Cubs

Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

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Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

HOUSTONMaybe in a few months, if and when the Bulls (5-6) cement their previous status as one of the Easts upper-echelon teams, Wednesday nights 93-89 loss to the Rockets (5-7) will be something to laugh about. But now, as losers of three consecutive games for the first time in the Tom Thibodeau era, nothing seems like a laughing matter.
The defensive tone Thibodeau had basically been pleading for the duration of the Circus Tripand the entirety of the young seasonwas evident in the early going, as there was less emphasis on pushing the tempo and more focus on getting stops. Kirk Hinrich came out aggressively on offense, knocking down his first two shots from the field, but the Bulls played balanced basketball, with each of the five starters getting on the board.
For Houston, starting wings James Harden (28 points) and Chandler Parsons (18 points, 13 rebounds) were the focus of the hosts attack, but power forward Patrick Patterson (20 points, eight rebounds) was also effective from the outset and gave them an inside scoring presence. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a 22-20 edge.
It appeared the visitors would continue their recent trend of second-quarter lulls to begin the frame, as they struggled on offense initially and both Harden and Patterson made major impacts, along with rugged young big man Greg Smith. However, Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds) began to assert himself as a scorer, as did Joakim Noah (11 points, seven rebounds).
Thibodeau made a slight change in his rotation, playing second-year swingman Jimmy Butler (eight points) earlier than usualfirst alongside Deng, at shooting guard, then at small forward, when the at least temporarily demoted Marco Belinelli entered the contestand it seemed to pay off, as the Bulls regained the lead from Houston, with reserves Nate Robinson (21 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Taj Gibson (nine points, six rebounds) also providing a lift. Still, the Rockets stayed in close contact behind the play of Harden, and at the intermission, the Bulls maintained a narrow, 46-42 lead.
Another ongoing issue for the Bulls, slippage at the beginning of the third quarter, briefly reared its ugly head immediately after the break, as the Rockets surged out of the gates with a 9-2 run. While the guests eventually regained their composure, the contest became a close-knit affair, with Harden, Patterson and Parsons continuing to do damage and the Rockets capitalizing off yet another Bulls issue this season, turnovers.
Houston built a slim cushion as the third period waned on, as miscues by the visitors piled up and the Bulls struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Deng remained their primary source of scoring, but received ample assistance from Carlos Boozer (13 points, 15 rebounds), who play inspired basketball as a scorer and rebounder to close out the quarter, though the Bulls still trailed, 66-65, heading into the final stanza.
It remained a back-and-forth contest in the fourth quarter and while the familiar trio of Harden, Patterson and Parsons were still the catalysts for Houston, Robinson became the Bulls top option. The diminutive scorer delivered time again, either with fearless drives and finishes at the rim, seemingly ill-advised deep jumpers or clever floaters over the tall trees.
When it counted, the visitors made huge hustle plays, particularly on defense, but a series of controversial whistlesfirst, an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Bulls was overturned, then a block-charge call went the Rockets wayand some clutch baskets by Houston, as well as untimely Bulls miscues, gave the hosts both the lead and momentum. Harden and reserve point guard Toney Douglas (11 points) salted things away at the charity stripe for the hosts, and while the Bulls, as always, fought until the bitter end, the night ended with Thibodeaus squad marking an unwanted first.

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”