John Wall with spinning assist to Otto Porter, later breaks out behind-the-back crossover

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John Wall was putting on a show for the folks at the Verizon Center Friday night.

Above he throws a spinning assist to Otto Porter in transition.

Later in the first quarter, he broke out the behind-the-back crossover move. Throw in a screen from Marcin Gortat, and there was nothing Isaiah Whitehead was going to be able to do to stop this.

Wall was hot shooting to start the game, but when he did miss Gortat was there to clean it up.

Sounds like Rajon Rondo may lose starting point guard spot in Chicago

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Rajon Rondo was bad Friday afternoon against Indiana — he was minus-20 showing in 10 minutes in the first half, with no points and three fouls. So Fred Hoiberg benched him in the second half. And the Bulls made a comeback (one which ultimately fell short of a win because the Pacers closed the game on a 14-4 run). That wasn’t the first time this has happened. Monday (also against Indiana) Rondo started the second half but played about the first four minutes before going to the bench never to get off it.

It looks like Rondo on the bench could be a trend.

Hoiberg said he would re-evaluate the starting lineup before the Bulls face the Bucks on Saturday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com, and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, here is the post-game fallout from the Rondo benching. (There’s a typo in the first tweet, it should be “sat” not say.)

Rondo handled that well, but he can’t be happy with a potential demotion.

Friday, Hoiberg leaned on Michael Carter-Williams in the second half, and he seems the logical player to step into the starting rotation for the Bulls.

Rondo is averaging 7.5 points and 7.3 assists per game, but he’s not been efficient with a True Shooting percentage of 41.6 this season (the league average is closer to 52 percent). He has a PER of 11.5, which would be a career low. He’s hurt the offense, and not been great on defense. The Bulls basically have played opponents even when he is on the court.

With the loss the Bulls fell below .500 for the season, at 16-17. This roster isn’t working — and it’s not Hoiberg’s fault, it was poorly constructed. This summer, everyone from fans to scouts looked at that roster and realized it doesn’t have enough shooting, and in December the Bulls shot 28.6 percent from three as a team (and went 6-10 so far).

It’s fair to question how much Carter-Williams helps the shooting with the first unit (not that Jerian Grant would be a significant upgrade), but the Bulls may need to shake things up. The Eastern Conference is a tight group from 3 through 12, and a losing streak can cause big damage to playoff dreams.

PBT Extra: Bulls’ Fred Hoiberg is on hot seat? Really?


Is Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg a quality NBA coach?

The book is still being written on that, because in his season-and-a-third at the helm of the Chicago Bulls he has not been given a roster that fits the style he wants to play, nor one that has better than .500 talent.

But the latest reports are that Hoiberg’s seat is getting warm after the Bulls fell to 6-10 in December (after a Friday afternoon loss to the Pacers, this video was taped before that game ended). But how is the fact this team has no shooters — they are shooting 26.8 percent from three in December — on Hoiberg? He wants some pace and space, and he got a roster with guys who prefer to attack the rim.

In this PBT Extra, I talk about how the blame for this Bulls team being at .500 and fighting for its playoff lives should fall farther up the Bulls’ food chain, not on Hoiberg.

Russell Westbrook: “I feel like I don’t get the benefit of the doubt” from referees


Russell Westbrook is going to be writing a check to the league for this.

Westbrook was ejected from the Thunder’s Thursday night loss to Memphis when he argued a call and wouldn’t let it go. It what should be a surprise to nobody, Westbrook wasn’t going to let it go after the game either — he said he didn’t understand this ejection, and that the referees have it in for him anyway.

“Honestly, I don’t know, man. Honestly, it’s crazy to be ejected like that, especially when I didn’t do nothing. It’s just crazy, man. Especially for me, because I feel like I don’t get the benefit of the doubt most of the time, especially throughout the game with refs.

