Bulls

Bears surprise some with McClellin pick

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Bears surprise some with McClellin pick

The Bears had been projected by most analysts to be leaning toward either Chandler Jones from Syracuse or Whitney Mercilus from Illinois in their quest for more pass rush.

But Shea McClellin was more consistently productive over his career than Mercilus, whose only big season (16 sacks) was last year, and Jones was consistent but did not have more than 4.5 sacks in any of his three seasons.

We felt he was one of the better rushers and obviously that his pass-rush ability was very high, Emery said. And our fit was very good for him.

The Bears were looking for speed and saw fast feet and hands as well as instincts reacting to a developing play, rather than simply flying upfield.

We all scouts, coaches came away looking at him as having a very high level of football instincts, Emery said. He is relentless in his motor.

Offensive linemen like Iowa tackle Reilly Reiff and Stanford guard David DeCastro were available. The Bears were clear that they did not view OL as a need area, however.

Emery had been aware of McClellin while at Kansas City last year when the Chiefs were looking at him potentially as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

At the Senior Bowl McClellin played more linebacker and did not attract attention as a pass rusher, which was to the Bears benefit.

Bulls get hot from 3, Kris Dunn bounces back in win over Cavs to snap skid

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USA TODAY

Bulls get hot from 3, Kris Dunn bounces back in win over Cavs to snap skid

The Bulls are in the win column for 2019 after a decisive 104-88 win over the NBA-worst Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday. Here are four observations from the Martin Luther King Day victory.

3-point happy Bulls get it done

The Bulls would have made Fred Hoiberg proud on Monday afternoon. Though it came against the league’s worst defense the Bulls will take what they can get, and against the Cavaliers they had their way from beyond the arc.

Ten Bulls saw double-digit minutes on Monday afternoon and eight different players made a 3-pointer. The Bulls finished 15 of 30 from beyond the arc, the most triples they’ve hit under Jim Boylen. This came after a Saturday performance in which they made 12 3-pointers against the Heat. They’ve tallied 12+ triples in consecutive games for the first time since early November, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

Lauri Markkanen led the way with three 3-pointers, and he’s now got 15 triples in his last four games; that’s the most for him in any four-game span since he had 18 in a four-game stretch last January. This comes on the heels of a four-game stretch in which Markkanen made two triples, so it’s nice to see him getting back in rhythm, regardless of the opponent.

Bobby Portis got hot early and finished with a trio of triples as well. Jabari Parker continued his hot stretch as well, and Kris Dunn made his first triple since the first quarter of the Golden State game 10 days ago. It’s important to note that this came against the Cavaliers, but for one night the Bulls played to their strengths and nearly reached a season-high in 3-point makes. Baby steps.

Kris Dunn inches his way back

Kris Dunn admitted Saturday that he’s struggling. Well, playing the Cavaliers is usually a recipe for success when it comes to slump-busting, and Dunn made the most of an ugly Cleveland backcourt.

He finished with a modest 13 points and nine assists and also added two steals. The biggest numbers of note were the 3-pointer he made and the trip to the free throw line he took, his first since the second quarter of the Lakers game last week.

Dunn was aggressive, engaged defensively and hit the glass well with four defensive rebounds. The three turnovers weren’t great but the Bulls as a whole struggled, turning it over 18 times. It didn’t matter against the lowly Cavs but it will moving forward. Like the Bulls and their 3-pointers, baby steps for Dunn as he looks to work his way out of this slump.

Cam Payne wasn’t good, but we guess he wasn’t bad either?

If for nothing else, Cam Payne was entertaining on Monday. He got hot early in the second quarter by connecting on a 3-pointer and a floater, and he playfully (we think?) jawed at the Bulls bench on the way down the floor.

Payne wasn’t bad, finishing with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 25 minutes. But he also made a couple awful decisions, had an airball and treated us to this crisp pass to the Cleveland bench. He made 4 of 11 shots, including 1 of 5 from deep, and finished a +2 thanks to that quick run for the second unit in the second quarter.

Payne will get a loud reception in six days when the Cavaliers make a trip to the United Center on Sunday.

Potential for more wins?

Look away, Zion Williamson fans. The Bulls may be in line for a few more victories going forward. They earned win No. 11 against the Cavs on Sunday and will host the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. Atlanta has played much better of late, earning wins over the Sixers and Thunder in the last few weeks, but they’re still 6-19 on the road this season. Then the Cavaliers come to town on Sunday, with a difficult matchup against the Clippers sandwiched in between.

