Facing rival Bulls, balanced Pacers eye 3-0 start

The Indiana Pacers have averaged an NBA-best 134 points through two games this season.

Sure, it’s a small sample size, but the Pacers see the statistic as an illustration of their depth either way.

Six players scored in double figures during Saturday’s 125-113 home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a trend the team will look to maintain Monday as it hosts the Chicago Bulls.

“We have a roster that’s really 15 deep,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.

Indiana capitalized against the short-handed Cavaliers, who were missing three starters due to injury.

Chicago comes to town with its Big 3 of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic intact but uneven.

LaVine delivered a career-best 51 points on Saturday, the first 50-point effort of the young NBA campaign, but the Bulls still lost 118-102 at Detroit.

DeRozan, whose late-game heroics steered the Bulls to Friday’s comeback win against Toronto in overtime, added 20 points while Vucevic followed with 12.

Still, there was something missing from the trio’s overall floor game and complementary style. LaVine contributed zero assists while Vucevic snagged just four rebounds.

“It’s our third year here together,” LaVine said. “We know how this business is. We all love each other. DeMar is one of my best friends. We talk all the time, but we have to figure out how to make this thing work.”

DeRozan remains optimistic about that prospect.

“I think we’re going to get it,” he said. “It’s frustrating because so much time went by that you think it should be second nature. But I think we at times maybe overcompensate for one another because we want it to click so bad.”

Aaron Nesmith sparked the Pacers with 26 points on Saturday, shooting 10-for-16 from the floor — including 5-for-9 from long range — while adding nine rebounds off the bench.

Tyrese Haliburton narrowly missed a triple-double, contributing 21 points, 13 assists and eight boards.

“Tyrese was pitch-perfect tonight,” Carlisle said. “He found the creases, he found the advantages. He finished the game off.”

Indiana showed patience after facing an early 15-point deficit against the Cavaliers. Outscoring Cleveland 29-12 in the second quarter helped the Pacers regain control.

“We kind of let them dictate the pace tonight, which is something we don’t want to do,” Haliburton said, “but when you get in a hole that’s 15 or 20 [points], usually that team is dictating the pace. We just had to figure it out, and any way is a good win.”

Indiana enters Monday with a three-game winning streak in the series against its Central Division rival. After Chicago rolled to a 15-point victory in the first meeting between the teams last season, the Pacers prevailed by 13 over the next three games.

LaVine scored 42 points in the season-series finale. DeRozan has contributed at least 20 points and five rebounds in three of his past four games against the Pacers.

Haliburton twice recorded 11 assists against the Bulls last season, and his 29 points in a March 5 victory were the most by a Pacer versus Chicago in 2022-23.

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