Bulls

Can the Bulls survive with Rose still finding his rhythm?

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Can the Bulls survive with Rose still finding his rhythm?

Tom Thibodeau has been loath to look ahead all season, but now that they've dispatched the lowly Cavaliers and finished their regular season on a triumphant note Thursday night -- with All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng sitting, as well as reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the "Bench Mob" was in full effect, as John Lucas III scored 25 points and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine hitting the last shot of the game, fittingly -- his Bulls, owners of home-court advantage throughout the postseason for the second consecutive season, can finally focus on the playoffs. A bonus for the opening-round series against the eighth-seeded 76ers, in terms of subplots, were the comments of second-year Philadelphia swingman Evan Turner, a Chicago native, about the Sixers preferring to face the Heat instead of the second-seeded Heat and while the Bulls deny needing any extra motivation, it can't hurt that they can, at least privately, use the respect factor as added impetus to fuel their fire.Though the Sixers have matched up with the Bulls well in the past, the genesis of Turner's opinion, whether Philadelphia admits it or not, stems from the fact that Rose -- a rival of Turner's, going back to their high school days, when the former No. 2 overall draft pick played for St. Joseph in suburban Westchester and the reigning league MVP was at Simeon -- hasn't been 100 percent for the majority of the regular season. Without Rose in the lineup due to a variety of injuries, the Bulls have gone 18-9 this season. Aswell as they've performed without the All-Star point guard, it's a fact that they won't be able to achieve their dream of winning a championship without him playing at, if not an MVP level, close to it.However, after seeing him regain some of his explosiveness in Wednesday's road win at Indiana -- although shots didn't fall for him in a pedestrian 10-point outing, Rose attacked the basket more than he did in the team's previous contest, last Saturday's victory over the Mavericks -- it appears that the 23-year-old is on his way back to his previous form, which is bad news for the Sixers. Let's be honest: Turner and his teammates might have a better chance at stealing a game or two against a Bulls team still working Rose back into the mix, but the Bulls could probably handle Philadelphia, albeit in a more competitive fashion, even without their superstar in a seven-game series.The Sixers, after looking like they'd run away with the Atlantic Division in the first half of the season, had a dramatic freefall after the All-Star break withtalk of locker-room dissension with former Bulls head coach Doug Collins losing the team and their lack of a go-to scorer exposed, leading them to limp into a playoff berth in the season's final week, instead of clinching it much earlier. While their formula of staunch defense, balanced offense and generally mistake-free basketball can keep them in games, the Bulls have a similar style, more talent andtoo much size inside. WithRose's health improving, not to mention the motivation Turner provided, the first-round series shouldn't even be close.Moving forward, Rose's ability to get back to a superstar level is what the Bulls' title chances hinge on, but a deep supporting cast -- including two backup point guards who have proved fully capable of leading the team in spurts, Lucas and second-stringer C.J. Watson -- should allow the Englewood product to ease his way back into becoming a dominant force again, at least in the postseason's early stages. Also featuring a versatile first-time All-Star in Deng, a unique center who matches up well with any potential Eastern Conference foe in Noah, an experienced veteran of playoff battles who's now finding his stride in shooting guard Rip Hamilton and a solid, if much-maligned power forward in Carlos Boozer, the Bulls have the necessary secondary options in the now-intact starting lineup to take pressure off Rose, as well as a deep bench with multiple weapons, such as Korver and other starting-caliber players like Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer, not to mention defensive specialist Omer Asik.But while that will be enough to get by the Sixers, with a potential second-round matchup against Boston looming, Rose will need to be at his best, especially against a veteran team with championship experience and a fellow All-Star point guard in Rajon Rondo. The Bulls can compete with the Celtics or any other upper-echelon team even if he wasn't in the lineup, but their odds of winning a series greatly decrease if he isn't affecting the games the way he's capable of doing, chiefly getting to the rim, putting constant pressure on the opposing defense, drawing fouls and when the Bulls suffer through one of their periodic offensive droughts, shouldering the offensive load.The same goes for a potential Eastern Conference Finals rematch with Miami -- if the Heat somehow succumb to the Knicks in the first round or fall to the underrated Pacers in an expected second-round series or even if Boston loses to Atlanta, which owns home-court advantage in the first round, the Bulls could continue to advance without Rose playing at an elite level, but it wouldn't be easy -- and certainly, if they were to make it to the NBA Finals, in the championship round against whoever comes out of the West. But long story short, as much as Philadelphia would rather take on the Bulls than the Heat, the Bulls probably feel the same way about preferring the Sixers to the seventh-seeded Knicks, as Rose would have to get in gear much earlier against high-octane New York.The first round will be like riding on training wheels for Rose, as he attempts to find his rhythm. Though knowing him, he doesn't view it that way and with Turner giving him some ammunition, Rose will look to once again humble him, as he did when the pair matched up in high school and Turner impudently talked trash to not only Rose, but spectators and the assembled media. Thus, while the Bulls will need the dynamic floor general to eventually dominate the action in order to achieve their ultimate goal of adding another championship banner to the United Center rafters, he'll have at least a series to figure things out.

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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USA TODAY

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveny goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish accomplished something Saturday he has never done in a Cubs uniform — he pitched at least 5 innings in three straight starts for the first time since signing that $126 million deal more  than 14 months ago.

That's not exactly an indicator that Darvish will be contending for the National League Cy Young this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from his previous 10 starts in Chicago.

Darvish lasted just 5 innings in Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, needing 88 pitches to get through those frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts to end his last inning. 

Does he feel like he's still moving forward?

"I think so, especially that last inning," Darvish said. "The fifth inning — mentally — was very good. It's good for next start."

The end line Saturday wasn't great — 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 homers — but he kept his team in the ballgame after giving up back-to-back homers to the second and third hitters of the afternoon.

He was still hitting 96 mph in the fifth inning and acknowledged he could've easily gone another inning if the Cubs weren't trailing 3-0 when his spot in the batting order came up.

"The fastball velocity came up as the game was going on, the breaking ball got sharper," Joe Maddon said. "...They got him quickly and then [Zack] Greinke pitched so well. I thought keeping it at 3, which Yu did do, and that's really not a bad thing after the beginning of that game. We just could not get to Greinke. 

"Had we been able to get back into the game, I think Yu's performance would've been looked on more favorably, because he actually did settle down and do a pretty good job."

Still, the Cubs need more than moral victories every time Darvish takes the ball.

Theo Epstein said earlier this month he doesn't think it's fair to issue a "start-to-start referendum" on Darvish, but this is 5 starts into the season now for the 32-year-old right-hander, who's walked 18 batters and served up 6 homers in 22.2 innings so far. 

Forget the salary or the big free agent deal. This is a four-time All-Star who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting, yet fell to 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 starts in a Cubs uniform. 

In those 13 starts, Darvish has walked multiple batters in 11 of them and allowed at least 3 earned runs in 8 outings. He's also averaged less than 5 innings a start overall, and that number is down to just 4.5 innings per outing in 2019. 

Darvish said he wants to pitch into the seventh inning (something he's never done as a Cub) and believes that would be great for his confidence that's been building — slowly but surely — since the start of the season. But he still has to get over that hump.

"His stuff's nasty — plain and simple," Jason Heyward said. "Any time I pitch with Yu in a video game, guarantee at least a 1-hitter. I feel like his confidence is just another thing he'll have to keep building on for himself. 

"Every game is different. Today was — I guess you could say — a step back or whatever. Last start was pretty good and next start, I know he's gonna come out and be hungry again. ... Today was one day. We got a long season. Hopefully next time we can scratch a few runs across."

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