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Bulls fall to Knicks in Easter OT thriller in Rose's return

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Bulls fall to Knicks in Easter OT thriller in Rose's return

NEW YORK Derrick Roses return to the lineup after missing 12 consecutive games with a strained right groin was far from picture perfect, but while the All-Star point guard showed hes ready to make an impact, he also showed that hes far from his previous form, though his rust alone cant be blamed for the Bulls (43-14) 100-99 overtime loss to the Knicks (29-27) at Madison Square Garden.

On Easter Sunday afternoon, the Bulls recovered from a horrendous start, then succumbed to a brilliant performance from Carmelo Anthony, the leader of a team that may be a frequent visitor to Chicago in the near future and not just Tuesdays regular-season game, but the opening round of the postseason as Tom Thibodeau continues to try to push his squad toward the No. 1 overall seed while balancing his starting backcourts mend from injury woes.

Despite Roses (29 points on 8-for-26 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, eight turnovers in nearly 39 minutes) return, the Bulls found themselves in a 9-0 hole to start the game as the Knicks scored with ease and on the other end, prevented their guests offense from thriving, all of which surely caused Thibodeau much consternation and led to two timeouts in the contests first four minutes. After scoring the games first five points, Anthony (43 points, seven rebounds) was the hosts' offensive focal point while New Yorks much-improved defense the home team has taken great strides under the leadership of interim head coach Mike Woodson forced the Bulls into hurried attempts with the shot clock winding down or outright violations.

Big hole to start the game. Missed free throws, turnovers, open threes. We beat ourselves, said Thibodeau, adding, nope, when asked for an explanation to one of his teams chronic slow starts. They get into the ball, so we were on our heels. Then, when we started getting aggressive, we were able to come back, get the lead and we werent able to hang on in the end.

Remarkably, even after Thibodeau made adjustments such as going small to match up with the smallish Knicks by inserting reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer for starting center Joakim Noah (10 points, five rebounds) the Bulls continued to flounder, as turnovers seemingly became contagious and Rose looking rusty alongside teammates who were the antithesis of their coachs readiness to play mantra. Although the likes of second-year swingman Landry Fields (10 points) ensured New York kept a large winning margin, a late-period charge led by Duke products and starting forwards Carlos Boozer (13 points, 16 rebounds) and All-Star Luol Deng (13 points, nine rebounds) brought the Bulls within 31-19 at the conclusion of the opening quarter.

About what we expected. Some good, some bad. Handling the ball was a problem, but our whole team, we didnt take care of the ball, so we put them in the open floor and because youre cross-matched, theyre going to be open. Youve got to be ready to handle the pressure, youve got to hit free throws down the stretch, which we didnt do, and youve got to limit their second shots Tyson Chandler kept batting the ball out so you get what you deserve, said Thibodeau, who was asked about Roses performance. We should be able to overcome all that stuff. Just have to do the right things. Do the right things, youre not going to have those problems. Youre not going to have those turnovers. Simple plays. Protect the ball, keep the ball moving, quick decisions, hit the first open man, sustain your spacing, protect the ball. Tuck it on the catch, fight for your space, get your space. Simple.

While the Bulls level of play and, more importantly, effort really, there was nowhere to go but up the Knicks and Anthony, in particular, remained hot, as the All-Star starter was remarkably efficient and showcased the offensive tools that make many observers consider him the best pure scorer in the game, even with a stellar defender like Deng draped all over him. Contributions from role players like Fields, Jared Jeffries and Chandler (eight points, 16 rebounds, three blocked shots) also helped New Yorks cause, but the visitors starters and Bench Mob alike simply struggled, especially on offense, but mostly in the sense of not having the ball bounce their way.

Ive played with Derrick for years now. Thats not really the problem. We had a slow start defensively. We didnt make shots offensively, but we didnt do a good job moving the ball tonight and even early, it kind of hurt us, said Deng. Nothing went our way. The free throws really hurt us and the turnovers.

Chicagos rising level of frustration was evident in not only their woeful field-goal percentage and unforced errors, but also uncharacteristic incidents, like mild-mannered backup point guard C.J. Watson picking up a technical foul and Noah earning a flagrant foul for grabbing Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert (15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four steals), a Chicago-area native, in mid-air all while New York maintained a comfortable double-digit lead. However, buoyed by reserve Taj Gibson (11 points, four blocks), the Bulls showed more fight as the first half wound down, making it a single-digit game, 53-45, at the intermission, following a Rose layup, plus the foul for a traditional three-point play.

Even with a boisterous Garden crowd voicing its support for the home team, the games momentum stayed largely on the Bulls side after the break, as they used transition basketball to quietly get back within striking distance. Their mission was aided by Rose knocking down a pair of three-pointers, though he continued to struggle driving the basketball, often getting stripped or bottled up by Shumpert, who ignited the audience with a vicious follow-up dunk and subsequent scream, earning him a technical.

In concert with Chicagos defense improving the Knicks no longer got uncontested jumpers, let alone layups, at will; New York guards Baron Davis and J.R. Smith (14 points) both struggled mightily with their outside shooting Rose also turned it up a notch, taking better care of the basket, finding a semblance of a rhythm and splashing perimeter jumpers, both from deep range and off the dribble. Rose aside, the Bulls continued to surge, eventually tying the contest. They took their first lead of the afternoon affair on a Brewer jumper with under a minute left in the third quarter and headed into the games final frame with a 75-72 advantage after backup center Omer Asik rejected a Knicks layup attempt at the buzzer.

