Bulls

Fire prepare for third game in nine days

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Fire prepare for third game in nine days

Defensively, the Fire was just fine in Wednesday nights 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park, and thats encouraging given the fact that coach Frank Klopas went with a rookie in the back again and had to use a sub back there as well.

Klopas gave Austin Berry his second straight start as a central defender. Berry, the clubs first-round pick in the last Major League Soccer SuperDraft, saw his first game action in Saturdays 2-1 road win over Chivas USA because Jalil Anibaba was serving a one-game suspension.

Anibaba was available this time, but Klopas went with Berry again and it proved a smart decision because Berry was designated as the Man of the Match.

"The team went on the road and won, and I didnt want to change anything," said Klopas, in explaining his decision to stick with Berry.

Anibaba got into the match anyway, in the 51st minute when Klopas felt there was a problem with Dan Gargan on the right side.

"He a warrior, but hes been fighting through certain things and he grabbed his leg," said Klopas. "I wanted fresh legs on that side."

So, Anibaba helped the Fire finish out the first clean sheet of the season for Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson who had played four matches without getting one. The Fire (3-2-3) had just one previous shutout, with Paolo Tornaghi in the nets in the second game of the season on March 24.

Johnson, who played well during some trying times for the team the past two seasons, got his career MLS record above .500 (15-14-16) with his 11th career shutout.

But the play of the four in front of him is noteworthy, since the Fire lost two of last years central defenders, Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta, in the offseason and mainstay Cory Gibbs to knee surgery after the season started. Arne Friedrich, the German veteran, is still rounding into shape after not playing for six months.

"It (his fitness) is getting better every game. A couple more and I should be 100 percent," Friedrich said.

Even in less than ideal shape and playing beside an inexperienced partner, Friedrich likes what hes seeing with the Fire backliners.

"Playing with Austin is perfect," said Friedrich. "Hes very disciplined and organized on the pitch and very good on headers. Everybody know what everybody else is doing."

"Arne is easy to talk to," chimed in Berry. "The whole back line has done a good job communicating and we got the shutout this time a good showing by us."

Enough for the good stuff.

The Fire still could get the goal that would have produced a big victory over the best time in the Western Conference on a night when long-time defensive stalwart C.J. Brown was inducted into the coveted Ring of Fire. Brown is now an assistant coach for RSL (7-3-2) despite getting some great chances.

Dominic Oduros header off the crossbar in the fourth minute set the disappointing tone for the Fire offensively, and Marco Pappa and Rafael Robayo had good chances as the match progressed. The Fire has nine goals in its eight MLS matches and was blanked for the second time on Wednesday, the middle game of its first busy stretch of the season.

The Fire completes a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch on Saturday when Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City (7-2-0) comes to Bridgeview.

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.