Bears

Bulls prevail over Heat in OT

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Bulls prevail over Heat in OT

First, the expected: Thursday nights matchup between the Bulls and the Heat came down to the wireat least in regulationas the Bulls, propelled by a stellar performance by the Bench Mob, displayed their trademark selflessness, balance and resiliency to defeat the Heat, 96-86 in an overtime thriller at the United Center.

Now, the unexpected: Derrick Rose, back from a one-game hiatus due to a sprained ankle, sat for the bulk of the exciting finish while enduring a career-worst night and watching his understudy, C.J. Watson play the hero, as the backup point guard played marvelously throughout the contest, including hitting a three-pointer to send the game into the extra session with 2.2 seconds left.

As they wont to do, the Bulls started the contest playing catch-up, in a 6-0 holewith Miamis All-Star trio of LeBron James (30 points, six rebounds, five assists), Dwyane Wade (21 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Chris Bosh (20 points, eight rebounds) each scoring a bucketto begin the game before a Rip Hamilton fast-break jumper opened scoring for the hosts.

While the Heat utilized balanced scoring to build an early cushion, the Bulls relied on Carlos Boozer (19 points, 11 rebounds) to be their offensive catalystthe starting backcourt of Rose (career-low two points, 1-for-13 shooting) and Rip Hamilton both struggled in the early goingand the much-maligned power forward delivered as a scorer, rebounding force and displayed his underrated passing ability with a touch pass to Joakim Noah for a dunk.

Boozer aside, however, the Bulls struggled mightily from the field, not to mention having ball-security issues, which allowed the athletic visitors to get out in transition, complementing their half-court efficiency and quick start shooting the ball.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, perhaps searching for a solution to his squads slow-start blues, changed his rotation and went with the Bench Mobincluding All-Star Luol Deng (16 points, five rebounds), a starter who regularly plays with the second unitearlier than usual and the adjustment worked, as a quick individual spurt from Watson (16 points, nine assists) got the home team back into the game, closing within 22-19 at the conclusion of the opening period.

The reserves continued to build momentum, first tying the Heat, then surpassing them early in the second quarter, as designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver (17 points, 5-for-6 three-point shooting), who replaced Deng, got the hot hand, knocking down a pair of triples.

Of course, the majority of that Bulls push occurred against Miamis second unit, but even after Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reinserted his regulars, of the Big Three, only Bosh had a major impact, as James was uneven, mixing the sublime with the subpar, while Wade, a Chicago native, didnt make much of a dent.

The hosts held on to their slight edge, but the visitors star power eventually came into play, as Wade and James, in particular, turned it up and with Rose scoreless, the Heat built their own cushion toward the end of the period, as the Bulls suffered through one of their periodic offensive droughts at the wrong time.

At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 41-36.

After the break, the Bulls cold shootingnot only from the field, but also the charity stripe, a more frequent issue as of latecontinued and following an initial spurt at the outset of the third quarter, the Heat again got into an offensive rhythm, enabling them to maintain comfortable separation from the home team.

Of the Bulls starters, Boozer was able to maintain his productivity, mostly via mid-range jumpers, but his peers continued to have accuracy issues, though Rose finally got on the board with a jumper at the 7:01 mark of the period.

Thibodeau made adjustments, however, utilizing a semi-Bench Mob lineupstarting wings Deng and Hamilton were paired with Watson and reserve big men Taj Gibson (11 points, five rebounds) and Omer Asikand the strategy worked, as the Bulls erased a double-digit deficit to climb back into the contest.

Watsons dogged defensehe drew back-to-back offensive fouls on Heat point-guard counterpart Mario Chalmersand the perimeter marksmanship of Hamilton and Deng, along with typically stellar interior defense from Asik and Gibson allowed the Bulls to narrow the gap to 62-60 heading into the final stanza.

Thibodeau stuck with the effective unit to start the fourth quarterresulting in a Miami shot-clock violation to start the period, following a defensive stand to end the previous frameand it proved to beneficial, as the combination of hustle plays, offensive rebounding, a stout defensive effort, a solid floor game from Watson and Deng taking an aggressive scoring approach ended up with the Bulls seizing the lead from their guests.

Korvers outside shooting, Gibsons energetic play on both ends, as well as a defense that put the clamps on the Heatthough the aforementioned superstar trio scored timely baskets to hang aroundbuoyed the hosts, supported by their raucous fans, but as the game entered its stretch run, Thibodeau exchanged the floor generalship of Watson for Rose, who had been sitting for over a quarter of play.

Wade, back in his hometown, raised his level of play in the clutch, scoring five consecutive baskets to help the Heat close to within 81-80 with 1:20 remaining, leading to a Bulls timeout, after which Rose, suffering through a miserable outing, missed on a drive, on which there was some degree of contact, if not enough for a foul to be called.

