The 18-46 Chicago Bulls may not be competing for the playoffs, but they have competed nonetheless. They are 6-4 in their last ten games, spearheaded by an improved offensive gameplan.

This improvement was evident during Chicago’s recent home-and-home series with the Atlanta Hawks. On Friday, they outlasted Atlanta in a quadruple-overtime thriller by scoring a franchise-record 168 points. Chicago lost the rubber match the following Sunday. However, they still put up 118 points in the effort.

Both games helped the Bulls produce the fifth-best offensive rating over the last 10 games. Now, they will attempt to bring that firepower to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night. This game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is the final matchup of the season between these Central Division rivals. Chicago’s last trip to Indianapolis was Jim Boylen’s first game as head coach.

The Pacers hold the 3-0 series lead over the Bulls. However, the average margin of victory is only 3.7 points per game. In fact, their last meeting — Jan. 4 at the United Center — had to be decided in overtime.

Quite a bit has changed for these two squads since they last met two months ago. Back in early January, the Bulls were still trotting out a historically bad offense. Chicago held a league-worst 99.2 offensive rating over the 15 games Boylen had coached to that point. The Indiana loss, while a valiant effort, was their third consecutive. They also lost their next seven games and went 2-13 up through the trade deadline.

Over time, the Bulls have also lost their rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison to injuries. Chicago also shipped two of their more offensively-gifted forwards in Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker to the Washington Wizards.

However, the Bulls have also gained over the last two months. The trade with the Wizards brought in a young two-way wing in Otto Porter Jr. His presence gives the team a more reliable scoring option that can grow with the established young core.

Chicago has also re-gained their offensive identity. The young, athletic Bulls are once again playing to their skillsets. As a result, they have scored at least 100 points in 25 of their last 26 games, a streak that began on that fateful night in January against Indiana.

Meanwhile, the Pacers are still third in the Eastern Conference. However, they have also undergone some changes in the last two months. The win over the Bulls in January pushed them to a 26-12 record, capping off a six-game winning streak.

Indiana went 6-3 before losing star guard Victor Oladipo for the season due to a ruptured quad tendon. It was jarring, naturally, and the Pacers went on a four-game losing streak in the wake. However, Indiana managed to bounce back, winning six straight games and eight of their next nine. Wesley Matthews has also been brought in to fill some of the void left by Oladipo’s absence.

Other injuries have also affected the Pacers over the last 17 games. Only four players have suited up for all of them. Big man Domantas Sabonis, specifically, has recently joined the inactive list. He has missed the last three games due to left ankle issues and will miss the Bulls game.

Indiana also hasn’t lived up to their defensive identity since returning from All-Star Break. They held a 104.2 defensive rating in the 11 games following the Oladipo injury, third-best in the NBA over that span. That rating has jumped to 114.9 post-break, fourth-worst in the league.

Indiana’s suddenly-porous defense could be an advantage for the offensively-improved Chicago Bulls. If they get into a game of trading baskets, they could possibly avoid the season series sweep. However, this is still a division matchup, so the Pacers — even without two key starters — will not go down without a fight. We’ll see if the Bulls can play spoiler on Tuesday night.

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