Cubs

Bulls look to extend home win streak on CSN

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Bulls look to extend home win streak on CSN

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 3:25 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

As the Bulls head down the regular-season home stretch and try to keep their hold on first place in the Eastern Conference, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose believes the team must concentrate their focus.

"Finishing on the right foot, making sure we finish positive. We dont want to take any steps back. Try to finish right. We should be playing our basketball right now, going into the playoffs and we should be playing with a lot of confidence," Rose emphasized as the team's primary goals. "Its hard. Right now, were just trying to keep things going. Were playing against good teams, were playing against teams thats fighting for their lives right now. Even against bad teams, theyre playing for their future. They want to let people know that they can play. Its hard, definitely, but I wouldnt trade this for anything."

In comparison to his first two seasons in the NBA--when the team sneaked through the back door to make the playoffs with a .500 record, garnering the eighth seed both seasons--the Bulls are sitting pretty, but don't expect Rose or his teammates to take their collective foot off the gas anytime soon.

READ: Derrick Rose to donate 1,000 per point to benefit Japan

"Everybody on the team has stepped it up a little bit. The way people have been playingour bench has been playing great, giving us the leadpeople have been stepping up their game, a lot of people," said Rose. "That's what we need on this team.

"We know, especially on the road, its going to be kind of crazy. Youre going to get everybodys best and you kind of get used to it. You cant come out sluggish. It makes you play kind of hard and aggressive," he went on to say. "It makes you ready to play in the games."

Unsurprisingly, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has been the prime source of the Bulls motivation, using his vast coaching experience as a reference point.

"Youre never going to stop hearing it from Thibs. He always says if we want to be this team we say we want ourselves to be, weve got to put a lot more things into it and thats what we have to do right now, keep pushing ourselves. We cant be satisfied with where we are right now and weve just got to keep going and pushing each other," said Rose. "He always tells us stories about the Knicks Thibodeau was a New York assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy, when the Knicks and Bulls were fierce rivals, saying that they were in a situation where guys werent playing up or certain plays that they didnt call defensively in that gamea Knicks gamewhere a guy didnt follow an assignment. It cost them a championship. He always throws things out there like that and makes you think about it."

WATCH: 'Bench Mob' unsung heroes of first-place Bulls

Not so ironically, Thibodeau's last stop--Boston--has been on Rose's mind lately, too; not just because the Celtics are currently chasing the Bulls for the East's top seed, but because the defensive schemes of the two teams are similar, and not by coincidence.

"Its kind of weird, definitely weird. Hell say something about them, how good they are and it makes you think about it. Were kind of like the same team, where we both over-help on the defensive side. Usually, people do that in college. Thats not normal NBA defense, Ill say. Most of the time, NBA teams leave you out on an island and us, we just help everywhere and we depend on each other," Rose observed. "Theyve Boston been in tough situations before. They play well together, kind of like us. We just keep fighting. No matter how much were down, its going to be a tough game. Right now, were just trying to win it out. If us winning gets us into the No. 1 spot, were fine with that, but if not, well still be thankful that were in the playoffs."

According to Rose, Thibodeau uses his insight into a championship squad--he was on Boston's staff for the 2008 Celtics title team--as a further reminder that the Bulls have work to do before matching that feat.

"He doesnt bring the Celtics championship ring, but he always saysif were messing around at practice or somethinghe always reminds us, if we want to be that team, we cant be doing what were doing. We cant take any steps back. Weve got to be playing with an edge every single game," Rose recounted. "If you want to win, youll do it or separate yourself from all the other teams in the NBA. Weve got good guys on the team. Theyre winners. Doing extra stuff, like shooting after practice, shooting before practice. When you come into practice, having the right attitude, making sure that you dont mess up practice. You dont want to be the one that messed up a whole practice because you messing up that practice, theres other teams that are having great practices in the NBA and that can put you back a little bit. We just try to come in, work every dayespecially defensivelytry to work hard and try to learn each other better on the defensive side."

Rose joked about Thibodeau's lack of a social life, but underneath the humor shone through an appreciation for the coach's dedication.

"Me and Joakim Noah were talking about that last night. I never played for a coach that was that focused. Theres nothing else. He has no kids, no wife, no leisure time just to watch TV. Im dead serious. Theres nothing else but winning. I never in my life played for a coach like that," Rose quipped. "Hes healthy, were winning, he seems like hes enjoying himself, so Im fine with it.

"Ive never heard about Thibs being out eating anywhere or ran into him eating him anywhere, ordont you know when you in the restaurant, theyre like, Your coach just leftnever. Never. No matter what city were in. I wont see him until the next day. Ive never been around a coach thats like that. Never. Or never met a coach thats like that I'll say," he continued. "He can keep it going. As long as were winning, he can keep it going."
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jon Graff, Matt Buckman and Scott Changnon rattle off their main takeaways from the weekend’s Cubs Convention, including the funniest moments and how the players engaged with fans and each other throughout the three days at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Plus, which players — besides Kyle Schwarber — made the most of the offseason and are primed for a breakout in 2018? The crew gives its take, with options including Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

Take a listen below:

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 effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several 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 (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 instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

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.