The schedule gets everyone.
To say that in regards to the Bulls' epic beatdown of the previously-undefeated Indiana Pacers usually indicates that it was a back-to-back for the Pacers and they didn't have it. But both teams entered on back to backs. Regardless, the Bulls made a statement, as much of one as the Pacers did in their opening week victory over Chicago on November 6th, 97-80.
Derrick Rose looked as "back" as he has all season, the Bulls played their style of basketball (drive, miss, put-back, and ugly the game up beyond all reason). The Pacers on the other hand did nothing they did in that nine-game winning streak. Improper rotations. Couldn't make shots. Didn't work for high quality possessions. They were outworked, out-muscled, and out-efforted at every turn.
So were the Pacers frauds? Are the Bulls the Central Division favorites again?
We'll have to see on the latter; we need more than a dominant night at home to set everything right, but things are trending the right way for Chicago, who has won four in a row.
As for the first, are you kidding me? The Pacers put together as good of an opening resume as possible. When I say the schedule gets everyone, it's not just about back-to-backs, it's this. In an 82-game season, there are games when you just don't have it. You just don't have the energy, strength, or things falling your way to battle when the shots don't fall. The Pacers did that several times in their nine-game winning streak. But you're never going to be able to out-effort Chicago, not until the playoffs when the Bulls lack an extra gear.
This was never going to be a runaway for the division. The biggest thing we learned Saturday night is that the Bulls are one of the few disappointing East teams to be finding their way out of their early season slump and starting to become the team they want to be. The Pacers are mortal and just as prone to those nights when things simply don't happen as anyone.
The good news for everyone is that this certainly looks like we're going to get the ugly, tough, vitriol-ridden rivalry for the Central Division we hoped we would. Everyone annointed the Bulls in preseason despite the Pacers coming off a near-Finals-appearance. And when the Bulls struggled out of the gate, we questioned if they would be able to get it together. On Saturday, for the first time this season, the Bulls looked like it. Their wins over Utah and New York were still meh. But Saturday, they had the entire onslaught. Rose slicing and dicing, and showing off that improved range. Jimmy Butler knocking down big shots and making crazy defensive plays.
And the patented Bulls attacks at the rim. Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson attacking over and over while the Bulls shut off the perimeter lanes and got into passing lanes for deflections. It's as much the model for how the Bulls want to win games as the Pacers' win two weeks ago was.
The two teams don't meet again until March. Between now and then, the two teams will mostly be killing time, waiting for the playoffs and feasting on an Eastern Conference that is beneath them, except for really Miami. The opening salvos have been set. Indiana showed last year was not a fluke and they are here to challenge for the crown as much as Chicago, Chicago proved they're ready to defend what many feel is their rightful claim as the next-best-to-Miami (if not simply The Best, something they are a long way from being).
The home crowds chanted "Over-Rated!" at their opponents in the two meetings, but nothing about this is overrated. Two great teams, in what should be a great division race and what could be a phenomenal playoff matchup. We'll see which powerhouse looks best after the grind of the regular season in a few months.