Hamilton a game-time decision vs. Thunder

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Hamilton a game-time decision vs. Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is developing into a master of suspense, at least as it pertains to Rip Hamilton. Prior to Sunday afternoons showdown with the Western Conference-leading Thunder, Thibodeau said the veteran shooting guard would again be a game-time decision, although he appears to be healthy enough to play.

Im going to talk to him again, just to see where he is, said Thibodeau. Hes good. He did more yesterday, but Ive just got to be convinced. Its more me. He thinks hes ready, but I just want to make sure were smart.

There arent any problems. Hes taken on more contact, which is good, but I just want to make sure, he continued. I feel good about Rip because Rips been practicing, so hes made very good progress. He has no problems with his lower body, hes been doing a lot of shooting. The thing is the contact part of it, so I just want to make sure from that aspect, but all the lower-body injuries that he had, hes completely healthy. So, that parts very encouraging.

The assembled media didnt even ask Thibodeau if All-Star point guard Derrick Rose would suit up, knowing that Thibodeaus typical game-time decision update on Roses status simply means the reigning league MVP wont play for the 10th consecutive game, due a strained right groin.

Derrick, each day hes doing more and more, so hes moving along the way that he anticipated, said Thibodeau. Derrick is out, just in case anyone wanted to know.

The normally dour Thibodeau was in surprisingly good spirits leading up to the contest, even responding to Thunder coach Scott Brooks claim that he has no life, by affirming the verbal jab Thibodeau said, Hes right about that, when informed of the verbal jab by Brooks, who played under Thibodeau in both Minnesota and New York during his playing days but remained focused at the task at hand, particularly MVP front-runner Kevin Durant.

Hes so unique because of his skill set and his size, and the release is so high, its very difficult to get to. The great players Durant, Westbrook, Harden I dont think you guard them individually. I think it has to be done collectively and you can still defend them perfectly, and they still have the ability to make, but the idea is to try to make them work for their points, said Thibodeau, who also lauded the length of Oklahoma Citys frontcourt, which features defensive-oriented low-post mainstays Serge Ibaka, one of the NBAs elite shot-blockers, and Kendrick Perkins, who Thibodeau coached in Boston, along with Durant. The team is a lot more than just those three. Its a very well put-together team. Scott does a great job with them. Theyre very strong defensively. I think thats been their biggest improvement and theyre young, so each year, they continue to get better and better.

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.”