Bulls

Bulls set for reunion with Rockets' Asik

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Bulls set for reunion with Rockets' Asik

HOUSTONWednesday evenings game against the Rockets will be a reunion for the Bulls. For the first time since their season-ending loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs in May, Omer Asik will be on the same court with his first NBA team.

Asiks final game for the Bulls didnt end so well, as the center missed two free throws against the 76ers, opening the door for swingman Andre Iguodalas coast-to-coast drivethe All-Star, now in Denver, was fouled on the play by Asik and hit two foul shotsto end the game and the Bulls postseason. Still, fans in Chicago mourned when Asik signed with Houston over the summer, after the Bulls declined to match a back-loaded, three-year, nearly 25-million offer sheet from the Rockets.

A backup to Joakim Noah in Chicago, the native of Turkey wasnt a prolific scorer for the Bulls, but drew raves from personnel around the league for his defensive acumen and rebounding ability. As a Rockets starter, Asik is averaging a double-double10 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in 32.3 minutes a nightand is proving that all the fuss over his departure was worth it.

Omer is Omer. He plays to win, he makes the team function well. Theres so many intangibles that he brings to your team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said prior to the teams practice Tuesday morning at the Toyota Center. When you look at it, what he did throughout his career, two years in Chicago, each year he got significantly better and for him, he was playing behind Jo, so theres not a ton of minutes there, but we felt strongly about how good he was and we knew that. We also understand he has the right characteristics, the right makeup. Seven feet, hes got great drive, great character and great intelligence, so those type of players always improve. So, its not surprising. Hes getting more minutes, so his productions going to be better.

Thibodeau, a former Rockets assistant, flew to meet with Asik at the outset of the NBAs free-agency period in July, but apparently failed to convince him to continue to accept a reserve role, let alone take less money than he garnered on the open market.

Explained Thibodeau: Thats part of the league. We felt good about him, the way he performed for us. Plus, we knew that he liked it there. In the end, hes got to make the decision that he feels is best for him and his family, and he did that and thats part of it, so you move on and you move forward.

Asik formed a remarkably effective defensive tag team with fellow reserve big man Taj Gibsonwho himself recently signed a long-term contract extension, making the conclusion that the Bulls valued him over Asik an obvious one, especially considering the poison pill the Rockets put in the last year of Asiks contract, for 15 million in the 2014-15 seasonbut while observers around the league may consider Asiks numbers (which include 1.2 blocks and only 2.9 fouls a night for the previously foul-prone 26-year-old, as well as an improved 62.5 percent from the charity stripe and on the negative end of things, only 44.9 percent shooting from the field and 3.4 turnovers per game) eye-opening, Gibson and his teammates arent surprised.

The first thing that stands out is hes getting a lot more minutes and hes playing to the best of his ability, and hes a great rebounder. I used to witness him during the game, when Joakim used to be hurt, and he used to get 10 rebounds, easily, a night, so you see him doing that and people recognizing that, and Im happy for him, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. One thing about the NBA, when you get a lot, you get a lot of touches and game experience, which hes doing right now, your confidence builds and I can see him doing a lot more stuff in the post, watching film on him. Hes doing a lot of different things with his back to the basket. Even though I saw him do it in practice with me and Joakim a lot, now hes getting more confidence catching the ball in tough positions, so its good.

I know at times it was tough on him, not being able to play a lot. I just told him to be patient. I just told him, Just keep working on your game, be patient. Dont get out of pocket, just play your game, and he took that and ran with it, and when the summer time came, we really had no clue whether he was going to stay in Chicago or not. Then, he got offered a big deal here and the rest is history. Hes doing a good job.

Concurred Noah: No question. I think everybody who saw our team knew that Omer was a big part of what we did last year. I actually felt like I had the best backup center in the entire NBA, but I understand he wanted a bigger role and hes showing everybody what hes capable of.

Noah, who consistently views games from a team perspective, rather than focusing on the player hell match up with on a given evening, is only worried about the Bulls snapping their two-game losing streak Wednesday.

Were two teams that are desperate for a win right now, Noah said about the contest against the Rockets, losers of three consecutive games. Omer, hes a hell of a competitor. Hes a friend of mine. Im really happy for him. I think that hes playing very well and its important for us to come in for the right mindset, try to get this win.

Added Thibodeau: Its not going to be an individual matchup. Its going to be our team against their team. We know what his strengths and weaknesses are, and youre concerned about how were going to try to make it hard on their team, not the individual matchup. Omers a good player, did a great job for us. Were happy for him, but we know that theres a bigger challenge than any individual matchup.