“I get so many techs just for talking. I can’t even say nothing when I’m getting hammered every time I go to the damn basket throughout the games and previous games. Not tonight, but every night. I just don’t get ref’d the same way as other people, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Someday, I would love a superstar to say “The refs are really fair with me, I get a lot of borderline calls to go my way, especially late in games.” But alas, they all feel persecuted.

Westbrook is averaging 10.8 free throw attempts per game, with the highest free throw rate (free throws attempts to shot attempts) of his career. None of that should be surprising considering the offensive load on him, and how much he attacks the rim. And in the NBA, the calls usually go to the aggressor.

Against the grit and grind of Memphis, maybe Westbrook was not getting the calls he wanted, but the reality is he’s a superstar and with that comes more attention from defenses. He gets fouled a lot on the attacks, he gets a lot of calls, but not as many as he’d like. Welcome to being a superstar. From Shaquille O’Neal through LeBron James, Kobe Bryant probably stretching all the way back to George Mikan, good luck finding an elite player who things they get the calls they should. Westbrook is going to have to learn to live with it.

And pay the fine when he complains like this.

Paul George: “It’s been one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of”

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The Indiana Pacers are a disappointment. I’ll admit I misjudged them, I thought they would be the fourth best team in the East, but if the playoffs started today they could be booking tee times in Cancun because they would have that kind of time. They are 15-18, with a bottom 10 offense that is putting up similar points per possession numbers to a year ago, but their now pedestrian defense is well off the top 10 (often top three) pace it was for years under Frank Vogel. The biggest issue is a lack of consistency — there seems to be two versions of this team, and you never know which one will show up on a given night.

Paul George isn’t enjoying the losing — the Pacers are on a four-game losing streak. Or the lack of identity this team has.

George spoke after practice Thursday and said this Pacers team doesn’t know how to close games, and just isn’t having fun.

“(This season) hasn’t been (fun). We’re trying to work through it. It’s been one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of…

“Maybe I’m just living in the past of how good we used to be, the personnel, the guys I had around. I’m still living in that moment, maybe. I gotta put myself into a different team and maybe I have to do more, maybe that’s just what it is, maybe I have to do more now. But whatever is, I’m going to figure it out…

“I just have to continue to enjoy playing this game. I’ve been caught up with officials, getting caught up with on-court stuff. And losing sight of how fun this game is to me,. As long as I’m approaching each game to enjoy it … whatever happens on the court, I couldn’t care less. As long as I’m having fun and enjoying what I’m doing.”

First things first: If you read this and thought “George is unhappy, I bet the Pacers try to trade him” you can kiss that idea goodbye. Right now, Larry Bird is hanging up the phone when people call about George. There is no pressure on the Pacers to make a move right now, George has a player option for the summer of 2018, so there is time. The Pacers plan to keep him — if he makes the All-NBA team this season or next the Pacers can then offer him the new  “designated player” super-max contract and make it very difficult to leave. Even if he doesn’t qualify for that offer, the Pacers can still offer more than anyone else. Plus, they know they’re not getting another elite superstar that easily, they are going to fight to keep the one they have.

As for this years’ Pacers, George needs to own up to being part of the inconsistency on this team — he shoots 48.4 percent in the Pacers wins, below 40 percent in the losses, and he struggles from three.

Maybe George is living in the past. A handful years back, the Pacers were regulars in the Eastern Conference Finals, riding an elite defense and a George/David West/George Hill offense that was good enough. The roster is not the same. Jeff Teague started slow, hasn’t shot well from three, but has begun to come around. Myles Turner is developing into a special player. And then… Monta Ellis is looking older, Thaddeus Young hasn’t been as good as hoped, and the bench has struggled.

Under Vogel, the Pacers had a defensive identity. Larry Bird wanted to play faster (they are playing just one possession faster a game) and thought Vogel’s message had gotten old (or Vogel wasn’t doing what Bird wanted). The drop off with Nate McMillan has been steep, mostly because what is this team’s identity now? They don’t play that fast, they don’t defend as well, the Pacers don’t have one area where they excel.

George can be part of the solution, but he’s going to need help. Not just from teammates, but from the front office.