Kobe Bryant, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson

Chicago 88, L.A. Lakers 87: Bulls erase a six-point deficit in the final minute to steal it

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The Lakers surprised many with their play for most of Christmas Day, hanging with the Bulls without suspended center Andrew Bynum and integrating a lot of new pieces into a new head coach’s system.

L.A. erased a seven-point halftime deficit quickly, built its lead to as many as 11 late in the fourth quarter, and led by six with under a minute to play. But turnovers and poor free throw shooting down the stretch, along with some clutch play from the reigning MVP Derrick Rose, turned a winnable game into a one-point loss by the time the final buzzer had sounded. Here’s how it transpired.

First Quarter – CHI 22, LAL 20

The new-look Lakers, missing Andrew Bynum due to suspension and with Lamar Odom gone to Dallas, started Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Derek Fisher. The Bulls also had a new addition to their starting lineup in the form of Rip Hamilton, who got the privilege of checking Bryant. Hamilton didn’t even last the game’s first three minutes, however, and was sent to the bench after picking up two quick personal fouls, both of which came with him guarding Kobe.

Speaking of Bryant, plenty of attention will be paid to how he performs while playing with a torn wrist ligament on his shooting hand. He did have two turnovers early trying to dribble through traffic in the paint, but his first jumper from 20 feet out looked smooth.

Gasol got off to a strong start for L.A., and led all scorers in the period with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. He seemed comfortable scoring against Chicago’s defenders, and will need to continue if the Lakers are to have a shot today.

Rip hamilton picked up two quick fouls trying to check Kobe, and was sent to the bench after less than three minutes of game time. Derrick Rose did absolutely nothing, going scoreless with just one field goal attempt and one assist in just over nine minutes of action.

Second Quarter – CHI 56, LAL 49

After the secondary players did the heavy lifting in the first quarter, the stars got involved in the second.

Kobe Bryant had eight points in the period, including a stretch where he scored on three straight Lakers possessions. Luol Deng made sure he wouldn’t do the same on the fourth, crowding Bryant near the sideline and forcing him into committing his fifth turnover of the game. Bryant has 14 points at the break.

Derrick Rose made a huge impact in the period, after being essentially nonexistent in the first. He scored 10 in the quarter, two of which came in highlight-reel fashion after using a behind-the-back dribble to escape Metta World Peace on the perimeter and then banking home a floater in the paint.

The teams played close throughout the half, but it ended disastrously for the Lakers. Chicago ended the period with six straight points from Deng, on a three-pointer followed by a layup and-1 at the rim which has the Bulls sitting with their biggest lead of the game at the half.

Chicago is getting balanced scoring with 10 each from Rose, Deng, and Boozer, and is converting its attempts at a high percentage. The Lakers will need to do a better job of challenging shots and limiting turnovers in the second half (L.A. has 10 for the game) if they want to close things up.

Third Quarter — LAL 69, CHI 68

The Lakers opened the period on a 10-3 run to tie it at 59, and the Bulls cooled off considerably from the field, shooting 21.7 percent while managing to score just 12 third-quarter points. Deng went 1-of-6 in the period, while Noah was 0-for-4. The one-point lead after three came courtesy of a wide open, two-handed jam from Josh McRoberts off of a pass from Steve Blake.

Fourth Quarter — CHI 88, LAL 87

It really shouldn’t have come to this for the Lakers. L.A. led by 11 points with 3:44 to play, and after the Bulls cut it to five two possessions later, Bryant found Blake in the corner for a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to eight with 2:33 to go. That should have done it, but credit the Bulls for attacking defensively to force turnovers, and going to the basket and creating contact to get to the line to get easy points.

And for making free throws.

Deng made five straight free throws down the stretch, while Gasol and McRoberts each missed a pair. Had they converted, the game might not have been lost. The same can be said of Kobe’s last couple of touches.

After Bryant hit a spinning, fadeaway jumper from the baseline that pushed the Laker lead back to six with under a minute to play — a shot that felt like classic Kobe, and one that again, should have helped put this game away — he found himself with the ball in his hands and his team up a point, with 20 seconds to play.

The shot clock was off. The Bulls would need to foul or get a steal to regain possession, and Bryant helped them achieve the latter. He was trapped by two Bulls up top, and decided to try a jump pass to Gasol, who didn’t have his defender sealed and was unable to get to the errant pass. Deng got the steal, the Bulls put the ball in Rose’s hands, and he went to his right and converted a floater in the lane that turned out to be the game-winning shot.

Bryant had one final chance, and the Lakers ran an iso for him to try to win the game, But he drove right to the baseline, and the Bulls rotated perfectly defensively, and had three defenders all skying to prevent Bryant’s heroics. Deng got a piece of the shot and the game was over.

Tyronn Lue says he plans to keep minutes down for LeBron, Love, Irving

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 10:  Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks to LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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There have been studies that have shown this, or you can just take the Gregg Popovich eye test, but we know this:

Rested players perform better and are less likely to be injured.

Which is why the trend toward resting players in the NBA is not going away. Enter Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Cleveland play-by-play man Fred McLeod.

LeBron James may not like it, but this is the right move by Lue, both in terms of trying to repeat and for future years. The Cavaliers are going to need a healthy LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love if they are going to pass the test the Warriors present again.

