Bulls

The best day in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes?

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The best day in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes?

From Comcast SportsNetGLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- An hour before one of the biggest games in franchise history, the Phoenix Coyotes learned a deal was in place for a new owner, one they hoped would end three years of uncertainty.They celebrated in typical fashion: grinding out another victory.This one, though, will take them somewhere they've never been before: the Western Conference finals.Relying again on their grit and the superb goaltending of Mike Smith, the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Monday night to earn their first trip to the conference finals in 33 years as an NHL franchise."It feels great right now, a lot of hard work," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "It's been a battle the past few years, but it's a lot of fun and we're blessed to be where we are right now."The day started off with news the Coyotes and their fans had been anticipating for three years.Speaking as players from both teams warmed up in the hallway, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that a tentative deal had been reached to sell the Coyotes to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.The Coyotes paid it no mind. They had spent the previous three seasons with the uncertainty hanging over them and had learned to keep their focus on the ice, not what happens off it.Playing its usual counterpunching style, Phoenix withstood an early flurry by Nashville and followed with goals from Derek Morris and Martin Hanzal in the second period.And, as usual, the Coyotes gave up a late goal to make it interesting, this one by Colin Wilson with just under 6 minutes left.Phoenix has become accustomed to seat-of-their-pants victories, though, and they pulled out another one, nearly getting an empty-net goal by Smith before setting off a raucous celebration on the ice rink surrounded by desert.Next up for the Coyotes are the Los Angeles Kings, the first No. 8 seed to knock off Nos. 1 and 2 in the same playoffs."We've learned a lot as a group who we are and every guy has contributed in the series and the playoffs," said Smith, who stopped 32 shots. "It's been different guys in different series and it's been a big part of our success."Nashville, as it did all series, had plenty of good chances against Smith. Even forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn back from two-game suspensions, the Predators couldn't find a way to capitalize, hitting the post at least three times and managing one goal despite outshooting the Coyotes 33-17.The loss knocks Nashville out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals for the second straight season."They found a way to keep the puck out of the net," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "In the end, we had enough chances to win this series, but we didn't win. We couldn't bury anything past Smith."The Coyotes got some long-awaited good news before the game, when Bettman announced the league had a tentative deal to sell the team to Jamison.There's no official sale agreement yet and Jamison still needs to work out lease details with the city of Glendale, which could be a dicey proposition with conservative watchdog group the Goldwater Institute lurking. Still, after three years of waiting, the move toward ownership and staying in the desert took a big step.It had already been a great season.Relying on Smith and their protect-at-all-costs mentality, the unflashy Coyotes won their first division title as an NHL franchise and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years.Phoenix moved within the brink of the conference finals for the first time by beating Nashville twice in the desert and again in Game 4 on Smith's second shutout of the playoffs.With Jobing.com Arena juiced and Bettman, not to mention their potential new boss in the house, the Coyotes played their pack-in-and-counter game the way they have all playoffs.Nashville had the advantage early in a tight first period, Phoenix took it late, but neither scored.The Coyotes broke through early in the second, when Pekka Rinne made a kick save on a breakaway by Shane Doan, but couldn't stop Morris' shot from the point after Phoenix reset.The Predators tried to rally, turning up the pressure.Instead of the tying goal, they hit the post three times -- twice in one rapid-fire sequence -- and had another shot blocked by diving Coyotes. Smith also made a snatching save on a wrister by Gabriel Bourque.Phoenix then went back to its counterattacking ways, with Kyle Chipchura breaking out, holding, then setting up Hanzal's wrister that Rinne couldn't see with a defender in his way."That is kind of how the series went," Predators defenseman Ryan Suter said. "We didn't capitalize on their chances and they came back and it ended up in the back of our net."Up 2-0, the Coyotes packed it in, diving to block shots while giving the Predators only slivers of shooting lanes.Wilson squeezed a puck through one of them with 5:59 left, flicking a pass from David Legwand past Smith, ending his scoreless streak of more than 160 minutes.The Coyotes wouldn't let them score again and Smith nearly ended it with a flourish, missing an empty-net by a few inches with 2 seconds left.It didn't matter at that point -- the Coyotes were on their way to the conference finals, capping one of the biggest days in franchise history with another wipe-the-brow victory."Coyote ugly -- that's kind of been the motto here," Smith said. "We just find a way to win."Notes: Doan played his 50th career playoff game. ... The team that scored first won every game in the series. ... Nashville went 0 for 4 on the power play. ... Phoenix played without D Rostislav Klesla, who was suspended a game by the league for his Game 4 hit on Nashville forward Matt Halischuk.

Inflammatory arthritis to keep Omer Asik out indefinitely

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USA TODAY

Inflammatory arthritis to keep Omer Asik out indefinitely

It was announced on Saturday morning, that Omer Asik will be out indefinitely. 

