Posts Tagged ‘Doug Collins’

Bynum Deal Burns Sixers





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Anyone reading between the lines two weeks ago should not have been surprised by tonight’s news that Andrew Bynum‘s season is over before it ever started and that he’ll need surgery on both of his ailing knees.

Bynum’s fate was sealed months ago, during training camp, when we all learned that the knee issues that have plagued him throughout his career were flaring up again after that blockbuster summer trade that sent the Los Angeles Lakers’ big man problem to Philadelphia for the Sixers to deal with.

The jaw-dropping part of this whole mess is anyone being shocked that it’s come to this: Bynum’s tenure with the Sixers consisting of not one single second of actual game action in Philly.

“After many months of rehabilitation and consulting with numerous doctors, Andrew and the doctors treating him determined that this is the best course of action at this point,” Sixers General Manager Tony DiLeo said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate his status moving forward.”

Moving forward?

Bynum is an unrestricted free agent this summer. That’s a Bynum-filled headache the Sixers don’t need after paying him $16.9 million this season to model his wardrobe and throwback hair styles on the bench while his teammates suffered through a brutal season that was supposed to be filled with so much more.

DiLeo and the Sixers would be wise to let someone else take the next multi-million dollar risk on Bynum’s shaky knees. They’ve already poured more than enough money down that drain.

That offseason trade, a blockbuster 12-player deal involving four teams that had Sixers fans dreaming about being contenders, wound up being productive for everyone but the Sixers. Dwight Howard‘s season with the Lakers has been rough, but they are in playoff position right now and at least have hope for the future. Andre Iguodala has adjusted well in Denver, playing a similar role to the one he played for the Sixers, helping the Nuggets to a playoff spot and a 12-game win streak. And Orlando has made good use of Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo.

The Sixers got a wanna-be dominant big man with bilateral knee bone bruises that have bothered him all season, a one-time All-Star with knees that might never support a bid for a second, third, fourth or fifth All-Star nod. A September trip to Germany for the Orthokine therapy injections that worked wonders for Kobe Bryant, and more recently Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams, did absolutely nothing for Bynum.

A Sixers team that was supposed to be primed for a climb up the ladder in the Eastern Conference playoff chase after a surprise run to the conference semifinals last season has suddenly turned into the poster child for thinking and long and hard before you act on the next so-called “blockbuster” deal.

Bynum’s absence has taken a toll on all involved, including Sixers coach Doug Collins, who reached his boiling point late last month after a loss to Orlando when he vented his frustrations about how things have unfolded.

“The team that we tried to put together we’ve never seen,” Collins said after that Orlando loss. “And so I think, when you take a huge piece away from it, your warts show.”

Direct shots at Bynum and the summer deal gone wrong were included in his 10-minute rant.

“We made a huge deal. And we have nobody playing as part of that deal,” Collins continued. “How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nik Vucevic, and have nothing in return playing? That’s tough to overcome, right? That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any out. But that’s the facts. Nik Vucevic had 19 rebounds tonight. Spencer [Hawes] had one. I think Lavoy [Allen] had two.”

Promising young point guard Jrue Holiday has done his part. He became an All-Star this season and kept the Sixers afloat for a while, when everyone still believed that Bynum would actually hit the floor at some point.

But like everyone else in Philly, Holiday got burned by the Bynum deal.

And the ashes will blow through the franchise for a while, kicking up every time someone mentions Bynum’s name or the blockbuster that went up in smoke on the Sixers.

Time May Be Running Out On Bynum

HANG TIME, Texas — “Oh Andrew, I hardly knew ye.”

Will a variation on the line from the old Irish song be the one Sixers fans are singing at the end of this particularly disappointing season?

Or, knowing Philly fans the way we do, will they be more likely chanting a rather angry chorus of: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out?”

It’s getting down to crunch time with the Andrew Bynum story as it appears less and less likely that the centerpiece of last summer’s total makeover is going to suit and play this season.

A week after he played five-on-five in practice with his teammates, Bynum has experienced swelling in his right knee. Now he says he doesn’t “want to play with pain.”

