Bulls' Rose vs. Clippers' Paul: Must-see on 1230

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Bulls' Rose vs. Clippers' Paul: Must-see on 1230

On Christmas Day, the Bulls will face the Lakers, where they will face a squad minus longtime stalwart Lamar Odom. It would be presumptuous to call the Lakers, featuring a new head coach in Mike Brown after Phil Jackson's retirement, a team in disarray. But after trading Odom to the defending-champion Mavericks for a nearly 9 million trade exception and failing to acquire Chris Paul in an attempted deal with the NBA-owned Hornets -- both the departed Odom and holdover Pau Gasol, who would have been shipped to the Rockets, reportedly took umbrage at the swap, as did veteran leader Kobe Bryant -- short of somehow acquiring Dwight Howard (which would likely require trading both Gasol and center Andrew Bynum to the Magic), the aging Lakers are now perceived as no longer one of the league's elite teams.

So while Derrick Rose won't face off with Paul in the season opener, he'll take on his fellow All-Star point guard on the Bulls' first road trip, when the team returns to Los Angeles on Dec. 30, before returning to Chicago in advance of the home opener New Year's Day at the United Center. Paul was dealt to the other tenants of the Staples Center, the Clippers, late Wednesday, in exchange for promising young shooting guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman, second-year small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick, courtesy of the Timberwolves.

The trade was finally consummated after the Clippers, like the Lakers, had their initial trade proposal -- which didn't feature Gordon, who averaged 23 points per game last season and is due to be a free agent next summer -- rejected by the league. Including Gordon, who is poised to be on the fringe of an All-Star Game berth, in the transaction was a high price to pay for the Clippers, who now have four point guards with Paul, the recently acquired Chauncey Billups (signed after being waived by the Knicks), incumbent starter Mo Williams (who was shipped to L.A. in exchange for Baron Davis, due to be amnestied by the Cavaliers, last season) and Eric Bledsoe, a second-year player currently out with a knee injury.

For former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro, there could be worse problems -- Billups could fill Gordon's void at shooting guard -- as reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin at power forward, free-agent signee Caron Butler at small forward and re-signed athletic young center DeAndre Jordan (the Clippers matched the Warriors' four-year, 43-million offer sheet) is a potent frontcourt for the unselfish Paul to distribute to. The Clippers still have a long way to go before being taken seriously as a contending team, but based on their roster, anything short of a playoff berth would be a major disappointment.

When compared to the Clippers' big splash, the Bulls' shooting-guard saga, which resulted in Rip Hamilton signing a reported three-year, 15-million contract Wednesday, seems minor, regardless of the disparity of the two teams' respective situations entering the season. However, while the Bulls have an eye on a championship and the Clippers are just seeking respectability, one thing's for certain: Dec. 30, perhaps even more than the season opener, will be must-see TV.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

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USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”