If the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers play again this season after Wednesday, it will be in the playoffs. Those two could meet up in the first round. Chicago is a 1.5-point home favorite on BetOnline NBA odds with a total of 187 points.
Bulls Badly Need Reinforcements
To no surprise, the Bulls (40-28) are struggling mightily without three of their best players in guards Derrick Rose and All-Star Jimmy Butler as well as sixth man power forward Taj Gibson. Chicago was beaten 109-100 in Oklahoma City on Sunday for its fifth defeat in the past six games. The Thunder pounded the Bulls on the boards, 52-33, which has been a problem of late for the Bulls. Gibson and Butler combine to average more than 12 rebounds a game. They are also two of Chicago's best defensive players.
About the only bright spot of late has been the play of rookie Nikola Mirotic, who had 27 points against the Thunder. He's averaging 20.3 points and 8.1 rebounds this month. Mirotic is a lock to be on the All-Rookie Team, but Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins will win Rookie of the Year honors.
There was a bit of controversy from Sunday's loss in that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn't use reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in the final minutes. Thibodeau said it was because Noah remains on a minutes restriction of 32 following offseason knee surgery, but the coach has used Noah more than 32 minutes plenty of times. Pau Gasol said he was unaware of the restrictions on Noah. It was seen as a bit of a jab at the front office, and just about no one in the Chicago media expects Thibodeau to be back with the Bulls next season.
It's possible that Gibson returns Wednesday as he went through a full practice on Tuesday, but it would be a bit surprising if he plays. Butler also went through a full practice on Tuesday, his first since suffering a shoulder injury. He still seems at least a few games away. Rose is at least two weeks from returning. The Bulls still have a shot to get as high as second in the East, but their main goal should be avoiding Cleveland until the East Finals if possible. Assuming Cleveland finishes No. 2 in the East, the Bulls ideally would want to finish fourth then.
Chicago is 30-38 against the spread and 34-33-1 'over/under' on NBA odds board.
Pacers in Mini-Slump
Indiana (30-36) is battling Miami, Boston, Charlotte and Brooklyn for the final two playoff spots in the East. It would clearly help the team's chances if star Paul George is able to play this season off a broken leg, but that's looking more and more unlikely. He has been practicing but one teammate this week was quoted as saying George is "not even close to 100 percent" and that he doubts George will play. He had originally targeted mid-March.
The Pacers had been one of the NBA's hottest teams since the beginning of February but they have dropped back-to-back home games to Boston on Saturday and Toronto on Monday. The Indiana defense had been excellent of late but the Raptors put up 117 points on Monday. It was the most allowed by Indiana at home all season. The Raptors shot 48 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3-point range in leading wire-to-wire. The Pacers lost despite committing a season-low four turnovers, which tied a franchise record. They were only 2-for-19 from long range.
Indiana is 35-28-3 against the NBA betting spread this season and 35-30-1 'over/under.'
The Pacers lead 2-1. On Nov. 15 in Chicago, Indiana won 99-90 as a nine-point underdog on NBA odds despite missing guys like Rodney Stuckey, David West, George Hill, C.J. Miles and C.J. Watson. The Bulls were led by 32 from Butler but didn't have Rose. On Dec. 29 in Indianapolis, the Bulls won 92-90 as 4.5-point underdogs on NBA odds. Butler's 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining put the Bulls ahead for good. He finished with 27 points. Finally, on March 6 in Indianapolis, the Pacers won 98-84. Six Indiana players scored in double figures and Chicago shot only 36 percent. Butler and Rose missed that game. Indiana has not won both road games at Chicago in a single season since the 2001-02 campaign.
NBA Free Picks: Love the 'under' 187 points and lean Chicago at -1.5 with your NBA picks. The Pacers are 1-4 ATS in their past five road games against clubs with a winning home record. The home team has covered seven of the past eight meetings. The under is 4-1 in the past five.