Pained Pacers Small Home Underdog Against Conference-Leading Bulls

This season is not going the way the Pacers or their fans envisioned. In order to hit the “over” on their projected preseason win total of 42.5, this Indiana squad, currently 19-34 and in 13th place out of 15 Eastern Conference teams, needs to go 24-5 the rest of the way.

They’re also a full seven games below the current cutoff for the postseason play-in tournament. Trade rumors are swirling around the likes of Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, and Myles Turner. This is an organization that should rightly be focused on the future rather than on turning this lost season around.

That said, when the rival Chicago Bulls come to town, even a short-handed Pacers team isn’t likely to roll over. And the oddsmakers operating Indiana’s legal sportsbooks appear to be taking that into account for a Friday night game that might appear on paper to be a mismatch.

The Bulls are 32-19, percentage points ahead of the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference. The DeMar DeRozan acquisition has worked out better than anyone imagined, and he and Zach Lavine give Chicago two 2022 all-stars more than the Pacers can claim. Even though they’ve cooled off significantly since losing Lonzo Ball to injury three weeks ago, the Bulls are very much on the right side of the talent gap in this matchup.

But that’s not what the betting lines say.

Spread suggests Indy can keep pace

As of Friday morning, all of the Indiana mobile books had the Bulls a mere 2.5-point favorite, with the exception of FanDuel, which set the line at 3. As for the moneyline, the return on a Pacers upset win isn’t overly spectacular, ranging from +114 at BetRivers to +124 at FanDuel.

You can fade the home team and back the Bulls to win outright at a modest -136 at BetRivers, TwinSpires, and Unibet (all sportsbooks for which Kambi provides the odds). Or you can just root for or against points being scored. The total is 231 at those Kambi books and 231.5 at FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, and BetMGM.

The Pacers blew out the Bulls, 109-77, when these teams met for the first time this season on Nov. 22, but Chicago got revenge twice in December by more narrow margins: 113-105 and 108-106.

Injuries have been an issue for the Pacers all season, but it’s gotten even worse lately. Malcolm Brogdon and Turner remain out, Sabonis is in the health and safety protocols, and now backup big men Goga Bitadze and Isaiah Jackson are hurt. The Pacers might not be able to put anyone taller than 6-foot-7 on the floor Friday night.

The Bulls have their own injury issues, missing Ball, Alex Caruso, Patrick Williams, and Derrick Jones Jr., while Lavine is listed as “probable” as he deals with back spasms.

When the player props come out, overs on Bulls center Nikola Vucevic figure to be popular, and it’s difficult to guess who on Indiana’s squad might be able to defend him.

Still, there’s a friskiness to the Pacers, who’ve had a different leading scorer in each of their last five games. They’re playing for pride, and to hurt the postseason chances of their nearest geographical rival. That counts for enough to keep the bookmakers from projecting a blowout.

Photo: David Banks/USA TODAY