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News looks at the entire convoluted affair and wonders if the Bynum Era is over before it even began:

It has all just been so mind-boggling. Bynum’s final statement to the media Friday will be the one fans will focus on most, when he said, “I don’t want to play with pain.”

Again, confusion. Bynum didn’t say he wouldn’t play with pain, he said he didn’t want to. Certainly, everyone wants to be pain-free, but that’s just not a reality in professional sports. The question is this: Is Bynum willing to play with pain, and, if so, how much?

“Actually the condition, 50 percent of the people in the United States have it now; they just happen to not play basketball,” he said. “It takes on a little bit more shape in my world. It’s frustrating. There’s really nothing yet to do about it [surgically]. I just don’t need a swollen knee.

“I played in LA with a bit of swelling, but it wasn’t this bad. I didn’t really feel the pain when I was playing, but now it’s like really stiff and a lot of pain. Just doing stuff, not even full five-on-five stuff. I played in one scrimmage and it’s a 4- to 5-day setback.”

Four or 5 days now, perhaps 4 or 5 years for the organization. Is there any way the organization would look to bring him back after all that has transpired this season? Can you take that chance? If he isn’t re-signed, then what? Sure, there will be money to work with, but can any signings be as significant or have the type of impact the Bynum trade was supposed to have? Time will tell, but for now, time appears to be running out on a Bynum sighting this season.

“I’m not really concerned [about his future]; it’s more frustrating,” Bynum said. “You do the work, you get to a point and then you have to back down. It’s kind of tough. Now it’s getting really late, so I really don’t know.”

The Sixers have plummeted out of the Eastern Conference playoff race with a 22-34 record that recently led to a post-game meltdown by coach Doug Collins following an abysmal home loss to Orlando. That led to speculation about Collins’ future. Now the hope of getting Bynum onto the floor for even a glimpse of what he might be able to provide is fading.

The Sixers front office keeps saying that Plan A is to re-sign a healthy Bynum to a new contract next summer. But they also say they have a Plan B in their pocket. Might be time to reach for it.

Sixers’ Collins Urges Patience With Rose

CHICAGO – The symmetry wasn’t lost on Doug Collins. Ten months ago, he and his Philadelphia 76ers team were walking the same halls, dressing in the same stalls, taking to the same United Center court for a game that would be, and remains, Derrick Rose‘s last. The Chicago Bulls’ electric point guard blew out the ACL in his left knee late in Game 1, Day 1, of the 2012 NBA playoffs.

The Sixers had been back in town in December, but their game Thursday night was the one that fit the rehab timeline and stirred up a little déjà vu. Rose got hurt on April 28. Here it was, 10 months later. Exactly.

“Derrick, I thought for sure he was going to play tonight,” Collins said about 90 minutes before tipoff. “Y’know, got hurt against Philadelphia, come back against Philadelphia. Game on TNT. I could just see him running out, y’know, with the adidas commercial tonight.”

No such luck. While few around the team would put it past the Bulls’ inner circle to spring Rose back into action as a surprise – coach Tom Thibodeau is notorious for his “game-time decisions” – his sidelined All-Star point guard again was on the inactive list. Same with Philadelphia center Andrew Bynum, the alleged game-changing big man who has played precisely as many minutes this season as Rose. Bynum remains out with bilateral knee bone bruises – good thing he only has two legs – and, with free agency looming this summer, is at risk of a phantom Philly season.

Some have wondered if a recent Bulls slump might be related to the distraction of waiting for Rose. Collins’ team has been waiting, too, but under different circumstances.

“We traded three guys to get a guy who hasn’t played at all this year,” said Collins, without naming Andre Iguodala, Mo Harkless and Nikola Vucevic, helpful pieces in Denver and Orlando. “The Bulls have a player who’s injured but he’s been here the whole time. So the dynamics are a little different. We gave up a lot in that trade, and that’s been tough.”

