Cubs

Starting Five: Bulls at Rockets

Starting Five: Bulls at Rockets

Tuesday, Nov. 16, 20102:29 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1) Brad Miller acknowledged Houstons injury issues, as well as the teams reputation for role players stepping up even when short of bodies.

It is what it is," he said. "That situation is a little bit of whatever. People always say Houstons always blessed with injuries at some point and I had mine. They said welcome to the team when I turned my ankle. It just seems like the curse of this team, but guys keep stepping up.

Youve got Kyle Lowry at point instead of Aaron Brooks, that changes the team -- Im not saying good or bad, just changes the team. With Yao not out there, it changes the team. So weve just got to be ready to play, like, 20 different styles with all the different lineups that we throw out there.

2) Ishmael Smith, an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest (where the rookie played with Bulls forward James Johnson) isnt putting up gaudy numbers, but has opened some eyes with his game-changing speed in the absence of Brooks, the former Most Improved Player.

It has been an adjustment, the difference from college to the NBA ... its been going well so far," Smith, who earned a spot on the team by virtue of a strong summer-league performance in Las Vegas, told CSNChicago.com after Tuesdays shootaround. "Im just trying to work hard and continue to work on the things I need to work on and get better at the things I guess Im pretty good at.

You never hope injuries happen to anybody and we all hope Aaron comes back with a speedy recovery because were going to need him, but Im just trying to hold the fort, do it whatever it takes to get wins while Im out there and not do anything too crazy.

3) Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is regarded as a key to Yao Mings early NBA development, as he spent countless hours with the center working on his game. Therefore, he better than anybody understands how the Rockets attack changes with the All-Star out of the lineup.

Yao has missed -- unfortunately for him and their team -- games, so I think they have gotten used to playing without him. I think the hardest thing for them at the start is readjusting, where Yao was only playing half the game because they were playing two different styles, said Thibodeau before Tuesdays shootaround. When you have a primary low-post scorer like Yao, it does kind of change the way you play. So now their bigs are up higher -- more in the high-post area -- so it sets up their cutting game, and theyre a great cutting team. Youve got to concentrate on your body position because the low blocks, at times, are not going to be occupied. If you dont have good body position, theyre going to get back cuts and layups, and you cant allow that.

4) With a seven-game road trip and eight newcomers on the team, the Bulls are using their off time spent together as an opportunity to bond.

People have video-game systems. I gave Taj my traveling Xbox. Its like a TV and an Xbox in a suitcase, so we could be playing that -- playing Call of Duty, whatever -- but somehow weve got to get closer, said Derrick Rose after Tuesdays shootaround.

Its going to be good," added Luol Deng. "At the end of the two weeks, well get tired of each other, but its really good for the team, spending a lot of time together.

5) Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?