Bulls

Frankie O: Worlds apart

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Frankie O: Worlds apart

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

At least in my sports life, worlds apart is how I would like it to be, unfortunately, its not going to happen. The problem with a sports affliction is that it wont go away, even if you move to a new city with plenty of issues in its own right. You dance with who brung ya. What happens eventually is that those worlds will collide, with the collateral damage ending up everywhere around you. As anyone who has read me before knows, moving to Chicago was never a part of the master plan. (Neither were my weight or age, but well have time for that later!) Life happens and then nothing else is the same. For me, Im never going to quit my teams, who would? As you would expect, my rooting interests has caused situations I could never have foreseen. Again, what else is new?

The Sixers-Bulls rivalry has been pretty much non-existent for my entire lifetime. My guess is that it will stay that way even whenever-next September-they start playing games again. Thats cool with me since out of the Chicago teams, the Bulls are the team I can openly root for, without feeling too much heat from my Philly brethren. It was awesome being here for the second Three-Peat. And Ill take D-Rose over Allen Emphasis on the I-version any day of the week.

The Phils and White Sox have played one inter-league series and I honestly cant remember who won. The part I do remember was that the game I went to was rained out, so I had to spend the rest of my evening at Jimbos Lounge on 32nd and Princeton. Oops! What happens at Jimbos stays at Jimbos! In the September make-up game I saw Joe Borchard hit the longest hit ball Ive ever seen live- it short-hopped the wall beyond the right field concourse- and that includes the Albert Pujols Show during the 2003 Home Run Derby at the Cell. As far as Cubs-Phillies, theyve gone back and forth over the years, with the Phills having a decided advantage lately, which definitely makes my work life a lot easier. But I dodged a huge bullet when the Cubs gagged against the Dodgers in 2008 preventing a NLCS clash for the ages. Everyone at the bar wished me well as the Phillies went on to the title, but I knew it had to hurt. Thats a feeling Im very familiar with.

Of course, for me, it never has been worse than the Flyers-Blackhawks Stanley Cup final to decide the champion of the 2009-10 season. The ups-and-downs were dizzying. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Im no Dickens, but it was Tale of Two Cities that even he could not have imagined. Thats as conflicted, well thats wrong, the conflict wasnt inside me, thats as awkward and tortuous a time as Ive ever had. There was the outcome, obviously, but also the fact that it happened over a span of two weeks. A lot of my friends here actually asked me who I was rooting for. Honestly? At least when Kaner asked me, he did it with a knowing smirk! It was as if I was supposed to turn off my lifetime of suffering with the Orange and Black. Most of the folks here though, didnt have a problem with me being a Flyers fan, especially after the Hawks won. Theres nothing like having a reminder of your teams success serving you a cold one.

And of course that brings us to the next big event on the Frankie O Armageddon Tour: Its Bears vs. Eagles on Monday Night Football. Actually, since Ive lived here the teams have played 10 times, with my Birds winning six, including a glorious stretch of five in a row. Recently though, the Bears have won 3 out of the last 4. Most importantly, in the only playoff encounter, Chicago native Donavan McNabb and the rest of the Eagles closed out the original Soldier Field with a 33-19 victory. Now that was a fun week. The similarity of the two major cities that I have called home is that they are sports-mad. The madness is most acute concerning their pro football teams. The weekly hype preceding a game only makes those fan bases more rabid. For Chicago its about being an original franchise and also being the home of the most dominant single team ever. (I wonder what year that was? LOL!) For Philly fans its about a bitter lifetime of defeat and disappointment. Oh, sure weve won it all: 50 years ago! See what I mean?