As a player with Philadephia in the 1970s, Collins battled leg injuries, with some speculating that he might have hurried back too soon. That led to more Rose questions, though his “hurrying back” might mean October.

“The Chicago Bulls have a tremendous investment in Derrick Rose. You want to make sure that this young guy is going to be ready to go,” Collins said. “We take a guy like Adrian Peterson and we say, ‘This guy rehabbed and was back and was playing football … and you kind of expect everybody to have the same timetable.’ Knees are different. Every player is different. Everybody’s game is different.”

Anyone who recalls Rose’s injury 10 months ago, when he came to a jump stop, then damaged his leg as he exploded up, can understand what Collins said next.

“Derrick is an explosive player. He plays in the lane. He’s landing in a lot of bodies, in a lot of congestion,” the coach said. “More important, he’s going to have to be very confident when he plays, about being able to explode off that leg, being able to come down in a crowd and do the things he has to do.

“[Chicago team chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls organization are not short-sighted people. They don’t do that. They view the big picture. I think they feel they have a franchise that has a chance to be good for a long, long time. And Derrick Rose is the guy who is going to make that special.”

Report: Curry Set To Replace Collins?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – An already rough week could get a lot tougher for Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins tonight when his team takes to the TNT stage against the Chicago Bulls (8 p.m. ET).

After his “mind-numbing” description of his team’s performance after Tuesday night’s loss to Orlando went viral, rumblings about his days as the 76ers coach being numbered started spreading.

If Collins is indeed headed for an exit from the bench, CSN Bay Area’s Ric Bucher is already reporting on a succession plan. Assistant coach Michael Curry, whose last coaching work came with the Detroit Pistons, is poised to take over. Curry last just one season in Detroit. But Bucher reports that he will be considered for the job on a permanent basis, if he does take over for Collins before this season ends.

The Sixers have lost six straight games and still haven’t seen prized offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum anywhere but the practice court. Lingering knee issues have kept the All-Star center out of the lineup since training camp. And based on his comments the other night, Collins doesn’t seem terribly confident that Bynum’s return, if there is one, will do much to change things for his team.

This season has turned out to be a complete dumpster fire for a Sixers team that came into the season with plans to challenge for the Atlantic Division crown and a lofty playoff perch in the Eastern Conference standings. Pairing the free-agent-to-be Bynum with All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and a solid supporting cast looked like an ideal plan, at least on paper.

Entering tonight, Philly is 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for No. 8 in the East. The Sixers appear to be headed back to the lottery at the rate they are going, not to mention into the mix of teams searching for a new coach.

Sixers Hit Rock Bottom, Collins Rants


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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been a pretty miserable season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Because they’re in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers were just four games out of a playoff spot when they took the floor against the Orlando Magic. But not once in the last 3 1/2 months have they ever resembled anything close to a playoff team. And not once has Andrew Bynum been close to actually playing in a game.

Well, things clearly hit rock bottom for Philly on Tuesday night when they lost by 14 points at home to the Orlando Magic, a team that was 3-28 (1-14 on the road) since Dec. 21, had traded one of its best players five days ago, and was looking like it would hold the No. 30 spot in our Power Rankings for the rest of the season.

The embarrassing loss, the Sixers’ sixth straight, was apparently the breaking point for Sixers coach Doug Collins, who had some interesting things to say in his post-game press conference. Collins basically avoided all blame for his team’s struggles and mostly threw his players under the bus.

And he came out firing right away. First, he called the game “mind-numbing.” Then, he used a Pat Summit story to say that a coach can’t control energy and effort, and gave the reporters in the room a look that said, “See what I’m saying here?”

Collins also brought up his own effort as a Sixers player for comparison.

“I gave my body to this franchise,” he said. “I was never booed as a player. Never. I ran through my sneakers.”

There were references to the fact that Bynum hasn’t played a single minute this season…

“The team that we tried to put together we’ve never seen. And so I think, when you take a huge piece away from it, your warts show.”

And there were more obvious criticisms of his players…

“I did not think our guys prepared themselves during the [All-Star] break to come back to play.”

