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NBA PM: Rondo Leading an Improbable Bulls Run

Rajon Rondo is powering the Chicago Bulls’ surprising 2-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics.

Cody Taylor

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Dwyane Wade hated playing against Rajon Rondo when the Miami HEAT and Boston Celtics would meet in the playoffs.

Given Rondo’s recent resurgence, it’s safe to say that Wade is glad the two are now teammates.

Rondo has played a major role in the Chicago Bulls’ improbable 2-0 series lead over the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Boston Celtics. Rondo recorded 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals to lead the Bulls to an 111-97 win on Tuesday night.

Rondo joined Michael Jordan as the only players in Bulls playoff history to put up 10 assists and five steals in a postseason game and he finished just one rebound shy of the first Bulls postseason triple-double since Scottie Pippen in 1997.

“(Rondo) was the key early in the game,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He got us good shots early to get us some confidence. That rubs off on all the other guys. He has been in big moments.”

Rondo’s play during the first two games of this series has been reminiscent of how he played with the Celtics years ago. Wade saw that firsthand and has been impressed with his recent performances.

“When we played against Boston back in the day, Rondo knew all of the plays,” Wade said. “He messes up your first option and then he knows the second option. We were just good enough to have a third option, but he was that good. I think for myself and Jimmy [Butler] to have someone who is so locked in that gives us a different voice. Fred gives us a voice and Rondo gives us another voice.

“He’s so locked in. We know we can go to him and ask him anything because he’s watching film all of the time. It’s key. When you have a point guard like him, that controls the whole game, you just got to play. Our job was easy. We just had to play. As I told him, ‘Way to run your team.’ He did an amazing job with that.”

His resurgence in two games against his former team has been surprising. Earlier this season, Rondo was benched for lackluster play and his future with the team was even in question. There were many times throughout the season that the Bulls’ front office was criticized for signing Rondo in the first place.

The point guard’s play for the Bulls has been uneven throughout most of the year. Rondo appeared in 69 games this season and started 42 of those outings, while Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant also earned starts as well. While they have played inconsistently at times this season, and have battled through adversity on and off of the court, the Bulls seem to be peaking at the right time.

Despite all of the drama that has followed Rondo throughout the year, he appears to have put it behind him.

“I just stayed in the gym and worked,” Rondo said. “I don’t think it’s nothing I’ve done as far as the mindset. I’ve been a little bit more aggressive offensively, but before the game, Jimmy and D-Wade kept telling me to shoot the ball and stay aggressive. With them telling me that, I just try to go out there and do what I need to do for my teammates; lead by example with my voice. I know I got a tough task chasing [Isaiah Thomas] all over the court so I just try to go out there and do the intangibles for my team.”

Watching the Bulls jump out to a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics seems even more shocking given their drama-filled season. Of course, there was the infamous spat Rondo had with Wade and Butler where he questioned their leadership skills and effort in a post on his Instagram account. There were some that have even questioned whether or not Hoiberg was the right choice to lead this Bulls team. Then, Butler emerged in trade conversations leading up to the trade deadline with this very Celtics team they hold a 2-0 series lead over. Sure, teams go through their fair share of drama and adversity, but the Bulls seemed like anything but a playoff team at times this season.

“One thing I learned about this team is through adverse situations, this team sticks together,” Wade said. “We had adversity throughout this year as every team has and that’s the thing that’s made us closer and stronger together. The credit for this team sticking together through injuries and everything to put ourselves into position to make the playoffs it goes to everyone from the coaching staff to the leaders to the young guys. Everyone did it together.”

While Rondo has been outstanding thus far against the Celtics, it’s been a team effort that has allowed the Bulls to play well during the first two games of this series. The Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 21 in Game 1 and did so for most of Game 2 before the Celtics were able to even it up near the end of the game.

They have received great contributions from the starters, as well as Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser off of the bench. Of course, having Jimmy Butler play at an All-Star level has been the biggest factor for the Bulls. He has totaled 52 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists, five steals and three blocks so far this series. When Butler can receive help from other players on the team, the Bulls have proven to be a tough opponent.

“When I’m open, I normally shoot the ball,” Butler said. “Sometimes when I’m not open I also shoot the ball. But the majority of the time, I pass it to the open guy and when they’re making shots, my job is a lot easier. People can’t load up on me and then on top of everything else, [Rondo and Wade] do a lot of that as well — when they’re attacking, they’re being aggressive and they’re getting everybody else involved and especially when we’re getting stops… Man, when we’re getting stops, we’re pretty tough.”

Although they’re up 2-0 in this series, the Bulls know there is still a lot of work left to be done. Teams have come back from 3-1 series leads before to win a series, so they know there is a long way to go. Game 3 will be their biggest game of the season and their biggest test yet.

A wild season looks to have a few more twists and turns in store for this Bulls squad.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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