Cubs

No joke: Thunder blow out Bulls

719842.png

No joke: Thunder blow out Bulls

OKLAHOMA CITYOn April Fools Day, the joke wasnt just on the Bulls (42-12), they were the joke, as the Thunder (40-12) absolutely demolished them in Sundays marquee matchup, 92-78, a score that was closer than the actual affair, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Undermanned as always, the Bulls typical road toughness, defensive fortitude and overall pride were all almost completely absent, a rarity under Tom Thibodeau, in a game billed as an NBA Finals preview between the best teams in their respective conferences.

The potent All-Star duo of Kevin Durant (26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, five assists, four steals) got the Thunder off to a quick start, putting the Bulls in an 8-2 hole to begin the game. But the visitors fought their way back into the contest behind the interior play of Carlos Boozer (eight points, 10 rebounds) and the outside marksmanship of Kyle Korver (14 points, four assists), who started at shooting guard in place of Ronnie Brewer.

Thibodeau changing the starting lineup and thus, affecting his usual rotation notwithstanding, a familiar formula of inside-out offense, a strong effort on both ends of the glass and the correct defensive adjustments had the undermanned guests in rhythm, if still trailing. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls were down, 27-20, following a late-quarter three-pointer from Thunder sixth-man extraordinaire James Harden (11 points).

Contributions from reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, 11 rebounds) and starting point guard C.J. Watson starting in place of the injured Derrick Rose, who missed his 10th consecutive game with a strained right groin helped Chicago further narrow the gap, but the latter picking up his second foul briefly put a halt to the momentum.

Propelled by the relentless scoring of the aforementioned Durant and Westbrook Westbrook, Roses summer workout partner, drew Watsons third foul, forcing Thibodeau to turn to John Lucas III (19 points, four assists) and the interior defense of starters Serge Ibaka (nine points, six rebounds, five blocked shots) and Kendrick Perkins, as well as veteran backups Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed, a Chicago native, the Thunder built a double-digit lead.

However, led by Lucas instant-offense game, Boozers efficiency and Korvers shooting, the Bulls again trimmed the gap, making it a close-knit affair once again. But lapses on both ends toward the end of the half allowed the hosts to end the second quarter with the games momentum, sending the Bulls into the intermission with a 49-39 deficit.

After the break, Oklahoma City blitzed Chicago right out of the gates, going on a 15-2 run that was mostly propelled by the shared brilliance of Durant and Westbrook, both of whom the Bulls simply had no answers for. From contested jumpers to fast-break alley-oops, the Thunder seemingly got whatever they wanted against the Bulls vaunted defense and on the other end of the court, Chicago endured one of the offensive droughts they periodically suffer through.

Things didnt get any easier for the usually tough-minded Bulls as the third quarter waned on, as the Thunders lead continued to balloon and the separation between the two squads grew to an insurmountable margin. The situation incredibly became more disastrous, symbolized by a late-period Westbrook posterization of Omer Asik, and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were behind, 80-51.

Both Thibodeau and Thunder head coach Scott Brooks tacitly agreed that the game was over to begin the fourth quarter, with each coach sending in their deep reserves at the periods outset. Regardless of who was on the floor, it didnt matter with the laugher of a contest decided long beforehand and the Bulls frankly outclassed in every aspect of the game.

With the devastating loss behind them, the Bulls return to Chicago to host the Houston Rockets Monday at the United Center and will likely be without Rose, though Hamilton could be back in action, if Thibodeau deems the veteran ready to play. A more pressing concern, however, is to ensure the bad taste of Sundays loss doesnt linger, as the Bulls displayed glaringly poor body language and appeared to have a defeatist attitude, things that simply havent occurred under Thibodeau.

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

davemartinezcubs.png
AP

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

zachlavinebulls.png
USA TODAY

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”