Eastern Conference first-round preview: Bulls vs. Pacers
While other high seeds have staggered over the past month -- the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks and Heat -- the Bulls have never stopped surging. They have won nine games in a row and 21 of 23 with the presumptive MVP (Derrick Rose) and potential coach of the year (Tom Thibodeau). After scraping into the playoffs the past two seasons as the No. 8 seed, they have become the most consistent and diligent team in the NBA. The Pacers aspire to be what the Bulls (62-20) once were: an underdog throwing a scare. Interim coach Frank Vogel has steered the Pacers to the playoffs for the first time in five years, dialing up the tempo and resuscitating former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough, but the Pacers (37-45) still have a losing record and no margin for error.
If the Pacers can turn up the tempo, they might be able to steal a game. But the Bulls are too precise in the half-court, too stingy on defense and too relentless in the fourth quarter to let the Pacers challenge them the way they challenged the Celtics two years ago. At some point, the Bulls may trip, but if this season is any indication, they will quickly regain their balance.