Cubs

Bulls hang tough, but can't overcome firepower of Clippers

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Bulls hang tough, but can't overcome firepower of Clippers

The Bulls arent a team that believes in moral victories. So the mere fact that in Tuesday nights 94-89 loss to the Clippers at the United Center, Chicago displayed a world of improvement from last months road drubbing at the hands of ex-Bulls coach Vinny Del Negros high-flying bunch on the Circus Trip doesnt make a difference to them.

While they hung tough with one of the NBAs elite teams, showed that their defense continues to be improved and valiantly battled to make it a barn-burner at the end of a night when key players like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah didnt have it going, they just didnt have enough firepower to take down the Pacific Division leaders, the true glamour club in Los Angeles at the moment.

In a start suited more to the Bulls (11-9) defensive-minded tendencies than the high-flying ways of the Clippers (15-6), the two teams came out of the gates slowly, combining for a 2-for-17 start from the field.

Eventually, the point-guard wizardry of All-Star Chris Paul (18 points) and scoring from veteran Caron Butler got the Clippers going, while the Bulls were propelled by Carlos Boozer (24 points, 13 rebounds) early.

The visitors built a slim cushion before their hosts reined them in with a blend of tough defense -- the Clippers shot 30 percent from the field --and balanced offense despite starting point guard Kirk Hinrich exiting the contest early with two quick fouls, giving way to backup Nate Robinson. Although the Bulls narrowed the gap, they still trailed, 21-18, following a quarter of play.

Arguably the deepest team in the league, the Clippers went to their potent bench at the outset of the second quarter, but Robinsons instant-offense scoring, Taj Gibsons (10 points, six rebounds) energetic play and timely scoring from the starters that remained in the game -- Marco Belinelli (18 points, seven rebounds, five assists) and Noah (10 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) both contributed with outside shooting, but Noahs rebounding and Belinellis playmaking were also positives -- ensured that the Bulls kept the game close and even overtook the Pacific Division leaders midway through the period.

For the time being, things were going the Bulls way, even with Clippers superstar Blake Griffin (22 points, 10 rebounds) knocking down his first three-pointer of the season.

However, a stretch featuring a quarter of consecutive Clippers dunks -- two by Griffin on fast breaks then an alley-oop by center DeAndre Jordan, another prolific dunker, followed by a powerful putback dunk -- changed the tenor of the game, as the Bulls ball-security issues gave the visitors easy transition opportunities and the lead in the contest.

As the Bulls ended the second quarter on the wrong end of a 12-2 run, they went into the intermission facing a 47-40 deficit.

After the break, the Bulls steadily fought back behind the point production of Boozer, Belinelli and Hinrich, quickly narrowing the gap and once again making it a close-knit affair.

For a team thats struggled to consistently knock down shots from long-distance all season, the Bulls went on a tear from three-point range -- they were 5-for-6 from the field in the first half and kept up the pace early in the third quarter -- to briefly take the lead.

Though the Bulls surrendered their edge as Paul and Griffin, receiving aid from the Clippers second unit -- veterans Jamal Crawford (10 points) and Matt Barnes (14 points), in particular, were effective -- lifted the visitors, they stayed within striking distance as the period waned on.

Heading into the final stanza, however, the Bulls were behind, 69-65.

Boozer continued to be the Bulls offensive focal point, carrying the team with his mid-range shooting, solid rebounding and interior finishing on an evening when Noah and Deng both had rare off nights as scorers and Belinelli wasnt exactly efficient as a shooter.

Still, the Clippers managed to widen the gap as their bench play gave them a major boost and the likes of Griffin and Paul -- the former in occasionally spectacular fashion -- made timely baskets.

As the game entered its stretch run, the Bulls simply couldnt make up the deficit and while Noah started to come alive late by making back-to-back tip-ins on the offensive glass, Griffin countered with alley-oops against the visitors vaunted half-court defense to help the Clippers maintain separation.

With 48.3 seconds remaining, however, a Belinelli triple cut the Clippers lead to two, 91-89, but on the subsequent possession, Paul hit a tough shot in the lane to make it a two-possession contest with 27.1 seconds left.

Out of a timeout, Noah drove baseline past Griffin for a tough reverse layup with 22.5 seconds on the clock, but Paul made three out of four free throws in the final 21 seconds to seal the deal for the visitors.

All in all, it was an admirable effort, but not enough to beat an opponent that many observers consider a title contender.

