Bulls

Breaking down the Sixers

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Breaking down the Sixers

For 76ers head coach Doug Collins, his team's opening-round series will be somewhat of a homecoming, though not necessarily a happy one. The Illinois native, who once coached the Bulls, are up against the squad with the NBA's best record and the comments of second-year swingman Evan Turner, a Chicago native aside, Philadelphia isn't "dodging a bullet," even with reigning league MVP Derrick Rose still trying to regain his previous form.

That said, the Sixers have played the Bulls tough in the past, and their blend of pressure defense, transition basketball, athleticism, balanced offense and low turnovers do pose some problems. At the same time, it doesn't help Philadelphia's case that Turner provided some added motivation by publicly stating that the Sixers preferred facing the Bulls to the second-seeded Heat.

Regardless, let's take a look at how the Sixers stack up to the Bulls, as well as some of their strengths and weaknesses:
Backcourt:

Jrue Holiday, one of the league's more underrated young players, is a solid defender, but while his size poses problems for many opposing point guards, Rose is a different animal and has had his way with the UCLA product in the past. On the other end of the floor, Holiday does make Rose work, but when he opts to get into a one-on-one battle, it stagnates the Sixers' offense, as his playmaking is more valuable to the team and he's an inconsistent outside shooter.

Turner was inserted into the Sixers' starting lineup in the second half of the season, but Collins recently moved him back to the bench in favor of former starter Jodie Meeks, who's primarily a spot-up shooter. Turner will still see plenty of minutes at both wing positions--he also routinely initiates the offense--and while he's also a promising young talent, the Bulls have the personnel to effectively defend the Ohio State product.

Lou Williams, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, is the Sixers' leading scorer and one of the best instant-offfense players in the league, but like Holiday, Turner and All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, if he dominates the ball too much, it can be a deterrent to Philadelphia's offense. The Sixers' lack of a true go-to scorer will rear its ugly head against the Bulls, as they have strong perimeter defenders and even aside from Rose, can keep Philadelphia occupied on the other end, with the likes of Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver both being top-tier outside shooters.

Frontcourt:

The small-forward battle between All-Stars Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng will be crucial, as both are among the top perimeter defenders in the league, as well as being key secondary scorers for their teams. The difference is, if Deng isn't scoring at a high level, he's still valuable to the Bulls and often times, they can find point production from other sources. In Iguodala's case, he'll need to be effective on offense consistently--as both a scorer and a playmaker, as well as a rebounder for size-challenged Philadelphia--to keep the series competitive.

At power forward, veteran Elton Brand, a former Bulls draft pick, has seen better days. As valuable as his leadership is to the young Sixers, he's no longer the 20-point, 10-rebound threat he was earlier in his career, but if he can keep fellow Duke product Carlos Boozer from going off, while giving Philadelphia a semblance of a low-post scorer, he's done his job.

Rookie Nikola Vucevic is the Sixers' starting center, having replaced injury-prone Spencer Hawes in the lineup, but like Meeks, he's basically a token starter, though he's shown flashes of ability in his debut NBA season. If Hawes can knock down outside shots, facilitate action as a passer and compete on the boards, as he did early in the campaign when he was discussed as a Most Improved Player candidate, the Sixers will have a chance to not let the battle at center get out of hand, but the defensive and rebounding prowess of Joakim Noah and Omer Asik simply might be too much.

Like Williams, backup forward Thaddeus Young is a de facto starter for the Sixers and he's the one player the Bulls really struggle to match up with, as his combination of quickness, rebounding ability, athleticism and perimeter skills give them fits on a regular basis, although he'll also be facing a size mismatch inside. Lavoy Allen, a second-round draft pick, fared well in the Bulls' loss at Philadelphia early in the season, and while he's an active presence on the interior, his lack of experience will likely come into play.