The league schedulers have done an impressive job of reducing the four-games-in-five-nights on the road and back-to-backs. However, as long as the NBA plays 82 games, fatigue and rest will be issues — and we know the owners and players are not giving up the revenue to go to a more reasonable 60-game schedule. Which means what you get now is the new reality.

How Big Papi helped save Al Horford’s wedding day

BOSTON, MA - JULY 08:  Al Horford of the Boston Celtics, holding his son Ean, hugs David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox after throwing out the first pitch before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 8, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Al Horford is big in his native Dominican Republic.

But he’s no David Ortiz.

The Red Sox throwback slugger is THE MAN in the Dominican — and when Horford needed to get something big done at the last minute on his wedding day, he reached out to Ortiz. Who was the fixer.

As told to Andrew Sharp at Sports Illustrated, Horford was getting married on Christmas Eve in the Dominican, and he needed assistance.

“We’re down there, and I realize I’m supposed to get a limo for [my wife], to pick her up and take her to where we’re getting married,” Horford says. “And then, obviously being in the Dominican Republic, things never go how they’re supposed to. So three hours before the wedding, we find out that there’s no limo….

Eventually he did what one does in the case of Dominican emergencies. He called David Ortiz: “I’m like, ‘Hey man, this is what’s going on. We’re getting married in a couple hours. I need a car. What am I going to do?’ ”

“Don’t worry,” Ortiz said. “I got you.”

Ortiz wasn’t even on the island at this point, but it didn’t matter. He told Horford to send a friend over to Ortiz’s house to pick up his Rolls-Royce Phantom. “I’ll have it there in 30 minutes,” Ortiz said. “I just gotta get it washed.”

Horford was amazed. “He didn’t even know my guy down there,” he laughs. “I sent a friend of mine. And he picks up the Phantom, brings it over to my wife. . . . And you know, that’s a very expensive car. But [Ortiz] tells me to keep it until I leave. So we’re there for a couple more days, and we have the car the whole time. It’s just one of those things, it shows he has a really big heart.”

Ortiz is going to be missed in Boston.

Horford is going to fit in brilliantly — on and off the court.

Heat’s Josh McRoberts says he broke foot in Game 6 vs. Raptors, remains out

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Josh McRoberts #4 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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To call Josh McRoberts‘ time in Miami injury plagued might be the understatement of the decade.

Now with Chris Bosh out, the Heat could really use McRoberts at the four, but “shockingly” he is not healthy. Wednesday he finally admitted the reason he has been limited in training camp with foot issues.

McRoberts run of bad luck continues. And foot injuries — when your job involves running up and down a hardwood floor — are something that has to be taken seriously and allowed to fully heal, lest they become chronic. I’m not sure the Heat can bet on a lot out of McRoberts this season.

With no Bosh and McRoberts, expect Derrick Williams, Udonis Haslem, and maybe Luke Babbitt will get some run there. Coach Erik Spoelstra also likely will have some small lineups where Justise Winslow will play the four.

51Q: Will Larry Bird’s renovation of the Pacers pay off?

Larry Bird, Paul George
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

There are two types of basketball analysts: Those who believe the Pacers improved by swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague and those who believe Indiana got worse in the trade.

Teague uses his superior quickness in the pick-and-roll to score and assist more. Hill defends better, commits fewer turnovers and shoots more efficiently.

I prefer Hill. Larry Bird opted for Teague.

I can’t wait to see who’s right.

Though I’m inclined to value Hill’s less-flashy contributions – and like his lead-guard skills if he were called upon for that role – I’m also not arrogant enough to believe I certainly know better than Bird. An all-time great who has excelled as a player, coach and executive deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Bird is leveraging it now.

Seemingly unsatisfied with the team that reached consecutive conference finals in 2013 and 2014, Bird has now fully torn down the roster to build a more dynamic offense around Paul George. The Pacers president has long talked about the change, and we’ll learn this season whether his vision will bear fruit.

In addition to trading Hill for Teague, Bird let Lance Stephenson leave in free agency, deemphasized and traded Roy Hibbert, offended David West into leaving and fired Frank Vogel. In came Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Teague and Nate McMillian.

And Bird hasn’t stopped after jettisoning everyone who regularly started with George in those conference-finals runs. Indiana will miss Ian Mahinmi‘s defense – maybe more than Al Jefferson works as a change-of-pace in the low post. But Bird is fully embracing the course of trading defense for offense.

Debate how he addressed it, but the team’s identity was clear. In the last four years, the Pacers stunk offensively and thrived defensively. Their rank in points per possession:

  • Offense: 20th, 23rd, 23rd, 25th
  • Defense: 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see an excellent defense propping up an offense that could have been better. Bird saw a struggling offense and couldn’t look past it.

Indiana now has a deep squad of players who can break down opponents off the dribble. They will have matchup advantages – if they pass well enough to find the player in favorable position. The ball will move plenty between the hardwood and the dribbler’s hands. Between players? That’s a major question mark.

It’s one of numerous hitches in Bird’s plan.

He tried to fast-track the offense last year by moving George from small forward to power forward. Despite Bird’s demands, George resisted. The plan was largely scrapped early in the season.

McMillian was also a curious choice given Bird’s stated goals. McMillian’s Trail Blazers and SuperSonics teams usually played slow. Still, perhaps the coach can adapt his scheme to fit his players (and appease his boss). Bird chose McMillian for a reason, after all.

Bird chose it all.

This is the team he long desired – for better or worse.