The Bulls come into tonights game against the Indiana Pacers (23-12 3rd in East) with a league best record of 31-8 and also a season high six-game winning streak, but records and streaks aside, this game will have a little bit more to it.
The last time the two teams met was on Jan. 25 with the Pacers winning 95-90. It was the first time Indiana had won in the United Center since a 108-101 win on Mar. 22, 2008.
After the final buzzer, several of the Pacers joined each other in celebrating the win over their Central Division rivals. The reveling of the win spilled off the court into the visiting locker room.
The Bulls watched and heard all of it and weren't happy about it.
"I'll never forget how they celebrated just from winning this game," said Derrick Rose. "I can't wait to play them again."
While Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau stresses that no game is as important as the next one, it's clear that the stakes are even higher when the two teams match up against one another as Indiana views Chicago as a measuring stick of just how close they are to being one of the Eastern Conference elites.
Outside of having a superstar the likes of Rose, the Pacers depth, physicality and attention the defensive end mirrors the principles that Thibodeau has gotten his players to buy into to and it should a playoff-like intensity during tonight's game.
We know that we can play with these guys, said Pacers coach Frank Vogel before tip-off of the Pacers win. They got us in game five (of last year's postseason), were off to a strong start, we feel like were one of the best teams in the east and were excited to compete against these guys.
The difference between this years team and last years team is we have confidence that well score in crunch time, we will score in the fourth quarter, continued Vogel. We didnt have that last year and it cost us the series here. We believe, going into the fourth quarter, that we can get stops and that we can execute well enough to get scores to win these close games.
We were crushed that we didnt win last year, we believed that we were going to win.