The Bulls should be favored in both the Atlanta and Cleveland game, meaning there’s a real shot the Bulls could have a 3-1 record when they hit the road for Brooklyn on Monday. Don’t look now but a couple wins could be on the horizon.

Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks notebook: Kane-Toews chemistry, Seabrook's contract, Crawford update and Smith's role

It's no surprise that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each had offensive explosions after getting put on the same line together on Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. But at the same time it was.

The duo played 273:28 minutes at even strength together last season, according to naturalstattrick.com, but had a minus-6 goal differential during that time. It was bizarre because they controlled 56.9 percent of the shot attempts and 60.5 percent of the high-danger chances.

Perhaps the hockey gods are repaying them for what they deserved a year ago. Or those are the results you're eventually going to get when you put two future Hall of Famers on the ice at the same time.

“For an offensive guy that wants the puck, he’s pretty much the perfect center to play with," Kane said. "He wins a lot of battles, he wins faceoffs, he’s obviously able to make plays and he can get to the hard areas, too, so he opens up a lot of space. We haven’t played with each other a lot over the past handful of years, but we played a lot together early on, so I think sometimes we just kind of revert back to what we did back then. It makes the game simple. It’s not like you have to think too much or even talk too much about what we want to do. We just want to work hard, win battles and play well defensively. If we do that, we should get a lot of chances.”

Toews turned the clock back before he and Kane were even in the NHL.

"I remember since we were like 12 or 13 playing against each other in Triple-A hockey, he was one of the smallest guys out there and he just seemed to be able to handle the puck so well even at that age," Toews said of Kane. "He could back defenders off and create time and space. He was tough to check because he was slippery and he was just deceptive. I think that's what sets him above everybody else in the league and most star players that maybe can take advantage of skating, size and speed where he doesn't really need any of those things. He's so smart when he gets the puck."

Whether or not they stay together for the long term remains to be seen, but the when Nos. 19 and 88 are clicking, usually the Blackhawks are too.

Brent Seabrook's contract

It's no secret in Chicago that Seabrook's contract sticks out as one that won't exactly age well for the Blackhawks under a salary cap system. At age 33, he's in Year 3 of an eight-year deal that carries a $6.875 million cap hit. 

While his best years on the ice may be behind him, his teammates believe Seabrook is still as important as ever inside the locker room and the team unity. Kane came to his defense on Monday after practice in response to a question about the core veterans trying to sustain a winning culture in a trying season.

"People want to get on Seabs about his contract," Kane said. "But to us, he’s underpaid [for] what he brings in this locker room and the way he’s such a great leader, such a big part of this locker room, takes in every guy just like he’s known him his whole life. He’s an unbelievable teammate. Even that game when we missed him when he was sick, you lose your heart and soul of the team a little bit because he’s such a big piece."

Corey Crawford update

Jeremy Colliton's playing career was cut short because of his concussion history. He knows exactly what Crawford is going through, which means he knows how to handle his situation from a coach's perspective.

Crawford skated with the team for the first time over the weekend, but Colliton cautioned not to read anything into it. He didn't provide much more information than that.

On Monday, Colliton offered a longer-form response on why he's been mum about Crawford's status:

"Him going on the ice, I said it two days ago, not to read too much into it. It’s going to be a process here. The day-to-day, it doesn’t really matter. It’s over time. Is he feeling better? Is he progressing? I’m not in his ear, 'How are you feeling?', asking [head athletic trainer Mike Gapski], 'How’s Crow feeling?' It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help him and minute-to-minute, it doesn’t matter. It’s over time, how does he feel, is he getting better? Did I talk to him today? Yeah I talked to him today. But I didn’t ask him how he was feeling. Because day to day, it’s a non-issue. I just want him to be happy and over time, feel better. And then we’ll see if he can play at the end of that."

Barry Smith's role

When Blackhawks practiced wrapped up on Monday, Smith addressed the team in a huddle, got a stick tap ovation and received a handshake from every player. This was his last practice as the assistant coach, and Tuesday vs. the New York Islanders will be his last game behind the bench before Sheldon Brookbank officially takes full control of those responsibilities along with Don Granato.

After Tuesday, Smith will transition back into his role with the Blackhawks as Director of Player Evaluation.

"Certainly his experience and just his presence," Colliton said on what Smith brought to the table. "Great guy, very, very fun to be around. I knew him from last year, he’d been around Rockford. We were a little bit shorthanded and he left his wife and his previous life, lived in a hotel for two and a half months and was a great resource for me and the staff, and really appreciate that. He’s been through the wars already, so for him to come back into it was very selfless of him, I thought."

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