Marlon Byrd on PED suspensions: 'You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident'

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NBC Sports Chicago

Marlon Byrd on PED suspensions: 'You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident'

Six players on Major League Baseball rosters have been suspended twice for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Marlon Byrd, one of the players in that infamous group, has to live with that for the rest of his career. The 40-year-old talked about that on Baseball Night in Chicago on NBC Sports Chicago.

“Anybody that goes through this, it’s a part of their career,” Byrd said. “That’s it. This is a part of my career. Not testing positive once, but testing positive twice. I will always have to answer the question because it is a part of my 15-year major league career and always will. The easiest way to answer it is to tell the truth that way you can do it over and over and over again. Once you start telling fibs or telling lies you start holding onto something that’s not the truth.”

Byrd signed a 3-year deal with the Cubs ahead of the 2010 season. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in April of 2012. Byrd’s first suspension came on June 25, 2012. He was suspended for 50 games. In 2016, he received his second suspension on June 1 and retired after the suspension.

Byrd was asked about his view on the recent Robinson Cano suspension, which will cost the Mariners’ second baseman 80 games. He spoke from personal experience when explaining what can happen with PED use.

“You can make a mistake on purpose or on accident,” Byrd said. “Some guys make it on accident. Some guys make it on purpose. There’s nobody up here that can talk about this better than I can because I’ve done it twice. One time on purpose, one time on accident. To speak for another man and what he went through is tough. Did Robinson do it or not? Only he knows. Nobody else is going to know, but what you have to do is take your suspension.”

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

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USA TODAY

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

Bulls Twitter went on high alert after last week's national report that the front office had made a "promise" to draft Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison if he was still on the board at No. 22 in the first round. Weren't the Bulls supposed to be interested in SF prospects like Michael Porter Jr., Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges with their own first round selection? Did a "promise" to Hutchison mean the Bulls would go with Wendell Carter, Trae Young or Collin Sexton at No. 7?

The simple answer is the Bulls haven't made any final decisions on either pick. They still plan to bring the top prospects in for workouts and interviews before June 21 and will continue to take a close look at players likely to be available in the 18-30 range.

And, like any professional sports franchise, the Bulls aren't about to confirm or deny they've made a commitment to Hutchison or any other player. Drafts are fluid, and invariably players will rise and fall throughout the workout/interview process as teams try to get their boards lined up for the big night.

The main reason a team will make a "promise" to a player is to eliminate his incentive to work out for other franchises. In the case of Hutchison, he's obviously received assurances from a team or teams that he will be drafted in the first round. Hutchison cancelled his plans to participate in last week's NBA Draft Combine, and most likely will only work out for teams drafting ahead of the franchise that said they would select him.

Jerry Krause would famously try to hide his interest in players he coveted in a particular year and persuade them not to work out for other teams. The best example came in 1987 when a little known player from Central Arkansas named Scottie Pippen became an obsession for Krause, and the Bulls GM tried everything in his power to keep Pippen under wraps. Problem is, Pippen did attend the scouting combine and quickly became the hot topic among NBA scouts and executives. It took some intense work on Krause's part to arrange for the draft night trade that brought Pippen to Chicago for Olden Polynice. Krause also added Horace Grant later in that same draft, and the foundation was built for the Bulls' first three championship teams.

So, the idea of a team making a "promise" to a player they like is certainly nothing new. What's important to understand is that doesn't guarantee the team will follow through on that promise when they're on the clock. Back in 2013, the Bulls got word to Louisville big man Gorgui Dieng they were interested in taking him with their No. 20 pick in round one. But when the Bulls were on the clock, the front office decided they would rather have New Mexico swingman Tony Snell who was ranked higher on their draft board. The Bulls drafted Snell, much to Dieng and his agent's surprise. Dieng wound up going to Utah with the next pick and was traded to Minnesota. He's still with that franchise today, although in a reduced role after the Timberwolves signed Taj Gibson as a free agent last summer.

With so much uncertainty in this year's draft, it seems unlikely the Bulls would "promise" to select Hutchison five weeks before the selection process was going to begin. Hutchison and his agent most likely received assurances from NBA executives that he would be drafted in the 20-30 range, and that was enough to get him to drop out of the combine. But just like in 2013, if the Bulls see a player ranked higher on their draft board fall to 22, that's the player they're going to take.

Hutchison is a good prospect, a 3-and-D player who would fit well with the team the Bulls are building. But he's also a 22-year-old senior without the upside of some of the younger prospects who might be available with the Bulls' pick late in Round 1. Both Hutchison and the Bulls have to reserve the right to protect their own best interests. Hutchison will most likely agree to work out for teams drafting earlier than 22, and he'll have to understand if the Bulls decide to go a different direction on draft night, no matter what kind of previous discussions his agent may have had with the front office.

