Cameron Payne

Bulls’ Rajon Rondo has fractured thumb, out indefinitely

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Rajon Rondo, after a rough start to the season blending in with the Bulls, accepted his role the second half of the year, grew in importance to the team, and has been crucial to Chicago going up 2-0 on Boston in the first round, setting up a potential 1/8 upset.

Now Rondo is out indefinitely with a broken thumb, the Bulls have announced. Here is the entire press release:

Rajon Rondo injured his right hand in Game 2 at Boston on Tuesday night. Rondo underwent a subsequent exam and x-rays that confirmed a thumb fracture. Surgery is not required for this injury, and he is out indefinitely.

Rondo has averaged 10.2 points and 6.6 assists in the first two games of the playoffs against Boston, running the offense on one end and, more importantly, being a key part of the defense that has stymied the Celtics on the other. Chicago has been +14.5 per 100 possessions with Rondo on the court through the first two games, -5.4 without him (there is other noise in that number, obviously).

Rondo is tough, but it’s obviously unclear when he could return.

This means a lot more Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, and maybe some Cameron Payne for the Bulls at the point, although in practice it means Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade handling the ball. Coach Fred Hoiberg likely will try some no point guard lineups, but the mid-season trade of Taj Gibson (and Doug McDermott) make that much harder.

After two games where the physical Bulls knocked the Celtics around — in Boston — it was challenging to come up with things the Celtics could do differently to change this series around. Chicago has owned the paint and the glass, and their length and physicality has bothered Boston up and down the roster. But this injury changes the dynamics of the series and opens the door to a Boston comeback that seemed nearly impossible 24 hours ago.

How Rockets, Thunder, Cavaliers, Spurs play with and without their MVP candidates

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The Rockets play like a 58-win team with James Harden on the court, and the Thunder play like a 52-win team with Russell Westbrook on the court.

A clear advantage for Harden in the MVP race?

Not quite.

Houston still plays like a 51-win team when Harden sits, and Oklahoma City drops to an 18-win pace without Westbrook. How much should each factor – the level a team reaches with a player, how far it falls without him – matter?

And what about about LeBron James? The Cavaliers play like a 61-win team with him and a 19-win team without him. Don’t forget about Kawhi Leonard, either. The Spurs reach a 63-win pace – better than the other three main MVP candidates’ teams hit with them on the court – when Leonard plays.

In the NBA’s most fascinating MVP race in years, the on-off win pace for the four major candidates adds perspective. To calculate win pace, I used Pythagorean win percentage multiplied by 82, the number of games in a standard NBA schedule.

Here’s the Rockets’, Thunder’s, Cavaliers’ and Spurs’ win paces with their MVP candidate off (below the bar) and on (above the bar) and the difference (in the bar):

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These are rounded to the nearest win. Hence, Leonard’s seemingly off, but not actually off, marks.

This is meant to be only one piece of a complex picture. Other things to consider:

Should backups matter? Should rotations matter? Should luck matter?

These are not easy questions, but MVP voters must reconcile them.

I see win pace as a useful reference point when comparing these players with elite individual production. Then, it’s about placing the win paces into the appropriate contexts – and going back to individual production, then back to on/off-court impact, then adding adding more context, then…

There’s no easy answer here.

There’s also no easy choice for fifth on the MVP ballot, but I made a similar chart for the main candidates:

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Wade, Butler lead Bulls over Suns 128-121 in overtime

Associated Press
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CHICAGO (AP) — Dwyane Wade scored 23 points, Jimmy Butler added 22 and the Chicago Bulls rallied to beat the Phoenix Suns 128-121 in overtime Friday night.

Devin Booker scored 27 points for Phoenix, but missed a chance to win it in regulation after Wade fouled him on a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left. Booker hit the first two free throws to tie it, then missed the third.

Wade and Butler led the Bulls as they rallied from 11 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Western Conference’s last-place team. Both players scored 14 points after the third quarter to help the Bulls win their third straight.

Nikola Mirotic scored 20 points and hit four 3-pointers. Robin Lopez added 19 points. Denzel Valentine, who figures to get more playing time after Doug McDermott was traded to Oklahoma City along with Taj Gibson on Thursday, had 15 points. The rookie hit 5 of 8 3-pointers.

Eric Bledsoe added 17 points and 10 assists for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the sixth time in eight games.

The Bulls scored 20 points in overtime and were leading 116-110 after a seven-point spurt that Mirotic started with a 3.

Wade put back Butler’s airball and hit two free throws to make it 122-115. And he had the crowd roaring in the closing minute when he drove for a dunk on Alex Lin and gave the raise-the-roof gesture.

The Suns appeared to be in good shape leading 102-91 with 4:32 remaining in regulation after Booker nailed a 3 to finish a 14-2 run, but the Bulls came storming back.

A dunk by Wade and 3 by Mirotic with 1:53 left cut it to 104-103 and drew a huge roar from the crowd.

