Heading into Friday’s preseason game against the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers were looking for their first win to give their young players some confidence heading into the 2013-14 season. Indiana would have to wait until Saturday for that win (against Cleveland) however, as the Bulls were too much for the Pacers in the third quarter and picked up a 103-98 victory. While this game was one of the more entertaining preseason matchups to date, it was the pregame comments by Bulls’ superstar Derrick Rose that had people raising their eyebrows.
Since it was the second meeting against the Pacers for Chicago, there was expected to be questions regarding the familiar opponent. The most alarming issue that was brought up in Rose’s pregame discussion with the media was the notion of the Pacers being a true rival for the Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Many would like to believe they are indeed in a heated rivalry and have been since the days of Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller. However, we discovered on Friday that Rose believes the opposite.
Rose addressed the media with the following comments:
“People say it’s a rivalry, but I don’t really see it,” Rose stated. “If anything, by probably in a year or two, it could become a rival. But right now, people say it’s a rival…I just don’t see it right now.”
Rose went on to discuss how the team Indiana assembled earlier in his career was more of a rival than the current Pacers’ team. His reasoning was based on the fact that Indiana included a much different roster in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Rose claimed that, at the time, he believed Indiana would have kept that same roster for a while without major changes. Still, it’s difficult to think Rose truly believes that team was more of a rival. After all, Chicago did outperform the Pacers in both of those seasons, especially in 2010-11 when Indiana only managed to win 37 games and grab the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Today, Indiana is much stronger and have tasted more postseason success in the last couple years than the Bulls (certainly due to Rose’s ACL injury). Understanding that, it makes no sense at all that these two teams right NOW aren’t shining bright on the each other’s radar.
From his fantastic play throughout the preseason and most recently scoring 32 points in 31 minutes on Indiana, Rose definitely feels they are back in the hunt for the top seed in the conference. However, I feel that he is slightly counting out Indiana with these statements and implying that Chicago has already leapfrogged them in terms of being the favorites for taking down Miami. Rose did acknowledge the Pacers’ recent success by stating “This team is a great team, they’ve already proven themselves last year by making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.” Now, I don’t know about the other readers and how they interpreted it, but it seems as if he’s dismissing the fact that Indiana didn’t just make it to the conference finals; they were one good quarter away from winning the series in a Game 7. As you might recall, Rose’s MVP season ended in the Eastern Conference Finals by winning just one game against the Miami Heat. The biggest test thus far for the Big 3 era in Miami has been none other than the Indiana Pacers, at least in the Eastern Conference.
There is no doubting that the divisional race also comes into play with these statements. There is absolutely no way Rose should be implying there won’t be a rivalry this season, considering they are going to be in an all-out war to win the division and secure the best possible seed for the playoffs. To think that these two teams are going to approach February, March, and April without circling each other on the schedule in “remaining games” is absurd. Chicago is going to be better than their 45 wins last season by getting back arguably the best point guard in the league. But that doesn’t mean Indiana hasn’t improved by a greater amount.
In terms of being the favorites against the defending champion Miami Heat, both teams are atop the list in my eyes. Chicago and Indiana are both Top 5 defenses in the league in points allowed (CHI = 92.9, IND = 90.7) and defensive rating (CHI = 103.2, IND = 99.8), which gives both of them a great chance to slow down anyone in a grinding series. The edge still goes to Indiana, however, as their frontcourt and bench are still more reliable than Chicago’s. Roy Hibbert seems to play on another level in the playoffs and be the best center in the Eastern Conference, and the addition of Luis Scola off the bench just looks like a more versatile and efficient bench asset than Chicago’s Taj Gibson (who has seemed impressive in the preseason as well). Depending on Danny Granger‘s ability to stay healthy in April when the playoffs get underway, Indiana’s rotation appears much more complete. Perimeter shooting from Paul George, George Hill, C.J. Watson, and Chris Copeland may be the difference maker this year if both teams had a shot at Miami. Chicago just has a lot to prove before they can be given the edge.
These two teams have so many similarities that it almost makes any Miami Heat fan scared to death this season. Yes, they are the two-time defending champions, but each offseason there is always a set of two or three teams that improve and accept the challenge. This year, the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Brooklyn Nets have done just that. Saying that, it would be impossible for anyone to believe Derrick Rose’s comments that there is “no rivalry” in front of our eyes.