Fire

Noah's versatile O gives Bulls options

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Noah's versatile O gives Bulls options

For what could be the first time in his NBA career, Joakim Noah has plays drawn up for him in the Bulls offense.

Just dont expect him to give away any teasers before tonights home opener.

Carlos Boozer said yesterday the Bulls have been running plays for Noah in practice as part of the Bulls attempt to make up for life without Derrick Rose. But when asked, Noah wouldnt give any clues to what that may include on his end.

Im not gonna give it away the day before the game, Noah joked.

Noah, a career 8.9 point-per-game scorer, cant pick up the scoring load on his own. He knows he is just one player who will be asked to take more shot attempts.

He got his start during the preseason, averaging 10.4 points on 49 percent shooting in just under 28 minutes per game. He was one of six Bulls to average between 9 and 15 points per game during the preseason.

Everybodys gonna have to contribute with Derrick out, guys are gonna have to probably contribute more offensively. There will be more shots out there. But its on everybody to step up and hold the fort down until he comes back.

But Noah took the initiative this offseason, spending time with Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, working on his post moves and, specifically, the sky hook Abdul-Jabbar made famous during his illustrious, 20-year career.

It was an unbelievable experience, just learning from him, Noah said. Somebody who has not only an unbelievable player but somebody who did a lot of great things off the court. Just being able to spend some time with him and listen to him, it was really interesting. But its not in a week that you learn how to make a sky hook. Theres a reason why hes the last one to ever do a sky hook. But the way he practiced was very different, pretty unique.

While Noah worked on his post-game away from the Berto Center, Noah has improved his mid-range game as well.

Per Basketball Reference, Noah took 101 shots (20.6 percent of his total) outside of nine feet last year. 15.6 percent of his shots came from 10 feet or farther in 2010. And while 20 percent of his shots were in the mid-range area in 2009, just 1.9 percent came from 10-feet extended his rookie season.

As Noah improves and becomes more comfortable with his mid-range game, that number and percentage once again could increase in 2012.

Hes very improved. I think his experience, hes always been a hard worker. You see the passion he plays with. Hes always gonna go give you 120 percent but his skill has gotten better, Noah said. Hes worked on his game, you guys saw during the preseason how consistent his jump shot is. His 15-to-17 footer looks great. His left-hand drive, hes finishing more. Hes an improved basketball player.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16