On the subsequent possession, James drained a corner three-pointer following an offensive rebound, giving Miami an 83-81 advantage with 49.3 seconds left.

After a timeout, Thibodeau went back to Watson, but after a failed Bulls possession and a jump ballrookie swingman Jimmy Butler, seeing his first action of the night, tied up Heat big man Ronny Turiaf and the visitors won the tipJames was fouled and split a pair of attempts from the charity stripe.

On the ensuing possession, Watson knocked down a triple to tie the game at 84 apiece with 2.2 seconds to go in regulation and after a Miami timeout, Wade missed a jumper to win the game, sending the contest into overtime.

The hosts were shot out of a cannon in the extra session, as Deng buried a jumper to open the scoring, followed by an Asik block and a thunderous Gibson fast-break dunk, plus the foul, then the completion of the traditional three-point play.

Notable was the fact that both Rose and Noahwho hadnt seen the floor since midway through the third quarter and would only return after Gibson fouled outwere both sitting, but it didnt make a difference, as Thibodeaus adjustments were paying off in the form of the games momentum and the lead, as the reigning NBA Coach of the Year mostly rode the play of the Bench Mob, with Deng also in the game and offense-for-defense substitutions when necessary.

Watson continued to come through in the clutch, hitting timely shots and running the show to perfection, while Asiks interior presence and Gibsons energy and ever-increasing skill level stymied the Heat, which was reflected in the Bulls comfortable cushion, which grew to double digits when Korver splashed a three from the top of the key to make it 96-86 with 1:02 left.

That score would be the final, as the guests waved the white flag when it became evident that it just wasnt their night, with a rematch looming in Miami next week.

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

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USA Today

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

A year ago, had the Bears come within one yard of tying the New England Patriots in a game in which they allowed two special teams touchdowns, the vibe in the Solider Field locker room might’ve been different. Sort of like, hey, that was pretty good that we were able to hang with one of the league's best teams and nearly tie and/or beat them despite our own mistakes. 

The operative term, then, after Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots may be confident frustration. The Bears know they’re a good team, better than they’ve had in recent memory. And that makes losing a game this team felt it was close to winning that much more frustrating. 

“We still had confidence last year that we could go in and win games (last year), but I would say this year we know what type of team we have,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “We know we got a quarterback that’s developing and throwing the ball down the field really well. We know we have a great wide receiver corps. We know we have rushers that can get to the quarterback. We have a really good team and we’re going to have to figure out how to capitalize on that big play momentum and finish games out.”

Perhaps this is a picture of a talented team still trying to figure out how to win. The Bears’ defense entered Sunday allowing an average of 8.8 yards per play in the fourth quarter and allowed 6.5 yards per play in the final 15 minutes Sunday, including a critical 96-yard touchdown drive. 

And while Mitch Trubisky’s Hail Mary to Kevin White came up one yard short, that the Bears were even in that situation to begin with was the problem. New England was able to chew up 3:49 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Bears' offense with 24 seconds remaining. Get a stop earlier and the Bears might not have to rely on a nearly-converted heave with time expiring to tie the game. 

“In games like this, your room for error is slim in all phases,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “No matter what we did (well), there are still a couple things that we have to clean up against a team like that."

The Bears’ defense is remaining confident despite scant pressure on Brady — he was sacked once (by Roquan Smith) and hit only three times (by Smith, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris). Khalil Mack barely showed up on the stat sheet, registering only one tackle while being dropped into coverage far more frequently than he made an impact as a pass rusher. How much he was affected by his injured ankle, or how much defensive coordinator Vic Fangio felt he had to gameplan around it, is unclear (Mack did not speak to the media following the game). 

Leonard Floyd, too, was picked on by Brady, who frequently got the ball out quick in a successful effort to mitigate a pass rush that’s struggled to make an impact after recording 18 sacks in four games to begin the year. But the confidence is still there, despite seemingly few reasons for optimism since the second half in Miami kicked off last weekend. 

“We definitely don’t feel like (we’ve hit a wall),” safety Eddie Jackson said. “That’s probably the greatest quarterback in the NFL right now. We just gotta come in, we left some things on the field, we left some plays on the field. Like I said, it’s tough trying to put this one behind you but, you know, it’s a long season. We’re not getting down on ourselves, we’re still going to play with confidence. That confidence is still there.” 

Games against two of the league’s worst offenses in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, then, should help the Bears’ defensive production match its confidence, if that line of thinking is to be believed. But as the first four games of the season get farther and farther in the rearview mirror, this is a defense that has to prove itself again in the coming weeks. 

“(The Patriots) came to play all together, and not saying we didn’t but we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “It’s on us. Defense, we got it though. We’re not worried about it. It’s another game we lost. We got how many other games, we got 10 games left? Yeah. I’m not worried about it. I don’t think anybody is.”

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their 1st victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.