This Monday, for the third time ever on Monday Night Football, they will battle once again. Coincidentally, I was at the last Monday night game they played on September 12, 1994. I was already living with my future boss, who we all know is from the Southside, and had visited Chicago for the first time with her during the previous July, so I jumped at the opportunity to go to the game. This was during the infamous Rich Kottite era of Eagles football. The Eagles got out to a 30-0 lead. Game over, right? Not so fast. Eric Kramer threw 3 fourth quarter touchdowns, and had the Bears knocking on the door for another at the end of the game, but then the defense woke up and sealed the deal for a 30-22 victory. That Eagles team had a season much like that game. They started out 7-2, but then tried to hold on but could not, and lost their final seven and Kottites job. I couldnt get to Chicago fast enough! And I did, that next January.

So its only fitting that in their next Monday Night tilt that I will be there. I know there is the talk about Monday night games not being the same and I sort of agree. But what isnt the same is the broadcast. Back in the day it was about Frank Gifford(Before he was Mr. Kathy Lee), Dandy Don and Howard Cosell. In fact it was in Philly on a Monday night that Howard famously lost the alcohol laced contents in his stomach on the Dandaroos cowboy boots and was promptly removed from the broadcast. (What can I say? Watching Eagles games affects us all in different ways!) For a young NFL fan, the game, and its announcers were larger than life. Even though thats not the case now, I still love a great Monday matchup, and for me this is one. In a season full of must-wins, this is another, for both teams. Everyone wants to give me grief about the Dream Team moniker that came out of Vince Youngs mouth. A back-up QB that was run out of town from his last job! No real fan would ever say that, we know all too well how that kind of talk turns out. But like Mike Vicks past, we will always carry that with us until they finally do something. So far what they are best at is giving away the football and fourth quarter leads. But then something funny happened last Sunday night. The Eagles stopped turning the ball over, got out to an early lead, allowing them to play on both sides of the ball as they were designed for, and they destroyed what everyone thinks is a talented (I say perennially under-achieving) Dallas Cowboys team. Who are the Eagles? I have no idea. They have the ability to be whatever they want, Im just along for the ride.

As for the Bears, Ive felt that they have tried to fight who they are for a long time. This team has a defense that should allow the team to be in every, or most, games. Its a defense built on patience and forcing turnovers. When they get turnovers, like everyone else, theyre tough to beat. But a lack of a pass rush in this league will get you lit up and against the high-powered New Orleans and Green Bay offenses, this was the case. In fact, in two games, wins, they had 10 sacks, and in the other five games they had 5 sacks, in which they were lucky to go 2-3. So which defense are they? That too, remains to be seen. But I will always question their offensive play-calling and philosophy. I know that comes as a shock! With this offensive line, and the caliber of running back Matt Forte they need to be a run-first offense. (Get off the bus RUNNING!) But sometimes their play-calling is mystifying. Well, maybe not. Mike Martz wants to drop back seven steps in the pocket and throw to a particular spot. The problem is a) These drops frequently get his QB killed and b)His QB is more accurate and has a higher QB rating when he moves OUTSIDE the pocket and c) You need to have receivers who know where that spot is that they need to be and have the ability to catch the ball, not drop it or let a defensive back take it away from them, when they get there. I honestly even less of an idea which Bears team will show up in a given week, although I think it was after taking their bye last year they were able to have a very accurate self-evaluation and played much more to their strengths on their run to the NFC championship game.

So what will happen Monday night? Well one thing, Frankie O is going to have a good time leading up to, during and hopefully, after the game. Among the things I know will happen: I will have at least 2 cheesesteaks during my visit. I will enjoy harassing my Chicago brethren and any other tourists I witness running up the art museum steps in front of the Rocky statue. And I will enjoy the constant complaining in the stands that accompanies any misstep the Eagles make during the game.(Did somebody say boo?) Some things never get old!

And for the game itself? I think the Bears play it close to the vest and feature a heavy dose of Matt Forte, exposing the weakness the Eagles have at the linebacker position. On defense Brian Urlacher will continue to haunt Mike Vick into the mistakes that will be the difference in the game. Final Bears 27-20.

Of course, I could be wrong, wouldnt be the first time. If you cant watch the game, to find out what happened, just come into the bar Tuesday night, the expression on my face and the banter over the bar will tell you all you need to know.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.