Perception is not reality, but it can be interesting and I always find the view from the other side just that, especially when we're talking about the playoffs.
Yesterday afternoon, JMV chatted up Chicago Bulls' beat writer K.C. Johnson in advance of the looming first round playoff series with the Indiana Pacers. As a beat writer, Johnson has an accurate gauge of the team's mindset without being a spokesman for the Bulls, so I found his comments on the Pacers real interesting. While Johnson predicted a Bulls' series win in five games, he didn't say it would be easy and indicated the Bulls are prepping for a battle.
"There are times when Indiana can smash you in the mouth and if you are not ready they'll get you back on your heels. They are a very aggressive team, especially they way they played down the stretch. I know franchises and coaches kind of just say this, but I can tell you from being around this team every day that the Bulls are treating Indiana with a lot of respect. They are very, very focused on how well they (Indiana) played down the stretch. They know there are some things that Indiana does that they do not match up well against. Part of that is, the Bulls have been a very good rebounding team all season, but down the stretch of the season their defensive rebounding has slipped and Indiana is very good at hitting the offensive boards. So, on paper, obviously the Bulls are going to be heavy favorites, but I can tell you that the Bulls internally are very prepared for a tough, physical series."
After hearing that, I caught myself thinking, "Wow, he's actually talking about the Pacers."
That thought comes from extensive scrutiny of the Pacers over the long haul, knowing every blemish and chink in the armor. Zooming out to hear a positive view from an outsider revealed the progress this team has made. No one would've said this about the Pacers last year at this time and certainly not a Chicago media member who is more pre-disposed to dismissing anything positive out of Indy.
Tough? Physical? Heck, no on would've said that about the Pacers in early February of this season, let alone last year.
It is also fair to point out that Johnson's last impression of the Pacers was a hard-fought overtime win over the Bulls at the Fieldhouse. He surely didn't bear witness to the Jekyll and Hyde tendencies of the Pacers, especially those Mr. Hyde showings, most recently at home against Sacramento and on the road against Detroit and New Orleans, that were scary enough to make Robert Louis Stevenson himself recoil in horror.
But the fact is, the Pacers have earned their way into the playoffs by winning enough games with a strong, physical effort on the glass and attacking the rim from the inside out as opposed to the other way around. And it looks like the Bulls have noticed that change, as well.