More of the I’m-doing-everything-I-can talk….

“If everybody looked inside themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan. OK? Believe me, there’s not two days go by that I don’t go to Rod [Thorn], I don’t go to Tony [DiLeo], ‘What can I do? Can I do anything different? How can I be a better coach? How can I be a better leader? How can I help these guys?’

“Sometimes, you’ve got to help yourself, you know? Sometimes you’ve got to help yourself. Youth is a very blaming thing.”

“My job is to not put that kind of product on the floor. I’m incredibly hard on myself. I love it when the fans start yelling at me. I’m not playing. You didn’t yell at me when I played. Why are you yelling at me when I’m coaching?”

Want another way to say that the coach can’t control energy and effort? Here you go…

“They say it’s a players’ league. Well, then take ownership. Take ownership. That’s all I’m asking. Take ownership of what you’re putting out there. To me, I’m a day’s work for a day’s pay kind of guy. That’s all I’ve been ever taught.”

I did my job, but they’re not doing theirs…

“There’s nothing wrong with our preparation. I looked out there to start the game, three guys weren’t even sweating when we started the game! They were going to ease themselves into the game. You’ve got to get sweaty. You’ve got to be ready to go.”

Spencer, I coached Nik Vucevic. I knew Nik Vucevic. Nik Vucevic was a player of mine. Spencer, you’re no Nik Vucevic…

“We made a huge deal. And we have nobody playing as part of that deal. How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nik Vucevic, and have nothing in return playing? That’s tough to overcome, right? That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any out. But that’s the facts. Nik Vucevic had 19 rebounds tonight. Spencer had one. I think Lavoy [Allen] had two.”

Finally, about 10 minutes into the press conference, Collins falls on his sword … sort of …

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m up here blaming. I don’t want you to think I’m making excuses. That’s not what this is about. I’m not a blamer. I’m not an excuse kind of guy. No one takes this harder than I do. Nobody. I’m a guy, who, when I have coached, I’ve always been able to find some answers. And I have not been able to find answers. And from my standpoint, that is very disappointing, because I’m paid to do that.”

The Sixers next play on Thursday, when they visit the Bulls (who also suffered a pretty embarrassing loss on Tuesday) at 8 p.m. on TNT. Should be interesting.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Lockout Just A Painful Memory Now

“Do Not Open Till Christmas.” It’s something that is so magical when it’s written across brightly wrapped packages arranged under a tree, but sure can look miserable when it’s slapped across the entirety of the NBA regular-season schedule.

Everyone found that out last year, when a bitter labor lockout chopped 16 games, most of the preseason and nearly three months off each team’s 2011-12 season.

For perspective, think of all the games, stories, moments and highlights generated already in 2012-13 — with about 70 percent of the schedule still to be played. Now, think about all that was lost –- beyond whatever financial or stability gains were achieved by the warring owners and players in their CBA talks –- as everyone waited and wondered and worried for the NBA to begin last season.

The league won’t be celebrating any sort of anniversary on Tuesday. The five games stacked up that day will be special -– Christmas games always are -– but they won’t be extra-special in the way the holiday and Opening Day got rolled into one, pulling a season back from the brink.

Boston coach Doc Rivers, asked recently for his takeaway from last year’s lockout, said: “I got to see a lot of Duke games [where his son Austin Rivers played] –- I thought that was terrific. I got to go to Hawaii, to the Maui Classic –- I thought that was fantastic. My [golf] handicap was as low as it’s been in years. And then we had a whole season, in my mind. And that was terrific.

“I’m gonna stop there.”

Houston coach Kevin McHale was even more circumspect. He stared blankly, then raised his gaze to the ceiling when asked for his lockout memories. “I’m trying to think if there was anything good,” he said. Of his glassy expression, he added: “It keeps me from getting in trouble.”

Muzzled under penalty of hefty fines, NBA personnel avoided talking about the lockout last season like it was a pass-around fruitcake. It remains something about which many folks in and around the league would rather not speak, because it was one of the NBA’s more regrettable episodes.

