Bulls

Bears-Vikings preview: Vikings ball

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Bears-Vikings preview: Vikings ball

Stopping the 'new' AP = Bears familiar mission statement
Early on, the Bears defense was annihilated twice a year by Adrian Peterson when the All-World running back came into the NFL in 2007. Peterson rushed for more than 120 yards in three of his first gos against the Lovie Smith defense.
Since 1008, however, Peterson has failed to average 4 yards per carry in any of the four meetings with the Bears, with a high of 94 yards and an average of 67 per game against the Bears.
With all of that success, Peterson is still what causes lost sleep on the Chicago defense.
He is elite, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. He hits that cut and hes downhill, violently. And then hes got that second and third cut in the open field. Then he goes. Hes such a great competitor.
Two Peterson 'problems'
Receiverreturner Percy Harvins status and threat is unclear because of an ankle injury. But the AP issues are far greater.
Peterson is of particular note Sunday for two reasons:
1. He has returned from a catastrophic knee injury to lead the league in rushing. In a league committed to passing and points, Peterson through 10 games has 1,128 yards, a 5.8-yard average per carry and seven touchdowns.
By comparison, the NFLs leading yardage receiver, Detroits Calvin Johnson, had 1,117 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games.
2. The Bears avowed objective each week is to turn a team one-dimensional by taking away the opposing running game. But since ranking No. 1 with an NFL-best 77.9 yards allowed per game after the Carolina game, the Bears have given up an average of nearly 136 rushing yards per game. The result is a decline to No. 8 and giving up 92.
They have been found wanting against top backs -- 100-yard games to Chris Johnson in Tennessee, Arian Foster of Houston, and the San Francisco 49ers with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter combining for 105 -- and no back is more top than Peterson.
And now the really scary part
Peterson had one 100-yard game in his first six outings. He has rushed for 153, 123, 182 and 171 in the last four. Meaning: He is getting stronger. He admits he did not feel himself earlier in the year, but now...
Each week Ive felt myself going through this transition of getting stronger and just really getting out there into some live football, Peterson said. Theres no way to duplicate that.
Im 100 percent. But with that being said, theres another level that Im trying to reach after 100 percent. I feel like Ive been better than I was last year. The past couple of weekends, I feel even stronger. Thats what Im excited about the most.
Why the Bears defense has worked -- mostly
The Bears have played with a safety up in run support frequently over the past several games, with only limited success. But their base scheme has generally succeeded against the Vikings because it does not over-pursue or leave itself vulnerable to cutbacks, a Peterson strength.
The concern now, however, is that Foster had 85 yards in the first half of the Houston game with the zone-blockingcutback scheme, and the San Francisco 49ers obliterated the edges of the defense with jumbo packages and wham blocking from fullbacks and tight ends.
Anytime we come off a game and something hurts us, we go in, install it, re-fit it, Marinelli said. Because well see it again down the line, somewhere, sometime, this week, next week. Well see some of that stuff again.
We see the corrections we can make. We go through it, re-teach it, fit it up and then weve got to go play fast with it. Beat blocks, get off blocks, all those basic things.
Pondering Ponder
If the Bears indeed can continue their mastery over Peterson, the Vikings become the hunted. Quarterback Christian Ponder was knocked out of the second Bears game last year with a hip injury and has been wildly inconsistent through significant portions of this season.
Ponder started the season with completion percentages of 60 percent or better in the Vikings first six games. Minnesota won four of those. Then came three straight with sub-55 percentages and passer ratings in the 30s in two of the three. Then he put away the Detroit Lions with 24-of-32 passing in his last outing.
A defensive key will be pressuring Ponder on third downs where he ranks 27th in the NFL with a rating of 69.6.
That means Julius Peppers in Ponders eye and mind, which will be easier said than done if he lines up over rookie left tackle Matt Kalil.
Kalil has allowed just one sack and two hits all season, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live.

1. Anthony Davis

The five-time All-Star just continues to improve. While he's not averaging career-highs in any major category, no one's going to scoff at his 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and is on pace for a career-best in 3-pointers made, which is a pretty impressive statistic. Lauri Markkanen will have his hands full, and it may be in the Bulls' best interest to get Nikola Mirotic some early minutes to try and get physical with Davis. There's no real way to slow him down.

2. DeMarcus Cousins

And if the Bulls should so happen to get lucky and slow down Davis, there's another All-Star starter waiting alongside him. Boogie Cousins has been every bit as good as Davis this season, averaging 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 36 minutes. He's certainly not as efficient as Davis (47 percent from the field, 5.0 turnovers) but is deadly inside. He's shooting a career-best 52.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, and his 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks make him a serviceable defender (although the Bulls could certainly stretch their offense to make him work more).

3. Rajon Rondo

Rondo hasn't been great in his first season with the Pellies, but perhaps he's turning things around. Beginning with his absurd 25-assist game just after Christmas, Rondo is averaging 7.4 points, 8.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He's allowed Jrue Holiday to play more off the ball, and while his defense is nothing to write home about he's logging solid minutes for a Pelicans team woefully short in the backcourt.