White Sox

Bulls, Lucas III stun Heat without Rose

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Bulls, Lucas III stun Heat without Rose

So much for the bogus theory that the Bulls are all Derrick Rose and a bunch of nobodies, something that should have been dismissed long ago in the first place.

It was just a regular-season game, so lets keep things in perspective, but although the Bulls (36-9) 106-102 win over the rival Heat (31-11) Wednesday night at the United Center, without the leagues reigning MVP in the lineup, may not have been enough to erase the memory of last springs playoff loss, it certainly went a long way in changing the perception that the team is a one-man gang, as the unlikeliest of heroes, John Lucas III, led the way.

Without Rose, the Bulls relied on their typically excellent ball movement and their unselfishness paid off in the form of easy layups and dunksswingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points, six rebounds), in particular, was a prime beneficiarywhile making timely defensive plays to propel the home team to a slim cushion early in the contest.

The visitors, lustily booed by the raucous crowd, struck back behind their two superstars, LeBron James (35 points) and Dwyane Wade (36 points), who each hit a variety of contested degree-of-difficulty shots.

That trend continued for Miami, as the All-Star wing duo provided the guests only offense in the opening period, although team defense and a slight edge on the glass made up for the lack of secondary scoring.

A gimpy C.J. Watson (11 points), starting on place of Rose while playing on a clearly tender left ankle, gutted out a solid initial stint, while Carlos Boozer played a strong all-around frame and his backup, Taj Gibson (eight points, eight rebounds), provided energy off the benchas did rookie Jimmy Butler (eight points), who fared well guarding James for a spellbut the Bulls trailed, 23-19, after a quarter of play.

Gibson, coming off one of his best efforts of the season Monday evening against his hometown Knicks, continued to spark the Bulls early in the second quarter, helping the squad regain the lead with big finishes, relentless rebounding and by providing a defensive presence.

He received help from a modified Bench Mobfeaturing Butler, who drove to the basket with abandon in transition, sharpshooter Kyle Korvers (12 points) outside marksmanship and backup center Omer Asik, who energized the building with a deft save of a loose ball before it went out of bounds, followed by a tip-in on the other endand the hosts obtained some breathing room, though Miamis third All-Star, Chris Bosh (12 points), began to contribute.

Upon Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserting his starterswith the exception of Watson; John Lucas III (24 points, 8-for-12 shooting, 3-for-5 from three-point range) remained in the contestthe Bulls immediately stretched the spread to double digits, as All-Star Luol Deng (11 points, five rebounds), in his first game back after a two-game absence to rest his ailing right wrist, knocked down a triple, and Joakim Noah (14 points, six rebounds) absolutely posterized Heat center Joel Anthony.

Lucas, however, was the star of the show, as the diminutive floor general not only acquitted himself much better than he did when he last played against the Heat, but went above and beyond, knocking down three consecutive long bombs, including two three-pointers, to give the Bulls a comfortable lead, though a furious Heat run, fueled by James, cut the lead to 53-42 at the intermission.

Following the break, an expected Miami spurt took place early in the third period, but while the Bulls withstood the visitors initial push, the Heat gradually decreased the deficit, as a dominant James and increasingly efficient Wade went to work.

But the hosts refused to fade away and with timely scoring from the likes of Brewer and Watson, as well as continued hustle plays and strong team defense, they not only maintained their advantage, but built it back up to double digits again.

Deng and Noah, two of the teams normal starters, also imposed their will on the contest by becoming more assertive on offense, while consistently making hustle plays and getting defensive stops, all of which contributed to the Bulls advantage further ballooning. Thibodeau again went to his reserves, keeping Deng on the floor, and they responded, as they limited the Heat defensively and headed into the final stanza with an 81-70 advantage.

The balanced-attack Bulls continued to withstand the Heats repeated pushes, with solid rebounding, defense and unselfish offense leading the way, not to mention individual scoring plays at critical junctures from the likes of Deng and even the rookie Butler.

Once again, however, Lucas carried the Bulls offensively, seemingly scoring at willeven when guarded by James, the same strategy Miami used to stymie Rose in last springs Eastern Conference Finalsto hold off both an impressive individual run by Wade and a Heat comeback, at least as the game entered its stretch run.

Noah came up big late, finishing point-blank shots in traffic with contact, but Wade continued to exercise his will and on the other end, James blanketed the much smaller Lucas to get the ball out of his hands.

But the Bulls came up big when it counted most, as Korver knocked down four free throws and Lucas, the hero sealed the deal with a pair of shots from the charity stripe with six seconds to go, offsetting Heat designated marksman James Jones two late triples, allowing the Bulls to prevail and the unexpected to occur.

White Sox can aid crusade to contend by adding some pop this winter

White Sox can aid crusade to contend by adding some pop this winter

The White Sox hit four home runs Tuesday night, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But the guys who hit those round trippers have combined for just 31 of them this season.

Meanwhile, when Miguel Sano obliterated a baseball 482 feet in the third inning, he became the Minnesota Twins’ fifth player to reach 30 bombs this season. That’s the first time that’s happened in a single season in baseball history.

While you were sleeping, the high-powered Twins defeated the White Sox on a walk-off hit by pitch, one of the least powerful ways you can win a ballgame. But the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes has won far more games this season by smashing baseballs into the stratosphere.

They’ll likely win an AL Central title on that premise, and while it’s not the only way to set yourself up as a World Series contender, in 2019 it’s one of the better ways. The top eight teams in the game in home runs are either going to the postseason or remain in a pennant race: the Twins, the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland Athletics, the Cubs, the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers.