Conclusion:

With talk of Collins losing his team in the second half of the season--the Sixers appeared to be running away with the Atlantic Division before a collapse that saw them limp into the East's final seed--there's no reason to think the Bulls' combination of size, depth and talent, as well as added motivation spurred by Turner's comments won't win out, especially against a team that doesn't have a dominant scoring presence. While some of the games should be competitive, the Bulls should win the series handily, even with Rose still trying to regain his rhythm, though if Philadelphia can force turnovers, get into transition and find some offensive chemistry, their odds improve.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Call it a small Bears reality check, if not a full wake-up call, then at least a nudge in the night. And this sort of thing should be expected, not just in OTAs, not just in training camp or preseason, but when it all counts.

And it should serve as a lesson of sorts. Because some of the underlying reasons are worth a little highlighting and patient understanding around a team that has spent its offseason and millions of dollars refashioning an offense, beginning with coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich, and that offense wasn’t particularly good on Wednesday.

In a sport where the operative cliché is “just get better each and every day,” the Bears didn’t, but as far as their coach is concerned, “there’s two ways to look at it,” Nagy said. “Whether you say on our side, on offense, trying to see a bunch of different looks a defense can give you, is it too much or not? It’s good for us. It’ll help us out in the long run. It’s good for our players and they’ve handled it well. There’s going to be mistakes but they have it on tape to be able to look at. “

This is about more than just a few bad reps or missed assignments. It’s part of the good-news-bad-news reality that a sea change brings to a team.

The good news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The bad news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The Bears defense is predictably ahead of the offense, hardly a surprise, given that most of the core of the top-10 unit has remained in place. That said, you do have to like the attitude of the barely-above-rookie No. 1 quarterback challenging that assessment Wednesday, with a “Who says that?”

This while the offense has myriad moving and new parts, and interceptions, blown plays and such were occurring for an offense that, like Halas Hall, is a massive building work in progress.

“Well, today was a bad ‘build,’ but that’s to be expected,” Helfrich acknowledged. “We’re adding a chunk each day, I thought today was the first day where we had somebody do something that just like, ‘wait, OK’ – a few positions here and there, a few new guys, obviously a few veterans here and there that it’s all new to, hit the wall.”

It’s a “wall” that arguably is inevitable with a coaching change.

Not to make excuses, but….

For a sense of perspective, scroll back to Jay Cutler, who went through offensive coordinators perhaps faster than he went through socks: a year with Ron Turner, two with Mike Martz, one with Mike Tice, two with Aaron Kromer, one with Adam Gase, one with Dowell Loggains, who at least was a holdover from the Gase year. (Whether Cutler’s failure to match potential with production was the cause of or because of that turnover, this humble and faithful narrator leaves to you, the reader).

More than a few current Bears can only dream of that kind of “stability.” And because of that, the 2018 pre- and regular seasons may be bumpier than the optimism surrounding the Nagy hire was anticipating.

Guard Kyle Long, still not practicing full-go while he rehabs from surgeries, is on his fifth offensive-line coach in six NFL seasons. Center Cody Whitehair, who has started every game since the Bears drafted him in the 2016 second round, has had three different line coaches in as many seasons: Dave Magazu for 2016, Jeremiah Washburn for 2017 and now Harry Hiestand. Left tackle Charles Leno was drafted in 2014, making Hiestand Leno’s fourth O-line coach.

And this is the offensive line, the unit that most engenders use of the term “continuity.”

“Each coach brings in a little bit, different techniques,” Whitehair said. “There’s a lot of time for us to hone in and get to know what he’s trying to teach us. But in the end it’s still football.”

Kevin White is entering his fourth NFL season. He is on his fourth receivers coach (Mike Groh, Curtis Johnson, Zach Azzanni, Mike Furrey) and third different season-starting quarterback (Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky), not including offseason battery mates ranging from Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, David Fales and Connor Shaw, depending on how much rep time he spent with which unit at various times during his training camps.

“It doesn’t matter,” White said. “Roll with the punches, come here and do my job every day.”

Regardless of how many bosses you’ve reported to.