Oh, it wasn’t as bad as the lockout that chopped the 1998-99 season down to just 50 games per team. But it was bad in its own right, costing them all hundreds of millions of dollars and forcing a hurried-up, ground-down product on the public.

“Pointless,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade called it the other night. “We ain’t going to go into all that -– I just think it was a pointless lockout.” (more…)

Sixers Taking No Risks With Holiday

HOUSTON – The Sixers definitely could have used Jrue Holiday in their lineup Wednesday. Especially when Evan Turner limped off the floor in the third quarter of a 125-103 loss, their worst of the season.

But even with their quick start to the season currently in free-fall with five defeats in a row, it was an easy decision to keep the budding young star Holiday under wraps, at least for one more night. Holiday, who averages a team-best 18.4 ppg and 8.9 apg, sat out his fourth game in a row with a sprained left foot.

“He’s 22 years old,” coach Doug Collins said. “We have a huge investment in him. We’ve just signed him to a long-term deal and there’s no way in the world right now we’re going to be short-term foolish. It just makes no sense.”

Not when the first third of the Sixers’ season has been played in limbo waiting on Andrew Bynum‘s ailing knees. The 7-foot center is scheduled to have an MRI and get another update today.

Though there is no indication at this point that Holiday’s problem is serious or has long-term implications, if any team should be wary, it is the Sixers. Through their history, Philadelphia has seen the careers of All-Stars Andrew Toney and Collins, himself, shortened by foot injuries.

“I don’t think this is an injury that you would say is chronic unless you tried to do it too soon,” the coach said. “The one thing I’ve always gone on … people questioned whether I was hurt. My father had just died. They couldn’t find anything on an x-ray, it was all in my head. And I had stress fractures in both of my feet.

“So when a player tells me he’s hurt, he’s hurt. I will never ever question that. To me, when a guy’s ready to go, he’ll go. I know Jrue wants to go more than anybody.”

The situation is made worse by Turner’s injury and that rookie Maalik Wayns, getting his first start of the season, hurt his right foot and played just 14 minutes. Backup guard Royal Ivey got a DNP-CD in Houston and has seen his minutes seriously curtailed since early in the season. The Sixers are also in grueling stretch of the schedule where they’re playing 10 of 11 games away from home.

Collins said after Wednesday night’s thumping by the Rockets that Holiday could return on Friday night against Atlanta.

“It is tricky,” Holiday told Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News. “I feel like we could win a lot of games and I could help my team and, obviously, that’s a lot of pressure to put on me to come back. At the same time, I think I just want to be able to play basketball and walk and run and jump and all that stuff you have to do to be able to compete. I’m going to try and get back as quick as possible.”

Collins Got Harden’s Motor Running



HOUSTON — You see him now: rolling down the court like a tractor-trailer with no brakes, shimmying from side to side, yet barreling straight ahead. It’s difficult to imagine James Harden not constantly attacking the basket.

But that only means you were never inside the practice gym during those two years at Arizona State. Doug Collins was.

“I wish he had the energy he played with at Arizona State,” the Sixers’ coach said a few minutes before Harden went out and torched his team for 33 points on just 12 field goal attempts.

“If you ask James Harden to tell you one thing he heard from Doug Collins for two years, he’ll tell you: ‘Play with a motor. Play with a motor.’ He had no motor in college. None.”

Collins was out of coaching back in those days, working as a TNT commentator, when he became a frequent visitor to the Sun Devils’ workouts and the burr under the saddle of a certain guard who had all the flashy trim of a fancy sports car, but might as well have been sitting it up on milk crates.

“[Collins] taught me a lot,” Harden said. “He would mentor me. He would tell me that I had to have a motor. I had to build a motor up to be successful and have a chance to play in the NBA. My sophomore year, the reason I came back [to college] was to learn and build my motor up. He was the reason for that.

“I was nonchalant, just chill. That’s how I still am, but I have a little motor in me now. That’s the difference. He saw me in my building stage, when I was preparing for the NBA. So for him to have great compliments about me, it means a lot to me.”

