From Comcast SportsNetINDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Paul George made no attempt to downplay the importance of his matchup with LeBron James."It's a chance to for me to see where I'm at, going against one of the best, if not, the best in the league," George said. "Another challenge to myself to go at LeBron. I definitely wanted to battle him."George rose to the occasion with 29 points and 11 rebounds, and the Pacers held Miami to a season-low point total in an 87-77 win over the Heat on Tuesday night.George has moved from shooting guard to small forward and has become a primary scoring option with Danny Granger, Indiana's leading scorer last season, out all season because of a left knee injury.Indiana's 22-year-old forward has earned James' respect for the way he has handled his new responsibilities."I see him playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of opportunities," James said. "The simple fact that Danny Granger is hurt has created this opportunity for him to show what he can do. He's doing everything. He was a good player last year, but we weren't able to see it because he wasn't a featured player."David West added 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Lance Stephenson chipped in with 13 points for the Pacers (21-14), who have won 11 of their last 14 games.Dwyane Wade scored 30 points and James had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Miami (23-10), which still has the best record in the Eastern Conference. It was the first time the teams had met since Miami beat the Pacers in six games in the conference semifinals last year.The Pacers outrebounded the Heat 55-36 to help make up for 36 percent shooting."That was a big emphasis tonight," George said. "Miami is a team that, for as good as they are, they struggle with rebounding. We knew that coming in. We knew that we had to get the boards. And we're bigger. We're a big team."George had gone 8 for 29 in his previous two games, but he broke out of his slump by making 12 of 27 shots against Miami.Miami entered the game leading the NBA in field goal percentage, while Indiana led the league in field goal percentage defense. The matchup resulted in the Heat scoring only 35 points in the second half, their lowest-scoring half of the season."Offensively, we did not have a very fluid game on that side of the court," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I'll have to take care of that tomorrow."Indiana led 38-28 in the second quarter before the Heat rallied late in the half. Wade hit a 3-pointer to cut Indiana's lead to 38-37, and a putback by James gave the Heat the lead. The teams were tied at 42 at halftime. Wade scored 23 points in the first half, including 16 in the second quarter.The Heat found their offensive flow in the early minutes of the second half. A 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers gave the Heat a 51-44 lead and caused the Pacers to call a timeout, but Indiana rallied. Stephenson found West in the corner for a 3-pointer, then Stephenson made a 3-pointer to give the Pacers a 55-53 lead.George made consecutive 3-pointers to make it 67-57 at the end of the quarter. The Pacers made 5 of 8 from 3-point range in the period. Miami scored just 15 points on 7-for-18 shooting in the third and Wade went scoreless.George opened the fourth with a jumper over James to expand Indiana's lead to 12, and Ian Mahinmi's putback bumped it to 14.Another 3 by George made it 77-60 with about 8 minutes to go, and the Pacers remained comfortably ahead the rest of the way.Wade scored just seven points on 1-for-4 shooting in the second half. George said Stephenson deserved credit for bothering Wade."He made it hard for him in the second half," George said. "Everybody was locked in to his drive and tried to contest all his shots."The Pacers were subdued in the locker room after the game, perhaps a sign that they have come to expect such victories."We can't overreact to this," West said. "We're just happy to get a win. That's a good basketball team."Notes: Vogel said Granger's recovery from his left knee injury is on schedule, meaning he should be ready to play in about a month. ... The Pacers led 20-19 at the end of the first quarter, despite shooting just 28 percent. ... Wade was fouled on a 3-pointer in the second quarter and made all three free throws. ... West's 3-pointer was just his third of the season and the 39th of his 10-year career. ... Indiana won its eighth straight at home.
Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports after the first Crosstown Cup game was played:
This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs.
That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.
Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.
“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”
Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.
“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”
Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.
“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”
So what kind of a teacher is Alex?
“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”
And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.
“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”
Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.