Bulls

Irish D not fazed by Alabama's stout offensive line

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Irish D not fazed by Alabama's stout offensive line

Listen to the hyperbole, and one would think Alabamas offensive line is more like a steel-plated door that leads into a vault containing some of the world's most valuable diamonds. In other words, breaking through it would require some sort of Oceans 11 heist.

After Alabama lost to Texas A&M, plenty of many irate callers into the Paul Finebaum show lamented why the Tide decided to pass when facing a game-deciding series inside the Aggies red zone. You got the best offensive line in the history of college football, one caller shouted, so run the damn football!

Make no mistake, Alabamas offensive line is among the best in the country, if not sitting at the top of the heap. Barrett Jones is the nations best center and stands at 6-foot-5 and weighing over 300 lbs. -- so all Manti Teo could do was marvel at the senior when the pair were in Houston for the Lombardi Award ceremony last week.

Thats a big dude, Teo exclaimed.

But Notre Dames front seven wont look like a group of punters and kickers running into a group of five behemoths on Jan. 7. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are both products of SEC country, with the latter garnering plenty of support as an All-American defensive end alongside the often-unblockable Jadeveon Clowney. And Nix is a guy to whom some observers will throw a bit of credit for Teos outstanding season -- in fact, on Notre Dames third-and-inches stop of Stepfan Taylor on Oct. 13, Teo said Nix did most of the work, and all he had to do was give Taylor a little shove to keep him out of the end zone.

What I see is a big, physical Alabama offensive line, Nix said. Traditional, hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth, and thats what we expected, thats what we wanted because win or lose, itll better the team, itll be better me, itll better Tuitt, itll better everyone because a hard, physical game is what we need.

Kapron Lewis-Moore, Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Danny Spond -- these arent guys who are going to be easily stonewalled, either. Shembo in particular has shown an explosive ability to get to the quarterback at times, and its worth noting Alabamas offensive line has allowed 23 sacks -- a mediocre national total.

Going back to that point about Teos success in relation to his defensive tackle, Nixs matchup with Jones could be key in South Florida. Its one for which he began preparing while watching the SEC Championship at the beginning of the month.

Hes just a smart center. He knows how to play the game, obviously, because he played three positions on the O-line, Nix noted. It takes a real good guy to know how to play all three positions, so hes a real smart guy, real athletic, very strong at the point of attack. I just have to be ready for him.

Saying the BCS Championship will be won in the trenches isnt exactly exclusive, expert analysis. If Notre Dame can win the battle on the line of scrimmage, both while on offense and defense, theyll be in excellent shape on Jan. 7.

To be the best, you have to beat the best -- and thats the defending champs, who hail from a conference thats won the last six BCS titles. That team also happens to have an offensive line thatll present a major challenge to Notre Dame, but one the team is looking forward to.

Theyre considered the best O-line in the country, Nix said, so thats who we want to play.

On the other side...

Alabama got some good news Friday morning, as the SEC announced defensive tackle Quinton Dial will not be suspended for this hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray during the SEC Championship Dec. 1. The conference admitted a flag shouldve been thrown on the play, but commissioner Mike Slive decided against suspending Dial for the BCS Championship.

Dial, a 6-foot-6, 304-pound senior, totaled 20 tackles with 4 12 for a loss, 1 12 sacks and four QB hurries in 11 games this season.

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live.

1. Anthony Davis

The five-time All-Star just continues to improve. While he's not averaging career-highs in any major category, no one's going to scoff at his 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and is on pace for a career-best in 3-pointers made, which is a pretty impressive statistic. Lauri Markkanen will have his hands full, and it may be in the Bulls' best interest to get Nikola Mirotic some early minutes to try and get physical with Davis. There's no real way to slow him down.

2. DeMarcus Cousins

And if the Bulls should so happen to get lucky and slow down Davis, there's another All-Star starter waiting alongside him. Boogie Cousins has been every bit as good as Davis this season, averaging 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 36 minutes. He's certainly not as efficient as Davis (47 percent from the field, 5.0 turnovers) but is deadly inside. He's shooting a career-best 52.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, and his 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks make him a serviceable defender (although the Bulls could certainly stretch their offense to make him work more).

3. Rajon Rondo

Rondo hasn't been great in his first season with the Pellies, but perhaps he's turning things around. Beginning with his absurd 25-assist game just after Christmas, Rondo is averaging 7.4 points, 8.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He's allowed Jrue Holiday to play more off the ball, and while his defense is nothing to write home about he's logging solid minutes for a Pelicans team woefully short in the backcourt.