Friday, March 18, 2011
Posted: 10:37 a.m.
Derrick Rose has certainly done his part offensively, but the Chicago Bulls have won a season-high eight straight and taken over the Eastern Conference lead primarily thanks to their outstanding defense.
That's exactly what's helped them cruise to three wins over the Indiana Pacers.
The Bulls try to extend their longest winning streak in six years and complete a four-game sweep of the Pacers for the first time since 1996-97 on Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Chicago (49-18) allows 90.9 points per game, the fewest in the league, but it's stepped it up a few notches over the past two weeks. The Bulls have allowed an average of 82.0 points during their win streak - their longest since a nine-game run from March 19-April 2, 2005 - to jump ahead of Boston for the top spot in the East.
Coach Tom Thibodeau's team took sole possession of the conference lead for the first time by beating Washington 98-79 on Tuesday, and a night after the Celtics pulled back into a tie, Chicago clamped down again defensively. The Bulls played a fourth straight game without Carlos Boozer (sprained ankle), but got Joakim Noah back from a one-game absence and held New Jersey to 34.9 percent shooting Thursday in an 84-73 win.
"That's what we've been doing the whole year, playing defense," said Rose, who had a team-high 21 points and has led or shared the team lead in scoring during each of the past eight games.
"If our offense isn't going, and that rarely happens, we rely on our defense. That's what we did tonight, make it tough on them. At first, they were getting everything they wanted. Then we just closed down the paint and rebounded the ball."
The 73 points matched the fewest Chicago has allowed this season, a low-water mark Indiana knows all too well. The Pacers (29-39) have averaged 82.7 points and shot 36.2 percent in three losses to the Bulls this season by an average of 17.6 points, which included a 92-73 defeat without Danny Granger on Dec. 13 at the United Center.
Tyler Hansbrough also missed two of the losses, but he'll be on the floor Friday for the Pacers.
He's been a revelation lately for Indiana, averaging 25.2 points in his last five games heading into TD Garden on Wednesday, but the Celtics did plenty to frustrate Hansbrough and the Pacers. Indiana had a 49-36 rebounding edge but shot just 37.5 percent - including 4 of 14 from Hansbrough - in a 92-80 loss.
With Charlotte's loss at Houston, however, the Pacers stayed a half-game ahead for the East's No. 8 spot - which would match them up with the Bulls in the first round.
"It is definitely a lesson, and it's tough," Granger said as Indiana fell to 1-13 against the conference's top five teams. "It's virtually impossible to come in here and win, when you're not really going to the line a lot. It's tough but you got to play through it."
It's unclear if Boozer will be healthy enough to return Friday, but the Pacers would certainly prefer if he missed another game. Including last season with Utah, Boozer has averaged 23.4 points and 11.6 rebounds in his last five games versus Indiana.
Granger has averaged 27.5 points in his last four home games against Chicago.
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