Chicago, featuring a reserve-heavy lineup that saw Watson and designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver chip in with long-distance bombs, held on to and even slightly extended its slim cushion early in the final stanza, but New York remained right on the visitors heels. However, while the Bulls were no offensive juggernaut, the Knicks increasingly errant shooting not to mention Roses ability to get to the foul line and accurate marksmanship, which included a four-point play allowed their guests to widen the gap between the teams heading into the games stretch run.

Not to be overlooked was the Bulls interior play, as Boozer was a major factor on the glass and Gibsons play on both ends in addition to timely buckets and his usual energy, his defense on Anthony greatly slowed down the Knicks go-to scorer, putting the never-bashful Smith in the position of going one-on-one and jacking up tough shots, while the rookie Shumpert thrived in the role, showcasing his offensive versatility, to go along with his pesky defense on Rose but as the game progressed, New York continued to hang around and following an Anthony layup to make it a 91-88 game, Deng missed a pair of attempts with 34.1 seconds remaining. After the ensuing timeout, Knicks fan favorite Steve Novak, one of the leagues top three-point threats, rimmed out an open triple and Rose was fouled on the ensuing possession.

The South Side native stepped to the charity stripe with 19.4 seconds left in the contest and, like his All-Star teammate, bricked both attempts from the line, leading to Anthony draining a game-tying triple with 11.2 seconds to go, sending the home crowd into a frenzied state. Rose had a chance to redeem himself on the final possession of regulation, as his teammates cleared out for him to operate, but he missed a pull-up jumper at the buzzer with Shumpert guarding him, completing a miserable stretch for himself personally and the Bulls as a whole, as the Knicks blanked them over the final 3:45 of the fourth quarter, with the reigning league MVP playing no small role in his squads meltdown.

Turnovers. Turnovers. Missed free throws. We got fouled, went to the free-throw line and missed. Cant do that, said Thibodeau. You cant be giving up that shot. Its the only thing that gets you in trouble, is the three. You dont give it up. You make him drive. You make him take the two.

Recounted Rose: Jumped on us. We came back. Free throws, turnovers. Thats the reason why we lost this game. I had a lot of turnovers, just getting back into rhythm. Its just one of those games at the end, missed those free throws. Hopefully next time, if I get the opportunity, Im going to knock them downI told them if I was out there and we needed to win the game, I wanted to be in the game and he put me in. I missed those damn free throws and next time, I know Ill for sure hit one of them.

New York held all of the momentum going into the extra period, but Noah, a New York native, picked the right time to make an appearance on the afternoon as the centers offensive rebounding sparked the Bulls early in the session, leading to Rose finding his touch and playing with his trademark aggressiveness. Conversely, Smith, who had struggled for much of the matinee game, was the Knicks saving grace early, although the visitors were still able to make it a two-possession game and maintain that margin as time waned on.

However, Anthony wasnt done yet, as his driving layup with 1:04 on the clock made it a 99-97 contest and after a Rose turnover and multiple offensive rebounds on the same possession the Knicks superstar knocked down a three-pointer with 8.2 seconds left to give New York a 100-99 lead, prompting a Thibodeau timeout. Chicago had one last chance and fittingly, the ball ended up in Roses hands, but his floater to beat the buzzer was off the mark, giving the Bulls a loss against a potential first-round playoff opponent.

Give us credit for fighting back for getting the lead and getting the lead at the end of the game, and the end of overtime, as well. Usually, we close out games a lot better, but we made some mistakes. We missed some free throws, we missed a couple of offensive rebounds that we could have got. Then, Melo hit some incredible shots. Youve got to give him credit. He took some tough shots and he made them, to his credit. Its a tough one to come up on the short end of because it was a pretty big game, but we look forward to playing them again. We play them again on Tuesday, so itll be another good game, said Boozer. Trust me, well dissect the tape. We made a lot of mistakes in this game, a lot of turnovers. But listen, like Thibs always says, In every win, theres things to learn from and in every loss, theres things to learn from, so well learn from this and be better next time.

Chimed in Rose: Oh, its tough. Its definitely tough. When you lose a game, especially for us, its tough. Its going to hurt us, no matter who we lose to. But their team played great, man. Knocking down shots, didnt give up when we went up, had a big lead.

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

The Chicago Bears are less than one month from the start of training camp, but the praise for general manager Ryan Pace's offseason continues to pour in.

Pace and the Bears received an A for their offseason -- the best grade in the NFC North -- from Sports Illustrated. A big part of the perfect score was the overhaul at wide receiver.

Chicago had one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL last season—the team ranked dead last in passing yards per game (175.7)—so that position was clearly an area of focus this offseason for general manager Ryan Pace. The additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and Anthony Miller via the draft will boost a stagnant group, assuming Robinson returns fully healthy from last September’s ACL tear. If 2015 first-round pick Kevin White can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his ill-fated career, it’s an added bonus.

Much is expected from the revamped group of pass-catchers even though none of them have an overwhelming history of production. Robinson had a dominant season in 2015 (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but his last two seasons involved mediocre production in 2016 and a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. Gabriel's never topped more than 621 yards in a season and tight end Trey Burton has been a backup his whole career. Miller has yet to play a snap in the NFL and White, now entering his fourth season, is still looking for his first touchdown catch.

Mitch Trubisky has a lot of work to do once training camp kicks off. Not only must he master coach Matt Nagy's offense, but he must do so while building chemistry with all of his new receivers. Growing pains will happen, but the upside and expectations for the Bears in 2018 are higher than they've been in many years, and it's all because of a great offseason had by the front office.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.