Butler hit a 3 to tie it at 106-all with 48 seconds remaining, and after a driving Bledsoe lost the ball out of bounds, he nailed a baseline jumper to give Chicago a two-point lead with 9.1 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Suns: The Suns waived F Mike Scott and C/F Jared Sullinger on Friday, a day after acquiring them in trades. … The Suns also signed G Ronnie Price for the rest of the season.

Bulls: Rajon Rondo will remain in the backup point guard role, coach Fred Hoiberg said. … G Cameron Payne (flu), acquired from Oklahoma City, was unavailable.

 

Reports: Bulls trade Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder for Cameron Payne, Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow

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Back in 2014, the Bulls front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman traded two picks to the Denver Nuggets — picks that became Gary Harris and Josef Nurkic — to move up in the draft so they could pick Doug McDermott.

Thursday, the Bulls all but admitted that was a mistake.

Chicago traded McDermott and Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow, as reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

This is a good trade for Oklahoma City, especially while Enis Kanter remains sidelined. Gibson, in particular, gives them a rock-solid power forward out of the old school. Gibson can score inside and help Steven Adams, he can crash the boards, and while he’s not what he once was on that end he’s a solid defender.

Gibson is also a free agent this summer, and the Bulls were not going to pay the market value. Oklahoma City may, but Gibson will have options.

McDermott can shoot the three, hitting 37.6 percent this season, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Maybe that’s all the Thunder need. McDermott doesn’t create his own shot and he’s a big defensive liability. Maybe he can spread the floor a little for the Thunder, hang out at the arc waiting for a Russell Westbrook drive and dish, but he’s not doing much else.

Chicago gets a player with a lot of potential in Cameron Payne, he could be the point guard of the future there next to Jimmy Butler. That’s the best player on their end in this deal. But Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow are nice players who don’t actually move the needle.

This trade by the Bulls echoes their moves over the summer bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — what exactly is the plan? Payne could be part of the future, but are the Bulls a team rebuilding around Butler? It remains difficult to see what the vision is in Chicago. Which has to frustrate Butler.

Three things we learned Thursday: Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas put on shows

Associated Press
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Maybe you were too busy to watch the NBA action on Thursday night because you were getting your hair cut by lighting it on fire. That happens. Here are the big takeaways from Thursday around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook with triple-double leads Thunder past Cavaliers. Now bring on Kevin Durant, Warriors.
There were two key factors in this Oklahoma City upset of a Cavaliers team that had been playing well. The first is that this was the second night of a back-to-back and the third game in four nights for the Cavaliers, and it showed. In the first quarter you could see the sloppy play — particularly on the defensive end — from Cleveland, something that would return many times over in the fourth quarter. On offense, they didn’t have the legs we had seen even the night before in Indiana. The Cavaliers can call this a “schedule makers loss” and move on.

The other was Russell Westbrook.

Early in the game he drove to set up teammates — Westbrook had five first quarter assists — while Victor Oladipo had seven points in the frame and Steven Adams six. Also, just like in the first meeting Westbrook the trouble he had scoring inside against Cleveland and Tristan Thompson (3-of-9 shooting inside 8 feet in this game) so he found spots on the floor where he could get knock down looks — left elbow extended, free throw line, straight on threes. The end result was 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. That’s his 26th triple-double of the season, for those of you scoring at home.

Other Thunder players were making contributions as well. Victor Oladipo finished with 23 points, Steven Adams 20, Cameron Payne is back and had a nice 15 off the bench, and Andre Roberson did this to LeBron James.

For the Thunder, next up is Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Saturday night (OKC also catches Golden State on the second night of a back-to-back and third game in four nights).

One bright spot for the Cavaliers, Derrick Williams had 12 points in his debut for the team on a 10-day contract. The guy picked No. 2 right behind Kyrie Irving in the 2011 draft brings some skills to the table, he can drive and score in the paint, and he can knock down corner threes. However, he’s been inconsistent on offense and terrible on defense. There’s a reason the Heat waived him to make room for a D-League call-up. But he gets another chance on a Cavaliers team looking for playmakers, we’ll see if this is finally a fit for him.

2) Another dominant fourth quarter from Isaiah Thomas, another win for Boston. He is the best fourth quarter scorer in the NBA right now, and he did it again Thursday night. Isaiah Thomas was getting to the rim on his way to scoring 15 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter, leading Boston to a road win in a game where Portland led by 17 at one point in the first half. There may be no more dynamic player to watch in the league right now than Thomas.

Also making plays late was Marcus Smart — he had a key steal, poking the ball away from Al-Farouq Aminu, then he had an impressive put-back off an Al Horford miss when Boston needed it late.

Portland is eight games below .500 and is a game out of the playoffs in the West. How is a team with this much talent on the roster out of the playoffs?

3) Is he the clutch Sixer? T.J. McConnell with another game winner for Philly. The best news for Philadelphia fans out of the come-from-behind win in Orlando was that Dario Saric had 24 points — he is looking like a player, a guy who can be the stretch four next to Joel Embiid who makes the whole thing come together for this team.

But when the game was on the line, it was once again T.J. McConnell with the game winner, a little floater in the lane. He’s becoming Mr. Clutch for this team.