Bulls

Del Negro beats the odds with Clippers

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Del Negro beats the odds with Clippers

The world works in mysterious ways sometimes. How else to explain former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro and the Clippers moving on to the second round of the playoffs and the Bulls, along with Tom Thibodeau -- the fastest NBA head coach to 100 wins and owner of the league's best record in two consecutive seasons -- already being on vacation?

Circumstances have something to do with it, of course, as Thibodeau's Bulls were snake-bitten by injuries and Del Negro's Clippers feature All-Star Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul, third in the recent league MVP voting, but still, it's ironic that a coach ran out of Chicago and considered to be a lame-duck coach earlier this season, has taken a moribund franchise to the second round of the postseason. It just proves how much things can change in a matter of weeks in the results-oriented NBA, where perception is everything and a Bulls team expected to contend for a title is at home and the Clippers, predicted by most to be bounced out of the opening round, are still competing.

Give Del Negro credit, especially for the way his team won Game 7 on the road, in a hostile environment, against a favored Memphis squad that was supposedly too tough for his "Lob City" crew. Despite his talented co-stars being hobbled by injuries, the Clippers persevered and Del Negro went to the bold move of riding his bench in the second half of a physical, defensive-minded game.

Rather than Paul and Griffin taking over, the likes of veteran blue-collar types Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin, midseason acquisition Nick Young, known for gunning when he was with a sad-sack Washington team and fearless second-year guard Eric Bledsoe carried the Clippers down the stretch, beating the Grizzlies at their own game. How the Clippers will fare against the team Del Negro once played for, top-seeded San Antonio, is a different story, but a job that many observers thought would be vacant come the offseason now looks like it will have continuity, as Del Negro will likely have to receive a contract extension for his success.

Meanwhile, Thibodeau faces questions for his game management, including injuries suffered by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah during the Bulls' first-round playoff series defeat to Philadelphia, and is still awaiting the organization picking up his option for the 2012-13 season, a likely occurrence, though a long-term extension might not be quickly forthcoming. That might not be fair, but that's life, especially in the NBA, where fortunes can turn as quickly as a torn ACL, turned ankle and in some cases, a couple of years, a cross-country move, a blockbuster trade for a superstar and one successful playoff series.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.