Blackhawks

Bears squeak by Lions, but miss playoffs

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Bears squeak by Lions, but miss playoffs

DETROIT (AP) Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears held on late against turnover-prone Detroit.

Then, the waiting began.

Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and helped seal the game with a late scramble, and Chicago kept its playoff hopes alive - for now - with a 26-24 win over the Lions on Sunday.

The Bears (10-6) still need a Minnesota loss to Green Bay to reach the postseason. The win by Chicago eliminated the defending champion New York Giants from the playoff picture.

"I don't usually say this, but Go Pack Go,'" Cutler said.

Minnesota played Green Bay started as part of the later session of Sunday afternoon games. There were some quiet groans in the Chicago locker room after the Vikings scored an early touchdown on TV.

The Lions (4-12) lost their last eight games and turned the ball over four times in the finale. Calvin Johnson fell short in his attempt to become the first player with 2,000 yards receiving in a season.

Detroit trailed 20-3 late in the first half but pulled within two in the fourth quarter and had the ball at its own 9-yard line before a three-and-out forced a punt.

The Bears ran out the last 3:40, with Cutler's 19-yard run on third down keeping the drive going.

"We did what we needed to do. The rest is out of our control," coach Lovie Smith said. "All we can do now is hold our breath and watch."

Johnson, who broke Jerry Rice's record of 1,848 yards receiving the previous weekend, finished at 1,964 after catching five passes for 72 yards.

"It's hard to shut down Calvin Johnson, but we just put as many guys as we possibly could on him," Smith said. "We doubled him a lot, and we were always rolling extra guys at him. We didn't want to get anything deep; we wanted him to earn everything he got underneath."

Detroit's Matthew Stafford went 24 of 42 for 272 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He finished the season with an NFL-record 727 pass attempts, surpassing Drew Bledsoe's mark of 691 from 1994.

Stafford fell short of a second consecutive 5,000-yard season, finishing at 4,967 through the air.

It was a surprising fall for the Lions, who made the playoffs last season for the first time in a dozen years. Coach Jim Schwartz wouldn't address speculation about his job status.

"The thing I'm most concerned with is getting this team back to where we all want it to be," he said. "I'm not proud at all of our record."

The Lions scored two straight touchdowns to make it 20-17 in the third quarter, but Chicago, which came into the game with a league-high 40 takeaways, forced another turnover.

Stafford's fumble gave the Bears the ball at the Detroit 13. It was the fourth time the Bears started a drive inside the Detroit 25, and they ended up kicking a field goal.

Olindo Mare added another field goal, a 20-yarder with 10:47 left in the fourth, to make it 26-17. Stafford's 9-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie pulled Detroit closer, but it wasn't enough.

Cutler threw a 55-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery to the Detroit 27 on Chicago's first play from scrimmage, delighting the many Chicago fans in attendance at Ford Field. But that drive stalled, and the Bears actually had to punt after Cutler fumbled on third down and the ball was recovered back at midfield.

After the Lions kicked a field goal, Chicago struck back when Cutler swung a pass out to Earl Bennett, who made the catch behind the line of scrimmage, got a block and outran the defense for a surprisingly easy 60-yard touchdown.

Joique Bell fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and the Bears kicked a field goal. In the second quarter, Stafford fumbled deep in his own territory. Julius Peppers recovered for Chicago, and his short return gave the Bears the ball at the 10.

Matt Forte scored on a 1-yard run to make it 17-3.

The Lions weren't done giving the ball away. Tim Jennings picked off Stafford's overthrown pass, and his 31-yard return to the Detroit 23 set up another field goal.

Stafford's 25-yard scoring pass to Kris Durham with 12 seconds left in the half made it 20-10, and he threw a 10-yarder in the third to Will Heller.

NOTES: Chicago TE Matt Spaeth left the game with a concussion. ... The Bears were without LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring). He hasn't played since Dec. 2.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.