Bears

Bulls pull out second consecutive OT win

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Bulls pull out second consecutive OT win

AUBURN HILLS, Mich.Who needs Websters to define letdown game when the Bulls, following a high-profile, thrilling triumph over the Heat at home Thursday, exemplified the phrase throughout much of Sunday evenings game against the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills?

Once again playing down to inferior competition, a pattern theyve followed throughout their successful season, the Bulls pulled out a 100-94 overtime road victory, a game in which Derrick Rose showed he was closer to returning to his reigning league MVP level, in part by draining a three-pointer to send the game into the extra period of play.

Rose (24 points, nine assists) quickly proved he was feeling better, as he opened the games scoring with a driving layup, then followed it up with a pull-up jumper, part of an 8-2 Bulls spurt to start the game before Pistons (22-38) head coach Lawrence Frank called a timeout to make adjustments.

Even aside from Rose, the Bulls (46-14) were a well-oiled offensive machine in the early going, as the All-Star point guard tried to return to his previous form, displaying explosiveness, making good decisions and getting in rhythm.

Joakim Noah (20 poins, 17 rebounds) was his active self, particularly on the offensive glass and Rip Hamilton (13 points)the longtime Piston was productive while engaged in a mini-duel with former teammate Rodney Stuckey (32 points)but Detroit didnt let things get out of hand, as second-year big man Greg Monroe (13 points, eight rebounds) kept the hosts within striking distance.

At the conclusion of the opening period, however, the visitors led, 26-19.

The unlikeliest of suspects, Pistons veteran reserve forward Charlie Villanueva (13 points)Luol Dengs high school teammate had played all of 40 minutes for the entire season, due to being in Franks doghouseturned the game around for the home team in the second quarter.

From offensive rebounds, to driving dunks and three-pointers, the disappointing free-agent acquisitionalong with former Bulls guard Ben Gordonfrom three summers ago looked rejuvenated and was the Pistons best offensive threat for the bulk of the period.

Chicago sacrificed the lead to the Pistons, but upon the reinsertion of the Bulls regulars by head coach Tom Thibodeau, the guests to the Palace of Auburn of Hills made a push to reclaim their advantage. Noah continued to kill the Pistons on the offensive boards and Rose again showed progress in his attempt to return to full strength, giving the Bulls a 49-41 edge at the intermission.

After the break, the Bulls lead ballooned to double figures behind the backcourt of Rose and Hamilton, as well as an improved defensive effort. Hamiltons exploits werent unfamiliar to his old team, as the veteran shooting guard knocked down mid-range and three-point jumpers alike, wriggled his way to the basket for layups and using his perpetual-motion style of play, led his defender around a maze of screens, while Rose maintained his aggressiveness in attacking the basket and also distributed the ball effectively as a playmaker.

But behind guards Stuckey, rookie point guard Brandon Knight (13 points, seven assists) and Gordon, a reserve, the Pistons climbed back into the game and tied it on a monster follow-up flush by Maxiell late in the third quarter.

Detroit went on to snatch the lead once again and through three quarters of play, the Bulls trailed by a 66-64 deficit.

Things didnt get any better at the beginning of the final stanza, as the Pistons increased the lead with contributions from reserve forwards Villanueva and Damien Wilkins, infuriating Thibodeau and leading to a Bulls timeout, as well as Roses return to the contest.

Rose made an instant impact as both a scorer and playmakerthough he launched his fourth airball of the contest, a product of rust, as he actually shot the ball fairly proficiently in the gameand combined with sharpshooter Kyle Korvers (13 points) outside marksmanship, the visitors made a run and the game escalated a notch after Villanuevas flagrant foul on Rose in transition, which was ruled a flagrant and led to Rose suffering a cut on his nose and Villanueva being assessed a technical for woofing with Rose after the play.

The officiating became increasing tight as the close-knit affair waned on, with both teams being called for fouls for even the slightest contact as the game entered its stretch run, and despite the Bulls blowing repeated chances to seize opportunities lateCarlos Boozers (15 points, nine rebounds) baseline jumper with under a minute remaining put the Bulls within a single point, but after a crucial defensive stop on the other end, he failed to convert inside; a questionable awarding of a timeout to the Pistons, then a five-second call on Deng on an inbounds play with 15 seconds to go didnt help mattersthe Bulls still had a chance.

Stuckey twice split a pair of free throws with under 20 seconds left and after the his second trip, Rose raced downcourt and knocked down a game-tying triple with 6.4 seconds left to the game at 86 apiece and send the contest into an extra session.

In overtime, Stuckeywho missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer in regulationtried his best to redeem himself for his previous failings, but the big-man tandem of Noah and Boozer delivered as the squads offensive focal points.

After Korvers long bomb made it a two-possession game, Noahs putback layup gave the Bulls a six-point lead with 29.9 seconds on the clock, giving the visitors the necessary breathing room to know that a crisis was averted, although Stuckey would attempt further late-game heroics and Detroit would send a parade of Bulls to the foul line in an attempt to extend the contest.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling.