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Gibson says Pacers, Heat inseparable as Bulls’ top rivals

Updated: October 9, 2013 11:13PM



RIO DE JANEIRO — Even 5,300 miles from Chicago on Wednesday, Bulls power forward Taj Gibson was preparing for a dogfight.

A few of them, to be exact.

The road to an NBA title still goes through the Miami Heat. But the road to Miami starts in the Central Division with the Indiana Pacers. Asked which team is the Bulls’ biggest rival heading into the 2013-14 season, Gibson couldn’t separate the two. Basically, he dislikes both.

“It starts with Indiana, of course, just because they’re in the division,’’ Gibson said. “Every time we play, they don’t like us, we don’t like them. A lot of talking, a whole lot of trash-talking. You see what’s going on with Joakim [Noah] and Roy Hibbert already.’’

Hibbert went out of his way to let it be known on media day that he doesn’t like Noah, but he softened the jab by saying he respected him as a player.

Thanks.

Noah responded in the preseason opener last weekend by making sure all the Pacers could hear his trash-talking from the bench as he was nursing a groin strain.

“[The Pacers] have the same kind of style as us,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘They have a hard-nosed mentality like us, and the one thing about them is they like to feel like we overshadow them. You can see that when we clash, a lot of bodies are banging, and there’s a lot of trash-talking because they take the mind-set that we somehow put them below us.’’

Games against the Heat might not have the physicality that the Pacers bring, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less intense.

“When we play Miami, it’s just a dogfight,’’ Gibson said. “Neither team shakes hands much before or after the game when we play Miami and Indiana. That’s when you really know it’s a dogfight. How much trash-talking is going on in those games that people don’t hear or see? We just don’t like either one of those teams.’’

The Bulls will get a good look at both early on. They have a second preseason game with the Pacers next week and play them the fourth and eighth games of the regular season. Of course, they open the season Oct. 29 in Miami, sitting by to watch the Heat get its rings.

“Miami is still the team to beat,’’ Gibson said. “They still have [Dwyane Wade], Chris Bosh, a lot of size now, so I think they’re still the team to beat. They’re the champs.’’

And chasing history. If Miami can win a third consecutive title, it joins elite company. Only the Bulls, Lakers and Celtics have accomplished that feat, and Gibson would like to keep it that way.

“Seeing how we’re such competitors, that’s what we’re trying to do,’’ Gibson said. “We’re not just trying to knock them out from reaching that, but we’re trying to build our own championship habits.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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