White Sox

No joke: Thunder blow out Bulls

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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.

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

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USA TODAY

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

The 2017-18 baseball offseason continues to be, well, the 2017-18 baseball offseason, even with spring training games being played in Arizona and Florida.

A bunch of names remain on the free-agent market, including All-Star players who thought they would be in for big multi-year contracts. But as teams continue to deny the wishes of guys who expected to get big deals, the suggestion that those players might end up needing to take one-year offers if they want to play during the 2018 season is becoming a more common talking point.

So with potential bargains to be had for some pretty big-name players, do the White Sox jump into the waters and try to lock up a potential future piece on the cheap? Though they aren’t expected to contend this season, the White Sox have been mentioned in a pair of recent reports surrounding a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez.

MLB.com's Jon Morosi wrote last week that the White Sox are a potential fit for Moustakas, who has sat and watched as former Kansas City Royals teammate Eric Hosmer received a huge contract from the San Diego Padres. Moustakas set a new Royals record last season with 38 home runs but has yet to find a team.

The White Sox, connected to Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado earlier this offseason, seem to have a current big leaguer or highly ranked prospect locked into almost every position on the diamond for the foreseeable future, but third base isn't necessarily one of them. Jake Burger was last year’s top draft pick, though there’s speculation he could slide over to first base. The team still envisions him as a big league third baseman, for what it’s worth.

Moustakas is 29 and already has seven big league seasons under his belt, including a pair of All-Star appearances and a pair of trips to the World Series, including the Crowns’ championship back in 2015. His 38 homers and 85 RBIs in 2017 were both career highs. He slashed .272/.314/.521, the final of those three numbers the best mark of his career.

Moustakas has rarely hit for average or reached base at too high a clip, though those recent power numbers would be intriguing at a hitter-friendly park like Guaranteed Rate Field, where he has 10 career dingers, 26 career RBIs and a .249/.308/.456 career slash line as a visitor.

Certainly Moustakas would be a buzz-worthy addition, and if the White Sox could get him for a good value thanks to this slow-moving market, that adds incentive to bring him aboard. A short contract would have even more incentive for the rebuilding White Sox, who would have the option to either sign him to a long-term deal or deal him away in a deadline deal depending on his immediate production levels.

But for fans hoping the White Sox will spend big on a third baseman in one of the next two offseasons — Machado is a free agent next winter, and Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado is set to hit the market the winter after next — slotting in an outside addition at the hot corner now could impact those plans.

Gonzalez is a completely different story, a three-time All Star during his 10-year big league career who is just three seasons removed from a 40-homer campaign in 2015. The 32-year-old Gonzalez also has a trio of Gold Gloves to go along with his 215 career home runs. FanRag’s Jon Heyman listed the White Sox as a possible landing spot for CarGo this weekend.

But his walk year in Colorado was not a very good one by his standards. In 136 games for a Rockies team that ended up in the playoffs, he slashed .262/.339/.423, all those averages way down from his usual level of production. And his power numbers plummeted to 14 homers and 57 RBIs after he combined for 65 homers and 197 RBIs in 2015 and 2016.

The good news for the White Sox is that down year makes Gonzalez far more affordable. Should he command only a one-year contract, the White Sox could take a flier, stick him in the outfield — which still has an unresolved spot with few strong offensive options for center field — and trade him should he bounce back in a big way. Or, at 32, perhaps he’s a guy the White Sox could opt to keep around should he prove valuable and the rebuild continues to move along ahead of schedule.

Gonzalez seems the less risky move at this point, as Moustakas could still be looking for a multi-year contract. But the White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility and flexibility in their decision-making should they add either guy and he proves worthy of a midseason deal or a long-term look.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”