NBA arenas dark on opening night, basketball still shines

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NBA arenas dark on opening night, basketball still shines

I should be in Dallas right now, perhaps wrapping up a post-shootaround lunch at Mexican restaurant El Fenix, not far from the American Airlines Center, before heading back to my hotel prior to tonight's Bulls' regular-season opener against the defending champion Mavericks.

Instead, I'm in good old Hyde Park, biding my time by texting, calling and emailing folks around the league, and perusing the World Wide Web for tidbits of NBA-related information--from the significant (such as union president Derek Fisher's latest letter to his constituents, defending himself against accusations of striking side deals with league commissioner David Stern) to the irrelevant (Nets power forward Kris Humphries was actually surprised to learn his marriage to Kim Kardashian was on the rocks?)--as the four-month-long NBA lockout continues.

Not exactly what I signed up for.

But as depressing as the league's labor impasse might be, I can't complain, especially when comparing my situation to the legions of team employees, fans and yes, even players suffering during this work stoppage. At least from a local standpoint, things don't look quite as grim.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, the Bulls are one of the more stable franchises during the lockout, as workers and basketball-operations staff alike remain employed--Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a longtime assistant, fought for his staff in preparation for this very situation.

While they can't work with, let alone communicate with players, an extended offseason of analysis will ensure they're prepared when play finally resumes--and while there are great expectations for the team to pursue an upgrade at shooting guard or even explore the rash and ridiculous possibility of cutting ties with Carlos Boozer under the reported amnesty clause in the new CBA (not happening), after a 62-win season, there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

Still, although the Bulls might be a squad to benefit from a shortened season--due to their combination of relative youth (even if Kurt Thomas, who turned 39 last month, returns), roster stability, chemistry and low-maintenance players with strong work ethics--just last week, it appeared as if they'd be getting back to business sooner than later.

Tuesday? We can only speculate, but the forecast again looks more cloudy than sunny.

So, rather than sinking further into a lockout malaise, the time has come to focus on other hoops pursuits. Unlike many of my other NBA-reporter colleagues, I can't claim experience in covering other sports (I'd like to think of myself as pretty knowledgeable when it comes to football, but in reality, I'm probably only an expert when it comes to my Philadelphia Eagles, who I fully expect to continue their recent pattern and thump the Bears come next Monday night, even if it means I'll need a police escort home from a local bar) and fortunately, I won't have to do so.

As somebody who's covered more than my fair share of high school and college basketball, I certainly don't mind jumping back into that scene. But while I've kept abreast of even minute details since I've started covering the Bulls on a full-time basis, I've spent the past month or so--since it became clear that I wouldn't be making the daily trek to the Berto Center for training camp--getting re-acclimated to those levels of basketball, particularly high school.

With so many local college programs in the area and several ballyhooed prep prospects to go around, there's plenty to observe and write about, without having to board a plane.

As much as I'll miss long lines at airports, early-morning flights and commuting to Deerfield from the South Side--in all seriousness, I do lament the absence of press-room meals, at least in certain cities--watching the likes of Simeon and elite recruit Jabari Parker, a Northwestern team that looks poised to end its NCAA Tournament drought (if not this season, then when?) and players poised for a breakout year, such as DePaul sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin or Curie High School sophomore big man Cliff Alexander, should make up for the lack of professional basketball being played.

At least until the lockout ends. Then, starving for hoops played at the highest level in the world, I'll take it all back.

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.”