Cubs

Bulls, Lucas III stun Heat without Rose

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Bulls, Lucas III stun Heat without Rose

So much for the bogus theory that the Bulls are all Derrick Rose and a bunch of nobodies, something that should have been dismissed long ago in the first place.

It was just a regular-season game, so lets keep things in perspective, but although the Bulls (36-9) 106-102 win over the rival Heat (31-11) Wednesday night at the United Center, without the leagues reigning MVP in the lineup, may not have been enough to erase the memory of last springs playoff loss, it certainly went a long way in changing the perception that the team is a one-man gang, as the unlikeliest of heroes, John Lucas III, led the way.

Without Rose, the Bulls relied on their typically excellent ball movement and their unselfishness paid off in the form of easy layups and dunksswingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points, six rebounds), in particular, was a prime beneficiarywhile making timely defensive plays to propel the home team to a slim cushion early in the contest.

The visitors, lustily booed by the raucous crowd, struck back behind their two superstars, LeBron James (35 points) and Dwyane Wade (36 points), who each hit a variety of contested degree-of-difficulty shots.

That trend continued for Miami, as the All-Star wing duo provided the guests only offense in the opening period, although team defense and a slight edge on the glass made up for the lack of secondary scoring.

A gimpy C.J. Watson (11 points), starting on place of Rose while playing on a clearly tender left ankle, gutted out a solid initial stint, while Carlos Boozer played a strong all-around frame and his backup, Taj Gibson (eight points, eight rebounds), provided energy off the benchas did rookie Jimmy Butler (eight points), who fared well guarding James for a spellbut the Bulls trailed, 23-19, after a quarter of play.

Gibson, coming off one of his best efforts of the season Monday evening against his hometown Knicks, continued to spark the Bulls early in the second quarter, helping the squad regain the lead with big finishes, relentless rebounding and by providing a defensive presence.

He received help from a modified Bench Mobfeaturing Butler, who drove to the basket with abandon in transition, sharpshooter Kyle Korvers (12 points) outside marksmanship and backup center Omer Asik, who energized the building with a deft save of a loose ball before it went out of bounds, followed by a tip-in on the other endand the hosts obtained some breathing room, though Miamis third All-Star, Chris Bosh (12 points), began to contribute.

Upon Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserting his starterswith the exception of Watson; John Lucas III (24 points, 8-for-12 shooting, 3-for-5 from three-point range) remained in the contestthe Bulls immediately stretched the spread to double digits, as All-Star Luol Deng (11 points, five rebounds), in his first game back after a two-game absence to rest his ailing right wrist, knocked down a triple, and Joakim Noah (14 points, six rebounds) absolutely posterized Heat center Joel Anthony.

Lucas, however, was the star of the show, as the diminutive floor general not only acquitted himself much better than he did when he last played against the Heat, but went above and beyond, knocking down three consecutive long bombs, including two three-pointers, to give the Bulls a comfortable lead, though a furious Heat run, fueled by James, cut the lead to 53-42 at the intermission.

Following the break, an expected Miami spurt took place early in the third period, but while the Bulls withstood the visitors initial push, the Heat gradually decreased the deficit, as a dominant James and increasingly efficient Wade went to work.

But the hosts refused to fade away and with timely scoring from the likes of Brewer and Watson, as well as continued hustle plays and strong team defense, they not only maintained their advantage, but built it back up to double digits again.

Deng and Noah, two of the teams normal starters, also imposed their will on the contest by becoming more assertive on offense, while consistently making hustle plays and getting defensive stops, all of which contributed to the Bulls advantage further ballooning. Thibodeau again went to his reserves, keeping Deng on the floor, and they responded, as they limited the Heat defensively and headed into the final stanza with an 81-70 advantage.

The balanced-attack Bulls continued to withstand the Heats repeated pushes, with solid rebounding, defense and unselfish offense leading the way, not to mention individual scoring plays at critical junctures from the likes of Deng and even the rookie Butler.

Once again, however, Lucas carried the Bulls offensively, seemingly scoring at willeven when guarded by James, the same strategy Miami used to stymie Rose in last springs Eastern Conference Finalsto hold off both an impressive individual run by Wade and a Heat comeback, at least as the game entered its stretch run.

Noah came up big late, finishing point-blank shots in traffic with contact, but Wade continued to exercise his will and on the other end, James blanketed the much smaller Lucas to get the ball out of his hands.

But the Bulls came up big when it counted most, as Korver knocked down four free throws and Lucas, the hero sealed the deal with a pair of shots from the charity stripe with six seconds to go, offsetting Heat designated marksman James Jones two late triples, allowing the Bulls to prevail and the unexpected to occur.

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Javy Baez, the Cubs' versatile King of Swag

Even his teammates are having a hard time wrapping their minds around Javier Baez, the farmer.

Anthony Rizzo asked the flashy infielder before one of the panels this weekend at Cubs Convention, “What is it you do exactly? Feed chickens?”

The exchange garnered a good laugh from the crowd, but let’s be honest: only Baez could make feeding chickens look as cool as feeding a double play ball at Wrigley. Having asked at least 10 different Cubs players this weekend which teammate has the most swag, it was always Baez. And there was never any hesitation. 

Like the bling that hangs around his MLB logo-tatted neck, Baez dazzles on the field as well. His tags are a thing of beauty. You can just imagine young ballplayers around Chicago imitating the swipe, much like a Michael Jordan fadeaway jumper. Whether manning second or short, the 25 year-old All-Star has become a must-see defensive player.

Last season Baez took over at shortstop as Addison Russell dealt with a strained right foot/plantar fasciitis problem. In 30 games Baez thrived at his natural position, so much so he left some wondering if the Cubs would consider flipping Russell back to second base.

Baez has the more traditional, powerful shortstop arm, but Theo Epstein will tell you when you look at Russell’s defensive rankings compared to other shortstops, he’s a special player in his own right as well.

One thing’s for sure: the Cubs are fortunate to have that kind of depth up the middle. Joe Maddon made it clear last September that without the play of Baez, it’s doubtful the team would have been in position to clinch the division.

“We have two legitimate shortstops," Maddon said. "It’s very unusual to have that.”

Sure, a great problem to have. But how does it play out for the Cubs when all is said and done?

Does Baez take over at short with Russell moving to second, or is it Maddon having a tough conversation with Ben Zobrist and plugging No. 9 in as his everyday second baseman? There's Ian Happ, too. Is he the Cubs' second baseman of the future with Russell/Baez being the trade chip that lands a frontline starter?

All viable options, but just for fun in the video above we put Baez on the spot at Cubs Convention and asked him: Are you a shortstop playing second, or a second baseman playing short?”

He flashed a big grin and said a second baseman playing short. In other words, he gets it.

His bling doesn’t blind him from being a team player. "El Mago," the magician, knows his time is coming. A process that will begin in a few weeks when the Cubs report to Mesa.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?