Rondo's scoring helps keep assist streak alive

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Rondo's scoring helps keep assist streak alive

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is in the midst of a historic assist streak that has put him in the same category as Magic Johnson and John Stockton. But Monday night at the United Center, it was Rondos early scoring that broke down the Bulls defense, and his passing late that sealed the victory.

Rondo tied a season-high with 20 points and handed out 10 assists -- the 31st straight game he has compiled 10 or more assists -- in the Celtics 101-95 win over the Bulls.

The Celtics lone point guard took advantage of a Bulls defense that desperately needed Kirk Hinrich, who missed the game with a strained hip. Rondo dominated his matchup with starter Nate Robinson, adding nine rebounds and five steals while posting a - of 15. In 30 minutes, Robinson was -15 in the same department.

Rondo looked the part of a franchise point guard Monday night, scoring when open, finding open players when needed and coming up with timely defensive stops on the other end.

I think he's starting to really get comfortable with the players on the floor with what he can call, and you can see that coming on as well, head coach Doc Rivers said.

Rondo is off to the best start of his seven-year NBA career, averaging career-highs in points and assists -- albeit in a small sample size -- that began during last years NBA Playoffs.

In the 24 games he handed out 10 or more assists to end 2011-2012, Rondo averaged 9.8 points on 9.5 field goal attempts per game. He scored in double figures in half of those games.

But in 2012-2013 Rondo has been even more aggressive, scoring double figures in all seven games while averaging 15.4 points on 12.7 field goal attempts per game.

He's getting a lot more opportunities now that we don't have Ray Allen out there in the starting lineup, Paul Pierce said. Usually a lot of those shots would go to him, so he's just taking it upon himself to be more aggressive on the offensive end. His shot attempts are up, his scoring average is up and we need that. He's part of the Big Three now, so he's taken the lead and showing why he's the leader of this ball club.

Rondo was part of the act that had the Celtics race out to an early lead and keep it for most of the first three quarters of the game. Rondo scored all 20 of his points by the start of the fourth, including three on jump shots that may have caught the Bulls off guard.

Pierce, who finished with a quiet 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, said hes happy to see Rondo enjoy offensive successes after putting in time to improve his game in the offseason.

He works hard at his craft, Pierce said. He's developing nicely over the years and I feel like me and Kevin, being around here have been a part of that, seeing his growth as a player.

Rondos growth as a scorer came in handy for the Celtics down the stretch, but it wasnt the point guard doing the scoring.

After a surge by the Bulls to start the fourth quarter, the Celtics lead had been trimmed to four at 93-89 with less than three minutes to play when Rondo drove from the right wing to the left block and, instead of taking a shot, flipped an alley-oop to Kevin Garnett for a dunk.

Inside a minute to go, a Luol Deng layup cut the Celtics lead to two, 95-93, when Rondo and Garnett ran the same play out of a timeout to extend Bostons lead with what would eventually be the game-winner.

Rondo attributed the success of those plays to his offensive game and keeping defenders, specifically center Joakim Noah, honest.

Its just me attacking the hole and trying to draw the big, Rondo said. Noah thought I would shoot it. He contested my shot both times, and I was actually passing it to Kevin and he went up and got it and threw it in.

Rondo just barely got in his 10th assist to keep his record intact, finding Brandon Bass wide open underneath the basket with 23 seconds to play that sealed the game for the Celtics.

Rondo picked the perfect time to have his best game of the season, and as his offensive versatility improves, Pierce believes it will become even harder for opposing defenses to figure out which part of his game to stop.

I consider him the best point guard in the league," Pierce said. "The things he's able to do out there, and when he's scoring the ball out there, you already know what he can do as far as passing and rebounding. He's just unstoppable.

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

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USA TODAY

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

The White Sox quickly ended their 23-inning streak of offensive futility and didn't look back. 

A three-run first inning propelled the White Sox to avoid getting swept with a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in front of 24,444 at Guaranteed Rate Field Sunday afternoon. 

Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the first with a double, and after Tyler Saladino dribbled a ground ball through the left side, he came around to score on Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly. The White Sox last run before that came in the fourth inning of their 9-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday. 

After Cabrera's flyout, Indians right fielder Abraham Almonte made a mess of Jose Abreu's line drive single, allowing it to skip past him to the wall. That error brought Saladino home and allowed Abreu to reach third, and Abreu later scored on Leury Garcia's two-out single to tag a third run on Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. 

Salazar was shaky over his five innings, striking out nine but allowing seven hits and issuing three walks. The White Sox struck again in the fifth inning when Avisail Garcia launched an RBI double off the top of the center field wall. 

Cleveland's inability to catch the ball helped the White Sox push across another run in the sixth inning. After Omar Narvaez drew a leadoff walk, Jacob May put down a sacrifice bunt and hustled to first, where second baseman Michael Martinez — covering for charging first baseman Carlos Santana — had to awkwardly stretch for Santana's underhand toss. Martinez dropped the ball, allowing May to reach.

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Following strikeouts by Anderson and Saladino, Cabrera lined a single to left, and Narvaez was aggressively waved home (a common practice with two outs in an inning). Brandon Guyer's throw easily beat Narvaez to the plate, but Indians catcher Roberto Perez dropped it, allowing Narvaez to score the fifth run of the game.

Another Indians defensive miscue led to the White Sox sixth run in the eighth, when an Abreu ground ball kicked off Santana's spikes and into center field, allowing May to score.  

White Sox starter Derek Holland was solid in his six innings, allowing only a solo home run to Francisco Lindor with three walks and six strikeouts. His toughest test came in the top of the fifth, when he issues a two-out walk to Santana to load the bases but struck out Lindor to end the frame. Holland lowered his ERA to 1.99 with his six innings of one-run ball Sunday. 

The Indians tacked on a late run when David Robertson threw a wild pitch that allowed Lonnie Chisenhall to score with two out in the ninth.

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

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They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.