Bulls wrap up preseason in South Bend on CSN

Bulls wrap up preseason in South Bend on CSN
October 26, 2012, 3:57 pm
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The Bulls know that for the first time in two seasons they may not be the favorites in the Central division. But that doesn't mean they're buying into the hype surrounding the othercontender for the division title.
And the chip the Bulls will wear on their collective shoulder this season perhaps begins tonight, when Tom Thibodeau's group takes on the Indiana Pacers in South Bend on Comcast SportsNet at 6 p.m.
NBA.com surveyed all 30 general managers last week, and 24 predicted the Pacers would win their division this season. Only six chose the Bulls. While it's just a preseason game, and many teams are shutting their players down on the last day before the regular season, Tom Thibodeau is insistent on playing his regulars to win each contest. A win over the expected Central division winners could go a long way toward gaining momentum heading into the games that do count.
The question hanging over the Bulls is point guard Kirk Hinrich's health. Hinrich went down with a groin injury in Tuesday's win over Oklahoma City, and is listed as a game-time decision tonight. With little on the line, there's a good chance Hinrich sits this one out to give himself eight days of rest before the Bulls open the season against Sacramento on Halloween.
The Pacers also are dealing with a slight injury concern at the point, as George Hill missed Tuesday's game against the the Cavaliers with a hip pointer. Mike Wells said Indiana head coach Frank Vogel "did not sound optimistic" Hill would play tonight. If he can't, the Pacers will roll out free agent acquisition D.J. Augustin and Sundiata Gaines in his place.
Hill, who could be ready for the regular season, was one of two major decisions the Pacers made this offseason. Hill reached an agreement on a five-year deal with the Pacers over the summer. Indiana then matched a max offer sheet the Portland Trail Blazers signed center Roy Hibbert to. Following a 42-24 record and second round playoff appearance a year ago, the Pacers opened their pockets to keep pace in the improving Eastern conference. Hill and Hibbert, combined with Danny Granger and rising young star Paul George give the Pacers a mostly-home grown core certainly ready to compete for the Central title.
Aside from Hinrich, who did not need an MRI on his "tweaked" groin, the Bulls enter their final 48 minutes of preseason play relatively healthy. With Thibodeau expected to play his regular rotation for most of the game, the Bulls will look to play well from start to finish, something that eluded them Tuesday.
A lackluster second half against Oklahoma City erased a 14-point third quarter lead before the Bulls hung on late. Richard Hamilton, the Bulls leading scorer this preseason, said part of that is the team's newcomers still feeling out each other and their own individual roles. Improvement in that department can be seen, as the Bulls have won three straight after a 1-2 start. But it won't be easy against an Indiana team that should give the Bulls their toughest test of the preseason (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sat for OKC).
Tonight's matchup, being played at Notre Dame's Joyce Center, won't officially count for anything, but it could act as a small gauge as to who reigns supreme in the Central Division until the teams meet on Dec. 4.