Asik had an arthritis flare up over the summer, and that is the key to his current diagnosis. The Bulls acquired Asik last season in the Nikola Mirotic trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.

He has two years and north of $22 million left on his contract (including this current season).

The Bulls never expected Asik to play heavy minutes, and this injury puts his 2018-19 season in jeopardy, 

This is Asik's second stint with the Bulls, as he played with Chicago in the first two seasons of his career. 

Final thoughts: Taylor Gabriel doing the little things to become a complete receiver 

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USA Today Sports Images

Final thoughts: Taylor Gabriel doing the little things to become a complete receiver 

PHOENIX — Taylor Gabriel, through two games with the Bears, is playing a lot more than he did in two years with the Atlanta Falcons. His snap percentage increase — from 41 percent in 2016 to 53 percent in 2017 to 90 percent so far in 2018 — is commiserate with the four-year, $26 million pay bump the Bears gave Gabriel back in March. 

While Gabriel hasn’t had an explosive play yet — though he could’ve against the Seattle Seahawks had Mitch Trubisky not overthrown him when he was open over the middle in the first quarter — he has made contributions in two important areas: Run blocking, and scrapping for yards on quick throws. 

“He can take it to the house any given play, he's just so fast,” coach Matt Nagy said. “But he's learning right now how to be a full-time wide receiver, meaning he's getting a lot more reps. So when you have him in different motions and moving him around a lot, that can be tiring. But he has handled that really well.”

Gabriel made a few plays as a run blocker to help set up some of the Bears’ more successful runs in a largely unsuccessful game on the ground against Seattle. While he’s only 5-foot-8 and weighs 165 pounds, he said “cut blocking is my forte” and said the attention paid to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has helped, too. 

“When (Hiestand’s) putting in the plays for running, we’re not just not paying attention or watching film of something else, we’re focusing on those little things in run blocking,” Gabriel said. “We are a big part of that.”

Gabriel, then, probably the smallest player Hiestand — a career offensive line coach who, in his previous stop, developed four first-round picks at Notre Dame — has ever coached, even indirectly. But his stature, in addition to not prohibiting him from sticking his nose in run blocking, hasn’t prevented him from gaining a critical extra yard or two when necessary. 

That skill showed up on the Bears’ 11-play, 66-yard scoring drive against the Seahawks (link) on both passing and running plays. It’s all part of Gabriel’s efforts to be more than an occasionally-used deep threat. 

“Playing more plays than I usually do, so just going out there and trying to be a complete wide receiver,” Gabriel said. “And that’s not just running the whole route tree, catching the ball, that blocking — run blocking. So just trying to make guys miss a little bit, get on the second level and that’s where we can help out.”

Tapping into Miller

Rookie wideout Anthony Miller said he’ll give the ball he caught for his first career touchdown to his mom, and believes it’s the first of many he’ll catch in his currently-nascent career. 

“Scoring that touchdown, it just raised expectations for myself,” Miller said. “I just feel like I could contribute to this team in a big way and I think that’s what you’re going to see as this season continues to go on.”

Miller’s had that self-confident attitude ever since his rise from walk-on to star at Memphis, and it was among the reasons the Bears traded back into the second round to draft him back in April. Ever since that moment, Miller has had the mindset of an immediate contributor, not someone who would need time to develop and see the field. 

“That’s why they picked me to come here,” Miller said. “They didn’t pick me to come here to be scout team, not contributing at all. They expected me to come here and play right away and make plays and do what I did in college. And that’s what I aim to do.”

Playing favorites

The Bears head to the desert as 4 1/2-point favorites over the Arizona Cardinals, marking only the second time since Ryan Pace took over as general manager this team is favored in a road game. It’s also only the 10th time since 2015 they’ve been favored, with the previous results being:

2015 Week 13, vs. San Francisco: L, 26-20 (OT)
2015 Week 14, vs. Washington: L, 24-21
2016 Week 2, vs. Philadelphia: L, 29-14
2016 Week 6 vs. Jacksonville: L, 17-16
2016 Week 10 at Tampa Bay: L, 36-10
2017 Week 10 vs. Green Bay: L, 23-16
2017 Week 16 vs. Cleveland: W, 20-3
2018 Week 2 vs. Seattle: W, 24-17

In the John Fox era, the Bears were only favored eight times, winning just one (on Christmas Eve last year against the Cleveland Browns). The Bears being favored in back-to-back games this early into the Nagy era has plenty to do with the competition — Seattle and Arizona might wind up being two of the worst teams in the NFC in 2018 — but it also does speak to the distinct improvement in talent across the board on this team assembled in the last half-year by Pace.