Have the Pacers laid out the blueprint to beat the Bulls?

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Chicago vs. Indiana was supposed to be one of the blowouts of the first round. Our preview predicted a sweep. What the Pacers liked to do the Bulls could defend, and the Bulls had Derrick Rose.

Two hard fought games in, the questions are not about this series — the Bulls are going to win it — but what the Pacers have done to make it close. How Rose has had big but inefficient games, how the Pacers have been able to hang in there? A lot of people around the league said if a team could limit Rose, they could limit the Bulls.

If the Pacers can do this, what will Orlando or Boston or Miami do?

Rose has averaged 37.5 points per game and is shooting 43.8 percent. That’s not that high but Rose’s offensive numbers — shooting percentage, true shooting percentage, assist stats, turnovers and the like — are all not far off his regular season numbers. Save for the fact Rose is shooting 14.3 percent from three.

But that level of inefficiency is part of what keeping the Pacers in this. Indiana is using 6’8” Paul George on Rose, and as Sebastian Pruiti points out at NBA Playbook that length allows George to recover quickly when Rose drives, or to go under screens and still contest jumpers.

How many teams have a long defender like that? Boston has Rajon Rondo, Miami has Dwyane Wade, both of whom could give Rose some trouble.

But the bigger issue may be the supporting cast, particularly the bench. In game one of the series Tyler Hansbrough was more effective than any Bulls role player. At various times Jeff Foster and Roy Hibbert created problems for the Bulls inside.

Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie echoes something we were told by scouts and others in talking about the Bulls heading into the playoffs — the hard work that got them the league’s best record is not enough in the playoffs. They need execution and that has slipped.

The team made its hay in the regular season by going hard just about every night, taking advantage of opponents that were often going through the motions during the dregs of an 82-game season. Nobody drinks the dregs during the postseason, though, and Chicago’s effort alone won’t give the team the typical 10-point advantages its used to. The team can talk defense all it wants when the cameras are rolling, but this is a team that needs to find its way offensively.

Scoring has rarely been the strong suit for the NBA’s 11th-ranked offense, and the Pacers can get after it defensively. But the Bulls will be no match for the rest of the Eastern bracket if they don’t start to convert good looks. Luol Deng(notes) and Noah have combined to average 35 percent shooting through two games in this series, and these are mostly close shots around the rim that aren’t dropping down for Chicago’s lengthy defensive-minded duo. At some point, the chippies have to fall.

When you look ahead, Zach Lowe at SI.com is not sure Orlando has a perimeter defender who can slow Rose, and Rose’s body control just may lead to fouls on Dwight Howard. But the Celtics and Heat, that is a different story. They can slow Rose. And if they do, somebody has to pick up the offensive slack.

It’s just two games in, but the questions about the Bulls are getting louder. There is a blueprint out there. And the games will only get harder.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.