Bulls

Against NBA's elite, Bulls must be almost perfect

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Against NBA's elite, Bulls must be almost perfect

It was one of those losses that afterwards, the reasons for it were given in a code of sorts. After his teams 94-89 loss to the Clippers at the United Center, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau talked about dancing with the ball and staying disciplined, the type of thing coaches say about teams that are either mistake-prone or outclassed.

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In the Bulls case its more the latter when facing the leagues elite, such as the Clippers, their opponent Tuesday evening. When the Bulls dont execute to near-perfection on both ends of the floor and key players like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have off nights scoring the ball, they face an uphill battle against even moderately talented squads, let alone the high-flying bunch thats attempting to become Los Angeles true glamour team.

Offensively, despite Deng and Noah not giving them much, the Bulls compensated for it with a surprise performance from long range -- one of the NBAs worst three-point shooting teams, they were 10-for-20 from deep Tuesday -- and on the defensive end, mostly fared well against their explosive foes. But a crucial stretch before halftime during which the Clippers Lob City moniker became accurate, as well as fourth-quarter lapses and of course, their season-long ball-security issues rearing its ugly head spelled defeat for the Bulls.

"They just made tough plays," Taj Gibson said. "It seemed like we were in the hunt, we cut it down to a couple points, but Blake and Chris just made tough plays. Matt Barnes played a great game and weve just got to do better closing out quarters and finishing games."

"We were disappointed, especially in that second quarter. The momentum changed, we didnt close out the right way. They got a lot of dunks, got a lot of momentum going, especially in the half-court set.

Every loss is tough to get over, especially at home. But weve got to put it behind us. Weve got a lot of games still to come. Weve got to leave tonight, get on a plane, play Philly Wednesday, then come back, play Brooklyn.

Gibsons sentiments were echoed by his teammates throughout the Bulls locker room. But in reality, while they battled valiantly, this isnt one of the games on the schedule that most observers would pencil in a "W" in the win-loss column.

Coming off Saturdays home win against the Knicks -- sans Carmelo Anthony, though that isnt an excuse because New York defeated defending-champion Miami on the road, without the superstars services -- the Bulls were deservedly flying high and despite the late start to the contest, they hung tough with the Pacific Division leaders all night.

But already missing injured point guard Derrick Rose, as well as a proven veteran scoring presence in sidelined shooting guard Rip Hamilton, maybe its expecting too much to think that these Bulls will come out on top in marquee, primetime showdowns with the leagues best.

Sure, their defense has made great strides as of late -- Noah has elevated his game, Deng has shown that hes capable of being a go-to player, sharpshooter Marco Belinelli has found his groove as a starter and the second unit is starting to come around -- but even with all of that going for them, over the course of an 82-game regular season there will be nights when they execute Thibodeaus game plan to the best of their abilities, enough to beat most opponents, higher-level foes will simply overwhelm them when it counts.

That isnt to say they should take a defeatist approach (as recent examples like the Miami Heat losing to the lowly Washington Wizards show). Instead, the Bulls should take heart in the fact their defense alone can beat truly inferior teams and depending on performance, they have a right to think they can beat middle-of-the-pack clubs. They know from the experience of winning the most regular-season games over the past two seasons that when a superior team, laden with firepower and having designs on bigger fish decides to finally put its foot down, sometimes theres nothing that can be done about it.

Thats what eventually happened Tuesday with the Clippers depth -- another aspect of the loss that could be hauntingly familiar to Thibodeau when he reviews the tape, after having one of the NBAs top benches prior to this season -- putting the visitors over the top.

But as players are fond of saying, the best thing about this league is that the games come so quickly, so Wednesday evening in Philadelphia the Bulls will have a chance to take out their frustrations on the 76ers, the team that ousted them from the postseason last spring, but is likely still smarting over losing in Chicago last week. For the Bulls, despite landing in the wee hours of the morning after departing the Windy City just after midnight, thats a winnable affair -- one which they dont have to be perfect to be victorious.

One of Thibodeau's mantras is "striving for perfection," something that rang hollow the past two seasons, when they could be awful and a tour-de-force effort from Rose or just having a better bench than some team's starting lineups was enough to cement a victory, particularly when backed by the league's best defense.

Now that's no longer the case. And while the Bulls won't be flawless every evening, knowing that they can come close, compete with the best and -- unlike Tuesday -- if they get the right breaks late, they can win games they're not supposed to, is something they should take heart in.

Even if they won't admit it.

Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson only played one season together with the Bulls. But oh, what a memorable campaign it was.

And it produced a friendship that still lasts to this day. Cupcakes and snacks will do just that.

Boozer retold a story to NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday of Robinson and his daughter, Navyi, baking cupcakes for Bulls players on road trips.

"We had so much fun. Me and Nate hit it off right away," Boozer said. "We're both very animated, we're both very loud, we talk a lot, we're great teammates. We love playing passionately, we compete.

"Nate is one of the best teammates I ever had. I played my whole life, I've been playing a long time and he's the only teammate that would bring snacks to every flight. And we'd travel on the road, he would bake us cupcakes for every road game. I never had that before.

"Him and his daughter, Navyi, would bake the cupcakes before every road game. So every road game we'd get to the plane and Nate would hook us up with cupcakes.

"Just a great teammate. He'd go through a brick wall for you, never complained, practice every day, play every day, ready to come and give it his best."

Boozer and Robinson will face off against each other during the Big3 Tournament, which begins this weekend in Houston. The league will travel to Chicago and the United Center on June 29.

"I'm looking forward to being in Chicago," Boozer said. "We've got a lot of great fans out there. I miss the (United Center), miss that Chicagotime summer weather and looking forward to getting back out there in a couple weeks."

Boozer's Ghost Ballers and Robinson's Tri-State team won't square off against one another until Week 5 in Miami. But it's sure to be a fun matchup for the two friends and snack buddies.

"He's one of my brothers, one of my closest friends," Boozer said. "Nate has been training like an animal and he's gonna use this platform to show everybody how much skills he has, also to get back into the NBA. Nate's a great talent and I'm looking forward to seeing him get down."

Boozer's team includes co-captains Mike Bibby and Ricky Davis, which gives them a pretty solid trio heading into the event. But no teammate, NBA or Big3, can match Nate Rob and his cupcakes.

Check out more on the Big3 right here.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”