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Bulls-Pacers Preview

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The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of an outstanding stretch offensively. Matchups with the defensively challenged Indiana Pacers don't seem to be hurting their cause.

Following one of their best shooting games of the season, the Bulls look to earn their third victory this month over the Pacers and sweep the season series for the first time in 13 years as the teams meet at Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday night.

Chicago (31-27) continued its strong play with a 115-111 overtime win over Portland on Friday, shooting 57.5 percent even though it went 1 for 6 from 3-point range.

``We had stretches of good play and stretches of bad play but we were to take care of business in overtime,'' guard Kirk Hinrich said.

It was the Bulls' eighth win in 10 games. They're averaging 107.6 points during that span, which includes two victories over a Pacers team that is allowing 104.2 points a contest.

Chicago is 3-0 against Indiana (19-39) this season, shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Bulls are trying to sweep the season series for the first time since winning all four matchups in 1996-97.

Luol Deng scored a season-high 31 points in Chicago's 120-110 win over Indiana on Wednesday, and followed with 23 versus the Trail Blazers. Deng shot 8 for 13 despite playing with a swollen left knee.

With the Bulls playing on consecutive nights, coach Vinny Del Negro may be cautious with how many minutes he gives Deng versus the Pacers.

Deng isn't the only Bulls forward who has been hobbled by an injury.

After sitting out seven games with plantar fasciitis, Noah has had his playing time limited in four contests as he tries to get back to full strength. He had eight points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench against Portland after playing less than seven in the previous game versus the Pacers.

Derrick Rose, meanwhile, certainly appears healthy again, scoring 33 points against the Blazers. The second-year point guard, who had been dealing with a bruised right hip earlier this month, is averaging 24.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists in his last four games against the Pacers.

Indiana enters this contest having allowed an average of 116.0 points over the last two games.

"At the end of the day, we have to do a better job defensively," point guard T.J. Ford told the Pacers' official Web site. "That's the only way to get wins. You have to stop people."

Indiana has dropped three straight and seven of eight, including a 112-110 loss to Milwaukee on Thursday. Still, the Pacers are trying to remain upbeat as the season winds down.

"I think everybody in this locker room is still positive," Ford said. "We understand our record and understand it's been a tough season. But we're fighting and that's all you can really ask for."

Ford, making his first start since Dec. 30, had 17 points against the Bucks and is averaging 17.0 over his last four games, posting 15 assists and three turnovers during that span.

Danny Granger, playing his second game after missing Monday's 91-82 loss to Dallas due to personal reasons, had 21 points. He's averaging 27.5 points while shooting 44.1 percent from beyond the arc and 92.6 percent from the line in his last four games against Chicago.

Tagged: Bulls, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Kirk Hinrich, T.J. Ford, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Derrick Rose

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