At this point in the pre-draft process, a "promise" can only be seen as a team's legitimate interest in a given player and an indicator of how the first round is likely to play out. But a lot can and will change before Phoenix goes on the clock on June 21.

Combine notes

Since most of the projected first round picks do little or nothing at the combine, it's left to the second-round guys to try to improve their draft stock with a strong showing in the scrimmage games. Last year, it was Kyle Kuzma working his way into the first round with a dazzling performance at the combine, and this year, the big winner might be Villanova shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo.

The NCAA Tournament hero impressed everyone with his athleticism on both ends and his ability to knock down open shots. DiVincenzo told me his 31-point performance in the title game against Michigan convinced him he had what it takes to apply for early entry, and his strong showing last week probably convinced him to hire an agent and remain in the draft.

Much like Kuzma, DiVincenzo had been projected as a likely second-round pick before the combine. Now he's looked at as a probable first rounder, going somewhere in the 20-30 range, which means he's likely headed to a good team that can ease his transition to the pro game. Not bad for a guy who came off the bench most of the season for the eventual NCAA champs and probably never imagined he would be leaving early for the NBA until that magical night in San Antonio.

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Other players who improved their draft stock last week include USC combo guard De’Anthony Melton, Maryland swingman Kevin Huerter, Tulane shooting guard Melvin Frazier, Cincinnati swingman Jacob Evans and another Villanova product, point guard Jalen Brunson.

Brunson didn't play in the scrimmages in Chicago, but he showed well in the physical testing, displaying the kind of athleticism every team is looking for at the point guard position. It looks like Brunson will definitely be a first round pick.

Similar story for Evans, who averaged a modest 13 points a game for a top 10 Cincinnati team, but impressed the NBA execs at the combine with his tenacious defensive play and offensive potential. Evans could be a possibility for the Bulls at 22.

Maryland's Huerter showed scouts he's more than just a standstill 3-point shooter. The 6-foot-6 sophomore averaged just under 15 points a game last season, shooting almost 42 percent from 3-point range. Huerter's solid play at the combine gives him a chance to be drafted at the end of Round 1.

Frazier also showed enough in games last week to have his name called among the top 30 picks. At 6-foot-6, he has excellent size at the shooting guard position. Frazier averaged just under 16 points a game during his junior season at Tulane, shooting almost 56 percent from the field.

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But the most interesting story involves Melton, who was held out by USC last season because of his connection to the FBI's investigation of corruption in college basketball. Melton maintained his innocence all along, and said the university was just doing what it had to do, fearing additional trouble with the NCAA over allegations a friend of Melton's had accepted money to try to steer Melton to an agent.

Still, even without playing competitively last season, Melton probably cemented a first round selection with his play at the combine. The 6-foot-4 combo guard flashed on both ends, scoring 15 points in a game last Friday playing alongside DiVincenzo in the backcourt.

Melton told USA Today he compares himself to other two-way standouts like Dwyane Wade, Kawhi Leonard and Avery Bradley. That's some pretty impressive company. Melton might be worth the investment of that No. 22 pick by the Bulls.

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Kudos to all the players who took part in the two days of media interviews last week. Almost all of them came off poised and well prepared. Among the top ten picks, I was especially impressed with Michael Porter Jr., who patiently answered all the questions about his back surgery and confidently said he considered himself the best player in the draft without sounding cocky.

Of course, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young also proclaimed themselves the best player in the draft, and projected top 10 picks Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr. and Collin Sexton also came across as supremely confident.

The latest Basketball Insiders Mock Draft has the Bulls taking Bamba at 7 and Chandler Hutchison at 22, which would make the front office and a lot of Bulls fans very happy. But just to show you the wide range in how draft experts are evaluating the top prospects, Basketball Insiders currently has Jackson Jr. going 11 to Charlotte, and it's hard for me to imagine him staying on the board past four.

Brace yourself for all kinds of wild speculation over the next four weeks.

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Finally, May 22 turned out to be quite a day for Lauri Markkanen. Not only is Markkanen celebrating his 21st birthday, but he found out he was voted to the NBA's All-Rookie first team after averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Markkanen joined Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma from the extremely talented 2017-18 rookie class.

And the second team isn't bad either with Dennis Smith Jr., Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Given Markkanen's talent and work ethic, it's very easy to see him making multiple All-Star Game appearances down the line. The Bulls can only hope they come up with another foundation player like Markkanen when they draft seventh for the second year in a row.