Collins says the next critical step in Harden’s development was going to Oklahoma City and falling in with just the right trio of gym rats in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, who never tired of getting to practice early and staying late, who wouldn’t accept anyone into their circle that wouldn’t play with the same fervor. Harden worked tirelessly to improve his conditioning and he built up his strength to the point where he might be as unstoppable an offensive force as any player in the league.

“I don’t [usually] compare players by any stretch of the imagination,” Collins said. “But when he’s coming down the floor with the ball, he is very similar to LeBron James. When you combine size, strength, speed — and he loves contact. He seeks contact on every play.”

Every time the undermanned Sixers made a run at the Rockets on Wednesday night, Harden was there to block it like a boulder in the road — with a 3 or by getting to the line to hit 17 of his 18 free throws. And he’s made the adjustment from coming off the bench in OKC to starting in Houston; from being a role player to being the point of the spear in the offense so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget that he arrived in Houston just three days before the season opener.

“I didn’t set any expectations coming in,” Harden said. “It was a new role for me: starting, playing a lot more minutes with the ball in my hands. So my expectation was just get the guys together and try to win games as soon as possible. We’re on the right track.”

There is still a lot to figure out with the Rockets, still plenty of holes to fill on a roster with glaring inconsistency. It’s maybe hard to see them hanging around their current spot at the bottom of the playoff race unless a lot comes together quickly. But, then, it did for Harden.

“He can shoot the 3,” Collins said. “He’s got a great feel for the game. He has shot 11 less free throws than my three leading scorers. He puts the pressure on you all the time … I love what he’s about — his development, his improvement.

“It’s funny, when he sees me, he’ll say, ‘I’ve got a motor now, coach.’ ”

Searching For Themselves, Celtics And Sixers Find Each Other … Again





PHILADELPHIA – The 20-game mark of the NBA season is the time when teams are supposed to have a pretty good idea of where they stand, what’s working and what isn’t.

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will each have reached that 20-game mark after completing a back-to-back home-and-home series on Friday and Saturday. Yet, both Doug Collins and Doc Rivers admit that they’re not sure what kind of team they have.

“I don’t think you really know who you are until you face some adversity,” Collins said before his team’s 95-94, overtime victory at the Wells Fargo Center, “and you have to really gather around each other and really be that team that you’ve worked so hard to become.”

Playing without Andrew Bynum, Collins’ Sixers have seemingly overachieved, though their 10-8 record is also a product of the league’s easiest schedule through Thursday.

The Celtics, meanwhile, seem to be playing below their ability. We’re waiting for them to flip the proverbial switch and start playing like the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. Maybe that will happen, and maybe it won’t. On their way to 10-8, the Celtics have struggled to defend at the level they have in the past.

“We don’t have [an identity] either,” Rivers admitted before the game. “You sometimes want to be the team you were last year, but that’s not the personnel. The team will let you know who they want to be and who they are.”

Dealing with roster turnover, the Celtics are just now starting to get in synch defensively.

“We’re graduating from not knowing to now knowing [defensive rotations],” Rivers said. “We’re still not doing it consistently yet, but we’re better at it. I can say that. We’ve taken great strides, to me, over the last five games. Sometimes the numbers don’t show it, but you can feel it. You can see it. Now, the next step is being a consistent team with it, offensively and defensively.”

As the Celtics and Sixers try to find themselves, it’s appropriate that they’ve found each other … for the 14th and 15th times (including a couple of preseason games) in the last nine months. Though both rosters have turned over since last season’s conference semifinals, these teams are probably a little too familiar with each other.

“They’re a team that we don’t like to lose to,” Jrue Holiday said.

Two games in two nights against the same opponent is a pretty unique situation. Rivers likes it, and not just because it’s the same scouting report both times.

“I just have always thought that it’s very competitive from a playing standpoint,” he said. “I think when you play the same team back to back, the game becomes very competitive, almost chippy. I enjoy that.”