So let’s bring this around to the White Sox, whose winter shopping list is beginning to take shape as they prepare to set their sights on the offseason.

We all know Rick Hahn and his front office will be targeting starting pitching, the general manager has said as much after the organization’s major league ready depth in that area was worn bare in 2019. We’ll have to wait to find out whether Hahn inks a top-of-the-rotation star or provides depth behind All-Star hurler Lucas Giolito. But that shouldn’t — nay, can’t — be the only area that gets a facelift.

The White Sox also need an everyday right fielder, the internal options whittled from bountiful to non-existent thanks to injuries and under-performance in the minor leagues this season. The White Sox could probably also use a designated hitter. While Zack Collins — one of the home-run hitters Tuesday night — is getting a lot of reps there right now, if this team has eyes on contending next season, they might not have the luxury of playing “let’s see what he can do” with Collins.

Those two positions would figure to provide opportunities for Hahn’s front office to add some desperately needed pop to this lineup.

The White Sox are in the middle of their final up-close-and-personal demonstration of what an influx of offseason power can do, playing against baseball’s home-run leaders in the Twins. No team in baseball has launched more homers than the Twins this season, which is by design after they spent last offseason adding Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez, a quartet that combined for 104 home runs in 2018. This year, they’ve blasted a combined 95 with a week and a half worth of games left.

The power numbers are remarkable in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and in an era where the home-run ball is dominating, they’re doing it better than anyone. White Sox fans surely don’t need to be reminded of that fact. The Twins have hit 39 home runs against the South Siders this season, including 27 of them at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cruz, who is the only player in the bigs to hit at least 35 homers in each of the last six seasons, has hit eight of his 37 dingers off White Sox pitching.

While the White Sox likely won’t deviate from their rebuilding efforts just to copy the Twins, there’s no doubt they could use some additional power. They came into Tuesday night with the sixth fewest home runs in baseball, some of the game’s worst teams the only ones behind them. With the Twins using the longball to win a division crown and make themselves one of the best teams in the game, surely the White Sox could benefit from mixing some outside pop in with their cavalcade of young players.

They’ll likely get some help from Luis Robert, who belted 32 home runs in the minors this season a year after hitting none while battling thumb injuries in 2018. Nick Madrigal probably won’t do much for the White Sox home-run total, but a full, healthy season of Eloy Jimenez should. He’s en route to a 30-homer rookie season despite missing nearly 40 games. Jose Abreu certainly hasn’t been the problem, flirting with a career high in homers while blasting past his career high in RBIs. James McCann, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson all had terrific seasons, but is a significant jump in home runs expected for 2020? Probably not.

So added power will have to come from the two holes that need plugging in the everyday lineup.

Who’s out there? Fans will jump right to J.D. Martinez, who’s expected to opt out of his deal with the Boston Red Sox and become a highly pursued free agent. Martinez would fit the bill, all right, with 35 more homers this season to bring his total since the start of the 2015 season to a whopping 183.

Martinez will have his fair share of pursuers, and it’ll cost some big bucks to make his opt-out worth it (even though the Red Sox would probably be happy to see his salary come off the books given their supposed financial pickle). But the White Sox have that much-discussed money to spend, and Martinez would solve their power deficiency as their everyday DH.

Corner outfield free agents to-be include Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna. If the disastrous Pittsburgh Pirates decide to let Starling Marte walk, he could add a career-high 23 homers to the lineup. Kole Calhoun could hit the market, and he’s past the 30-homer mark this season. He’s also the only lefty in that group, something that could matter considering the White Sox projected lineup for 2020 and beyond is heavily right handed.

And then there’s the trade market. But remember that the depth of the White Sox farm system doesn’t look much like it did a year ago, and it could be rather difficult for Hahn to create an appealing package of prospects that could fetch the kind of impact bat (or arm, for that matter) the team would like to add to the roster.

The opportunities are there for the White Sox to make some Twins-esque additions and ratchet up the power numbers in 2020. It won’t mean they’ll be mashing at a Twins-esque level — considering that no team in baseball has, even the ones also hitting homers in bunches — but it’s a trait that’s helping teams across the game win on a nightly basis.

The White Sox could help their crusade to contend in 2020 — to join that group of baseball’s best teams — by improving themselves in that area this winter.

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Bears offensive line stonewalled Von Miller in Week 2

Bears offensive line stonewalled Von Miller in Week 2

Denver Broncos superstar pass-rusher Von Miller is one of the most feared defenders in the NFL. He can single-handedly destroy an offense's gameplan, and in Sunday's Week 2 matchup against the Chicago Bears, it was up to Charles Leno and Bobby Massie to make sure he didn't make a game-changing sack of Mitch Trubisky.

Mission accomplished.

The Bears' offensive line wasn't perfect in Denver, but they checked one of the biggest boxes of the week by keeping Miller away from Trubisky all afternoon. According to Pro Football Focus, Miller made no impact -- literally none -- as a pass rusher.

Miller entered the 2019 season with five-straight seasons of double-digit sacks, including 14.5 in 2018. His rare talent, combined with the defensive genius of Vic Fangio, appeared like a mission-impossible in Week 2. But Leno and Massie answered the call in dominant fashion. They both finished the game with top-10 grades on Chicago's offense, per PFF.

To be fair, Miller registered an elite grade against the run in Week 2, but his 49.3 pass-rush grade was the worst on the Broncos defense. You read that right; Miller was Denver's worst pass-rusher Sunday.

Kudos to Leno and Massie for a job well done.