of Roy Hibbert (12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds) and Tyler Hansbrough (11.0 points, 5.2 rebounds) that helped Indiana secure the second-best rebounding rate (43.5 boards a game) in the East. Although he wasn't able to maintain his early-season scoring output, Hibbert made strides in his defense and rebounding in '10-11, and Hansbrough displayed his legendary hustle and glue-work when implemented into a starting role late in the season. While they're not projected to go far, the Pacers could present to be a feisty first-round exit.
Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Bulls 95.2% - Pacers 4.8%