When the Indiana Pacers first played the Chicago Bulls last season, the Pacers were in chase mode, trying to keep up with the top dog in the NBA's Central Division. The Bulls were already in control of the division with a 16-3 record.
The Pacers won that game but the Bulls never gave up control of the Central Division lead, eventually locking up the top seed in the East while still saving Derrick Rose for the playoffs. Of course, that perfect plan blew up along with Rose's ACL in Chicago's Game 1 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers eventually put away the Bulls and now with Rose on the shelf to start the 2012-13 season, it appears Chicago is looking long-term, regardless of when Rose returns to the court in the upcoming season.
So it is not surprising that when Danny Granger was asked how he thinks the Pacers stack up in the East considering the improvements to some top teams, he didn't even mention the Bulls.
"I think it is going to be tough," Granger said of the Eastern Conference. "Brooklyn, they're going to definitely be a threat. Obviously, Miami is going to be there. I think we still view ourselves as a top two team in the East and we just have to go out and play that way."
No doubt the Pacers have to go out and prove themselves, again. But what about Chicago?
"It is hard to say," Granger said about what to expect from Chicago. "When you're coming off an ACL, you're never the same that next year, especially the way Derrick (Rose) plays. I'm sure he'll be back, but I think it is up in the air how he'll be."
But regardless of Rose's status in Chicago, the Pacers have a great opportunity to take over the top spot in the Central. Granger didn't shy away from the expectations considering the state of the division to start the season. But preseason words and analysis don't count in the standings, so it is up to the team to go out and earn it on the court.
"I think it is our's to lose, right now," Granger said. "We're in the driver's seat, just coming off of our success last year. We just have to go out and win the division."