Rajon Rondo, Doug McDermott pace Bulls to rout Pacers 118-101 of Indy

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CHICAGO (AP) — With nine new players, including three starters, the Chicago Bulls seemed likely to struggle with cohesion early in the season.

However, one of those newcomers – Rajon Rondo – has been credited by his teammates with fueling Chicago’s fast start.

Doug McDermott had 23 points, Jimmy Butler added 16 on 6-of-9 shooting and Rondo had 13 assists to lead the Bulls to a 118-101 rout of the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night, Chicago’s second straight victory to open the season.

McDermott scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as coach Fred Hoiberg gave his veteran starters – Butler, Rondo and Dwyane Wade, who had 14 points – the rest of the night off after the third quarter.

Rondo, who has 22 assists in the two games, likely could have racked up a much higher number if he wasn’t limited to 25 minutes.

“He pushes the ball up the floor and he gets it out, so he makes you run to get in front of him,” Wade said.

Playing with Rondo means you have to be alert at all times.

“I always tell those guys to understand that, `If you don’t think I see you, I probably see you, so be ready for the pass,”‘ Rondo said.

“Who doesn’t want the ball? Everybody wants the ball and everybody wants to score.”

Taj Gibson had 12 points and eight rebounds, and Robin Lopez added 12 points for the Bulls.

Paul George and Myles Turner had 20 points apiece to lead the Pacers (1-2), who were coming off a loss at Brooklyn on Friday.

“The message is loud and clear: we need to get to work,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said.

“We have a talented team,” George said, “but it’s going to take us a couple games to get our chemistry. We’ll get through our battle wounds early.”

The Bulls had a 24-20 lead at the end of the first quarter before breaking things open with a dominant second. They scored 38 points on 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) shooting in the quarter to race out to a 62-41 halftime lead.

Indiana seemingly sleep-walked on defense throughout much of the second quarter – especially in transition where the Bulls had a 19-0 edge in fast-break points. McDermott had seven points in seven minutes, and five players scored at least five points. Rondo added six assists.

Chicago maintained its intensity in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 92-67 entering the fourth.

The Bulls lead by as many as 29 points in the final quarter (102-73) before Indiana made a futile run in garbage time to trim the deficit to 112-101 with two minutes to play.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Aaron Brooks (sore right knee) and Rodney Stuckey (right hamstring) sat out with injuries. Stuckey is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday.

Bulls: Wade said he’s feeling fine but sat out Friday’s practice after playing 32 minutes in the opener on Thursday. The 13-year veteran said he will take regular days off to stay healthy and fresh. “Certain days (are) better to be mental days than physical days,” he said.

BENCH WOES

Through three games, the Pacers have been outscored by a total of 33 points in the second quarter. That’s mainly an indictment of the reserves.

“Our bench’s got to get some chemistry.” McMillan said. “We need to get that (second) team some time on the floor, and they just haven’t had it.”

CUBS FEVER

With the Bulls idle Friday night, Wade attended Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field.

“I noticed that everybody in my family that was at the game, everybody had on Cubs gear – and I know everybody’s not a Cubs fan,” he said. “But it’s just about being a part of the moment. It’s a historic thing for the city of Chicago and a lot of people just want to say they’ve been to a World Series.”

 

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.