After a ridiculously fast-paced first quarter, Friday’s game turned into a grind. It didn’t get too chippy, but it appropriately went to overtime and came down to the final shot, just like a couple of those playoff games in May.

That final shot was Rajon Rondo‘s, and it sailed way long. Rondo recorded recorded his 14th regular season triple-double, but this was the first in a Celtics loss. (They had lost a couple of postseason games in which he recorded a triple-double, including Game 7 in Miami in June.)

Beyond Rondo, there was a mixed bag of performances on both teams. And though the Sixers are now a game up on the Celtics for third place in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the East, there’s not much else to take out of this one in regard to comparing where they both stand.

Still, Rivers is happy with the direction his team is going.

“I loved our effort,” he said. “I loved how competitive we were. Overall, if we keep doing that, we’re going to make a run here soon.”

Maybe that run will start against these same Sixers on Saturday.

Pacers’ George Goes Pippen Play-alike

CHICAGO – If Paul George has heard the comparisons once, he’s heard them 1,000 times. From before he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers with the No. 10 pick out of Cal State-Fresno in the 2010 Draft and ever since. Heck, he’s even heard it right here.

Scottie Pippen.

Likened to the Hall of Famer for his build and wingspan, for his wing position, for his potential on both ends of the court and for his place in the Pacers’ pecking order as more sidekick than franchise guy, George occasionally has played up to the comparison. Other times, he has played well below it.

Then there was Tuesday, when he played smack in front of it. Pippen, who has one of those “ambassador” jobs with the Chicago Bulls, was planted courtside about 15 feet from the Indiana bench for the Pacers’ 80-76 victory. He has watched George up-close-and-personal before, but rarely seen him as terrific as he was at United Center: 34 points, nine rebounds and three steals, shooting 14-of-25 on a night when his teammates combined for 15-of-55.

So, was there a little something extra in his performance because of the Pippen proximity?

“I wasn’t playing for Pippen or trying to put on a show for Pippen,” George said afterward. “I mean, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. During the game, I gave him a fist pound.”

Look, it can only go so far. One’s a Bulls legend, the other is a Pacers’ budding star. There’s bad blood between the teams, borne of their rivalry in the Central Division and all those Michael Jordan-Reggie Miller battles.

“Pippen … we don’t have a great relationship,” George said. “But every time we come to Chicago and play, I do acknowledge him.”

George was the guy getting the hat-tips Tuesday. He carried Indiana for much of the game. And he bounced back dramatically from his play in his three most recent games, a West Coast swing on which he shot 7-of-31, with outings of four points (2-of-11 at Sacramento) and none (0-of-7 at Golden State).

It was a pattern similar to George’s recovery two weeks ago, when he backed up a six-point night at Washington with 37 points against New Orleans 48 hours later. And it’s all part of the development process.

A few nights earlier, Philadelphia’s Doug Collins talked in a UC hallway about the importance of an NBA player’s third season. He spoke specifically of his own guy Evan Turner. But the same applies to George.

“Third year is when the game starts to get a little more comfortable,” George said in agreement. “You start to pick up the game’s speed, where shots are going to be available, the flow of the game. You start to come into your own within the offense. I don’t want to just say I’m doing so now because I had a good game. I’m still going through that process.”

Said coach Frank Vogel: “With any growth, there’s growing pains. He’s had some tougher performances this year, but some spectacular ones as well.”

Consistency is key, with George and the Pacers facing Portland Wednesday night in Indianapolis on the tail end of the back-to-back. So is diligence – which George showed when he went directly from Indiana’s flight from Oakland, which landed at 7 a.m. Eastern time, to the team’s practice court.

He hoisted half-a-thousand shots. To make sure the bad was gone and the good was within reach again.

“The way I shot the ball against Sacramento and Golden State, it really brought me down,” George said. “I let the team down. I knew that wasn’t me. I had to get back to what got me here. I had to get in the gym, put up 500 shots. From floaters to mid-range to 3-pointers, I mixed it all up. That’s something I need to keep doing.”

He did plenty of that against the Bulls. Right in front of … aw, you know.