Wendell Carter Jr., NBA Cares host court restoration event that honors slain teenager Darius Brown

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USA TODAY

Wendell Carter Jr., NBA Cares host court restoration event that honors slain teenager Darius Brown

On Saturday NBA Cares, jr. NBA, EA Sports, Wendell Carter Jr., Complex and artist Hebru Brantley teamed up to renovate the  MetCalfePark basketball court in honor of slain teenager Darius Brown, who was fatally shot and killed on August 3, 2011. 

The court was re-designed with Brantley's FlyBoy character as the centerpiece.

The FlyBoy character represents “hope and optimism that makes people believe that no matter where they are from, no matter what their circumstances, anything is possible."

The event hosted by NBA Cares—and also a part of Complex Community Week—featured Wendell Carter Jr. conversing with the kids and helping "Slam Dunking Science Teacher "Jonathan Clark with an awesome dunking display for the kids. 

Metcalfe Park's (43rd State) new look is amazing and the FlyBoy image serves as the perfect image for the court.

As Hebru Brantley states, "FlyBoy is about taking flight and believing in yourself enough to reach your true potential."

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On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

Consider the Cubs’ starting middle infield in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres to be comprised of two extremes. 

On one end of the spectrum was Addison Russell, who started at second base. Russell was doubled off second base on an Albert Almora line drive in the second inning — a ball hit hard enough where, had it fell in for a hit, he wouldn’t have scored. There was no spinning Russell drifting far enough off second base to be doubled up; it was simply bad baserunning. 

Russell, too, was thrown out at home on an Almora ground ball in the fourth inning. He appeared to lose a pop fly in the sun, too, which fell in for a double in the third inning. 

Manager Joe Maddon was willing to excuse the pop-up double — “The sun ball, there’s nothing you could do about that,” he said — but sounded frustrated with Russell’s far-too-frequent baserunning gaffes. 

“He’s gotta straighten some things out,” Maddon said. “He has to. There’s no question. I’m not going to stand here — he’s got to, we’ve talked about his baserunning in the past. 

“… The baserunning, there’s some things there — we’re making too many outs on the bases and we’re missing things on the bases that we can’t to be an elite team.”

Russell’s mistakes were part of a larger sloppy showing by both teams. As Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler put it: “No lead was safe. It was really just who was going to survive and not make so many mistakes.”

Javier Baez ensured the Cubs would survive by not merely avoiding mistakes, but by coming up with two massive plays. 

Baez’s three-run home run in the fourth inning gave the Cubs’ the lead for good, and he fell a triple short of the cycle. He’s homered in consecutive games, and Maddon senses the 26-year-old is emerging from a slump that dropped his OPS to .853 after Wednesday’s game, his lowest mark since the small-sample-size landscape of mid-April. 

But it was Baez’s masterful tag in the bottom of the ninth inning that captured most of the attention around Wrigley Field, reminding everyone in the dugouts and stands just how incredible “El Mago” can be. 

Craig Kimbrel walked Wil Myers to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, and after budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. inexplicably bunted (he popped out), Myers took off to steal second base. Kimbrel sailed a fastball high and inside, and Victor Caratini’s throw was well to the left of second base. Myers appeared to have the base stolen until Baez gloved the ball and rapidly snapped a tag onto Myers’ left leg:

”We needed a play made, and he made it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s what he does.”

Baez’s home run increased the Cubs’ win expectancy by 35.7 percent; his tag on Myers upped it that mark from 83.3 percent to 96.5 percent. This is why the Cubs’ mantra, even when Baez is in a lull, is to let Javy be Javy. 

One player can’t carry a team forever — Baez had his best season as a pro in 2018, only to see the Cubs crash out of the Wild Card game, of course. But it’s hard to not think about the kind of plays Baez can conjure up when the Cubs need them the most in 2019’s playoff race. 

After all, stuff like that tag on Myers — the Cubs have come to expect that from Baez. 

“You saw a lot of plays today, they weren’t baseball plays,” Maddon said. “The game is clamoring for baseball players who know how to play this game, and he’s one. He is one. He’s got the biggest hard drive, the most RAM, he’s got everything going on every day. 

“He sees things, he’s got great vision. Technically, he’s a tremendous baseball player. He’s going to make some mistakes, like everyone else does, but what he sees and sees in advance — it’s like the best running back, it’s the best point guard you’ve ever seen. It’s all of that. As a shortstop, that’s what he is.

“… We needed him to be that guy today and he was. And again, it’s not overtly surprising.”