Cubs

Bulls win dogfight against rival Bucks to snap losing streak

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Bulls win dogfight against rival Bucks to snap losing streak

MILWAUKEETo snap the first three-game losing streak of the Tom Thibodeau era, the Bulls (6-6) relied on two elements that have been there for them since the coach first arrived in Chicago: Defense and rebounding. After trying to keep up with the up-tempo Bucks (6-5) initially, the Bulls went back to the basics and behind a Rip Hamilton flashback performance and a monster night from Carlos Boozer, they won a dogfight of a 93-86 game against their Central Division rival Saturday night at the Bradley Center.

Propelled by point guard Brandon Jennings (23 points, seven assists, five steals), who played like he was happy not to see injured Bulls superstar matching up against him, the Bucks started out on the right note, effectively pushing the pace, as theyve done early this season. Countering for the visitors was Hamilton (22 points), who attacked Milwaukees smallish guardsMonta Ellis (17 points) picked up a pair of quick fouls and was hit with a technical on his way off the courtin the post and via his trademark mid-range jumper.

The Bulls had their own foul difficulties, as starters Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich each picked up two fouls in the opening period, but managed to stay in the game, as forwards Boozer (22 points, 19 rebounds) and Luol Deng (14 points, eight rebounds) were productive. However, the up-and-down pace favored the hosts, who adopted an up-tempo style to favor their explosive scoring backcourt, and without stout defense to set the tone, the Bulls trailed, 30-28, through a quarter of play.

Milwaukee built a slight cushion early in the second quarter, as reserves like young big men Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, as well as veteran backup guard Beno Udrih and Ellis, who had returned to the contest, all made an impact. Bulls backup swingman Jimmy Butler, who apparently has earned a more increased role in the rotation, provided energy and was even a primary offensive option for a stretch.

Toward the end of the first half, the contest evolved into a fast-paced shootout, featuring the quick triggers of Jennings and Ellis on one end, while the Bulls, also pushing the tempo, but playing a bit more methodically against Milwaukees set defense, leaned on Boozers interior game and Hamilton, who looked to be in his vintage Pistons contender heyday form. At the intermission, the game was deadlocked at 52 all.

After the break, the Bulls were successful in slowing down the Bucks and forcing them to play against a set defense, resulting in less easy scoring opportunities, although Jennings still converted some high degree-of-difficulty shots and starting forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Tobias Harris were also contributors. However, Milwaukee also clamped down on the defensive end, ensuring that the game remained a close-knit affair, despite the continued efforts of Hamilton and Boozer, in addition to Noah, who was attempting to make up for his foul-related first-half troubles.

One of the Bulls constant issues throughout the young season, turnovers, made a third-quarter appearance and although the Bucks didnt immediately capitalize on all of their guests miscues, ball security was quite the momentum killer for the visitors. Still, it remained a back-and-forth contest, and with Deng stepping up in various ways, Butler and Taj Gibson, Noah playing with his typical energy and the entire group making key defensive stops to close out the period, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 72-69 advantage.

The visitors, utilizing a defensive-oriented lineup, held on to their slight edge early in the games final frame, before going back to more scoring-proficient starters Boozer and Hamilton, illustrating the unsettled nature of the Bulls rotation, at least down the stretch of games. Milwaukee relied on its guard triostarters Jennings and Ellis, as well as key reserve Udrih, who made timely shots before giving way to the explosive aforementioned duofor point production, while Boozer emerged as a catalyst for the Bulls, with both his scoring and dominant work on the glass.

As crunch time in the contest approached, the Bulls past staplesdefense and reboundingcame through for them in the clutch, as a crucial Deng tip-in, defensive and stops were major moments late, while Boozer fittingly sealed the deal with a monster follow-up dunk with 29.8 seconds left, giving the visitors a 89-85 lead. Adding insult to injury, on the ensuing possession, after missing a shot, Jennings crumpled to the floor in a heap, apparently suffering an ankle injury and getting carried off the court by his teammates before the Milwaukees last-gasp and ultimately failed attempt at a comeback.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?