The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers are expected to be near the top of the Eastern Conference, but does that make them rivals? They haven't met since the first-round of the 2011 NBA playoffs, a series that ended in five games and the Bulls advancing. That's the only time the teams have met in the playoffs in more than a decade, in fact. Derrick Rose doesn't see the Pacers as a rival team, according to ESPN's Nick Friedell:
"People say that it's a rivalry, but I don't really see it," Rose said before scoring 32 points in the team's 103-98 win against the Pacers. "I say the team that is more like a rivalry is when Darren Collison was on the team. That one was more like a rivalry, but this team is a great team. They've already proven themselves last year by making it to the Eastern Conference finals."
In case you missed it, Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season. The Pacers took the season series 4-3 and advanced further in the NBA Playoffs than the Bulls, going the full seven game distance with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
The teams are significantly different than their last playoff meeting, but that didn't stop George Hill from laying down the battle lines and calling it a rivalry in an interview with Lang Greene of HOOPSWORLD:
"I don't know how [Rose] can say we're not rivals yet because we've been just as successful as they have been," Hill told HOOPSWORLD. "But all I know right now is we're the Central Division champions and for them, they have to come through us to get that. But if that's what he believes, then that's what he believes."
This raises an interesting question. Have the Pacers been "just as successful" as the Bulls?
Under the "all-time" category the Bulls have six NBA championships to Indiana's zero. They've only faced off in the playoffs twice (2011, 1998) with the Bulls taking both series. Chicago has won 95 of the 176 meetings, more than Indiana's 81. Indiana has five Central Division titles, less that Chicago's eight. Check marks across the board for the Bulls.
In "modern" terms, the teams have won each of the last three division titles with the Pacers taking it last season, but the Bulls winning the two prior. They've both been eliminated in the first round, semifinals and conference finals over that span. The difference is the Bulls were in the East finals three seasons ago while the Pacers were there just last season. Indiana has been more "successful" recently.
Rivalry or not, these teams should both be very good this year and play each other four times through the season. Their first meeting is Nov. 6 at Indiana and will be nationally televised on ESPN. Expect plenty of "rivalry" talk in the lead up to that game.