Bears

Bulls beaten at their own game by similarly-styled Grizzlies

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Bulls beaten at their own game by similarly-styled Grizzlies

MEMPHISBeaten at their own game. Monday nights 80-71 loss to the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum was the type of rugged, low-scoring, defensive-minded affair that the Bulls usually thrive in.

But against a team thats just as physical, feels like they should own the glass and has the depth to send waves of bodies against their opponents, as well as weather the storm through a rough start, the Bulls didnt have enough in the tank against Memphis.

The Bulls lost the battle of the boards for the third straight game and notched their lowest point total since scoring 67 points against Minnesota on Jan. 30, 2008.

But beyond that, the frustration and feeling of helplessness in the visitors locker room was palpable late Monday evening off of the famed Beale Street strip in the downtown section of the Bluff City.

The combination of frontcourt stars Zach Randolph and Marc Gasoldespite not having great offensive nightswearing the Bulls down inside as a major part of the Grizzlies 51-39 rebounding edge, underrated point guard Mike Conley Jr. and a bench featuring unlikely contributors like backup shooting guard Wayne Ellington and his trio of long bombs in the second quarter were key elements to the final result.

I think its always what we failed to do. Thats what you can control. I think our defense was pretty good. We just got out-rebounded. Weve got to do a better job of rebounding the ball as a team. We got a lot of good stops and then we ran in transition, Joakim Noah said afterwards.

Weve got to get better at scoring in transition. Were getting good stops and were getting out on the break, and were just not getting those easy points. Were turning the ball over a little bit too much on the break. If we can score on those, well be better.

Weve just got to get in the battle a little bit more. Theyre a great rebounding team. I think that the last game was a little bit different, he continued. Their physicality hurt us a little bit. Weve definitely got to a better job.

Its a step back because we lost. Thats the only reason why its a step back.

Kirk Hinrich added: They did a good job. We got off to a pretty decent start and we had some opportunities on the break we couldnt finish on. We struggled to get rebounds and struggled to score. We just didnt make shots tonight. Youve got to give them credit.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, never pleased after any defeat, seemed especially displeased with the aforementioned second stanza of the game.

I saw the second quarter was the problem. Outscored 28-14. Great first quarter, terrible second quarter. You dont rebound on the road, you dont take care of the ball, youre not going to win, he said. They play hard. Thats how they play. Youve got to take care of the ball and we didnt do that. Then, we didnt get back and got in a hole, big hole. The whole game changed in the second quarter.

We didnt cover the line, let guys get loose, not reading penetrating drives and flat drives, over-helping, not recognizing whats going on in the game, throwing possessions away. Cant do that, not against a quality team. Not against any team, Thibodeau continued, listing a litany of his teams failures and necessary adjustments.

When youre coming in, its going to be hard fought. Theyre a tough team, so youve got to fight, youve got to know what youre doing, youve got to make the right reads, youve got to sometimes give yourself up, youve got to cut with force, youve got to replace with force, youve got to make the right play, youve got to be willing to move the ball. When you do that, youre going to get good shots. When you dont do that, youre going to take tough shots.

However, as disappointed as the Bulls were with the loss, their opponents came away impressed. Randolph and Conley both shared their thoughts on the retooled Bulls, without superstar Derrick Rose, who played his lone season of college basketball in Memphis, with CSNChicago.com.

Obviously when youre missing an All-Star like Derrick, you cant really replace that with much in this league, but with Kirk and Nate, you know theyre going to try to run the offense and try to get other guys involved more. Theyre the Bulls not as point guard-oriented as they are with Derrick, so you just expect to not hit as many screens and not have to guard as much, Conley explained.

I think theyre one of the best defensive teams in the league. As long as you play D, you can beat anybody and regardless of who your personnel is, so with Derrick back, theyre one of the top teams in the East.

Randolph chimed in: Theyve got a good team. Theyve got Kirk running point. Kirk is solid. Theyre a good team and they can play. They play smart and theyve got a great coach.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for a perfectionist like Thibodeau, things look grim right now. But when have things ever been pretty for these Bulls, still a respected team in the NBA, a team that requires opponents to take their best shot and perhaps most importantly, a team that, for the most part, is in every game, every night, regardless of the caliber of the competition.

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds affected by first-year and first-time NFL coaches helming teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term. It was Brett Favre.

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of facing the 2015 Panthers.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.

Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites game coverage

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Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites game coverage

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland's top prep sports show, in the hands of area basketball fans in our "Viewers' Choice Game of the Week." Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSPreps) crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights and postgame reaction of that game will appear on that night's "High School Lites" broadcast at 11 p.m. The show also live streams at NBCSportsChicago.com/watchlive. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. the following Saturday. This week, it's all about powerful things coming in smaller packages. We're leaving the 4A schools for another week. It's time for some of the smaller schools to do battle: a West Side duel between Raby and Wells, a 'North vs. South' game with Ellison and Northtown and the Battle of Elmhurst featuring IC Catholic and Timothy Christian. Which game should we cover this week?

Raby at Wells, 5:00 p.m.

Ellison at Northtown, 6:30 p.m.

IC Catholic at Timothy Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Poll opens Tuesday at 12:00 p.m. and closes Thursday at 4 p.m. Here is what fans need to do to vote:

— Follow @NBCSPreps on Twitter.
— Note the "pinned Tweet" atop the @NBCSPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.
— Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @NBCSPreps just after 4 p.m. Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @NBCSPreps for updates on the "Viewers' Choice Game of the week," along with other high school sports news, scores and highlights this season.