Cubs

Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets

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Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
Updated 2:33 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Mention the Bulls' perceived offensive struggles to players and coaches, and don't be shocked if they, um, take offense. To a man, the team insists that while their work-in-progress offensive attack isn't yet quite up to snuff, point production isn't a primary issue of concern.

Lost in the feel-good reunion and thrilling overtime loss at Boston on Saturday was the fact that even without Boozer--who now participates in non-contact practice drills; albeit nothing involving his injured shooting hand--the interior tandem of Taj Gibson and league-leading rebounder Joakim Noah had a field day against the vaunted Celtics defense, which opted to focus heavily on curbing the exploits of Derrick Rose, the short-lived NBA scoring leader (he's now fifth in that category at an even 25 points per game, but fourth in the league in assists at 9.8 an evening). Upon the return of Boozer (after an adjustment period, that is), Chicago should become that much more dangerous offensively, particularly in the halfcourt, where Boozer can command double teams.

In the aftermath of Friday's emotional loss, Noah--who scored a season-high 26 points and snagged 11 rebounds to begin the season with five consecutive double-doubles, but committed a turnover late in overtime that effectively ended the Bulls' comeback hopes--cautioned opponents postgame Friday to not wait that long to afford the Bulls the proper respect.

Noah backed off his heat-of-the-moment sentiments a bit Sunday--"Just some players...nothing out of the usual" was his response to who or what "trash talk" he was referring to after the Boston loss--but elaborated on his offensive development, which has featured him becoming more consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter.

"Noah is a lot more confident. I think he's put a lot of work into it and I think he's gotten a lot of confidence in his jump shot. Sixteen, 17 feet, he can shoot that and if you close hard into him, he can blow by you. His jump hook game is very effective inside, he's very active on the offensive boards, he knows how to move without the ball, so he's scoring different ways--and I think in transition--he's running the floor great," said Thibodeau. "Quite honestly, he hasn't surprised Thibodeau because I saw him shoot all summer and consistently he's knocked that shot down. My thing is, as long as you're working on it that hard and it's going in, I have no problem with you shooting it if you're open. It looks a little different, but it goes in and that's the bottom line."

"It's a little unconventional, but if you watch the final phase of it, it's actually pretty good. the way he finishes--he has good follow-through, good extension--he's very accurate."

"I feel pretty confident. I don't want players to play off me like that and I worked on it pretty hard with Thibodeau in the offseason. To me, there's nothing better than making a 15-footer because a lot of people told me my whole life that I wouldn't be able to shoot it, so it feels great knocking them down," said Noah of his "artistic" shooting form. Right now, I'm just working on it and trying to make it as consistent as possible. At the end of the day, Derrick is getting a lot of attention offensively. It's on me and Taj to make a play when they get the ball out of his hands."

Noah also opined on the progress of tag-team partner and fellow New Yorker Taj Gibson.

"He's definitely more comfortable to the NBA game. Taj is playing very well, especially offensively. he's shooting the ball pretty good. He's playing very confident," observed Noah, who is averaging 16.2 points to go with his NBA-high average of 14.2 boards a night. "The thing we have to get better at is being mentally tougher--not in the sense that we're soft--but we just have to do a better job of knowing the plays, especially down the stretch. knowing exactly what we have to get done. I think that's something that me and Taj have to do a better job of, just getting better with the system."

Gibson, who bounced back from a woeful preseason to average 15 points an outing (on a team-high 64.2 percent from the floor), as well as 6.2 rebounds, has also been particularly aggressive. His baseline jumper, a burgeoning part of his arsenal as a rookie, has become increasingly effective, especially when opponents are slow to rotate after double-teaming Rose.

Added Gibson, who wore a shoulder sleeve at practice to combat the effects of a nagging injury from last season: "I worked on it his mid-range jumper for basically half the summer; I really had a short summer due to injury (lingering plantar fasciitis from his rookie campign), but Thibs and the rest of the coaching staff worked on it with me. I even shoot threes in my spare time; eventually I'll work on that. But the coaching staff wants me to take that shot. They mostly get mad when I don't take the open shot because they feel so comfortable with me making it," said Gibson.

"The chemistry's (with Noah) still there from battling up and down last year...I'm just real responsive to what I have to do on the court and he Noah helps me out," he added Gibson. "We can get better. It's a grind out there. I understand we have guys injured, but just being in those hostile environments, with playing in Oklahoma City and Boston, it was real tough. We really had a chance to win both of those games...but it's a long season. We understand we have a lot to work on, but the sky's the limit for this team."

"We already have captains...but it's my job to be vocal. If you're playing the four or five, you have to be vocal in the NBA because the crowds are so loud," continued the second-year player about his growing leadership role on the squad. "Calling out play calls, calling out our defensive sets because I don't want Derrick to get hurt on screen-and-rolls. Just being vocal is one of the main things I have to do to stay on the court."

So while a tantalizing potential offensive upgrade will exist in the United Center--in the form of Denver's Carmelo Anthony, arguably the NBA's purest scorer, but currently ranked sixth, a notch below Rose--Monday evening, it appears that the Bulls are presently satisfied with the weapons at their disposal.

"A couple years ago, we kind of had a similar situation with Kobe Bryant. He got a pretty good reception when he came to the United Center," said Noah. "We'll see how it goes."

Thibodeau confessed to CSNChicago.com that he privately fretted about Chicago's scoring prior to the season, at 104.6 points per game (on 49 percent field-goal shooting), fifth in the league heading into Monday's game, he's now pleased with the offensive flow, even if there are some galling, stand-around stretches for the time being and bench production outside of Kyle Korver's 8.2 points per game (Korver, along with the aforementioned Rose, Noah and Gibson, as well as Luol Deng's 19.8 points per game, are the only Chicago scorers producing more than five points a night) has been lacking. Now, the Bulls defense--which allows opponents 105 points a contest--that's another story.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts. 

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

The White Sox lost Saturday night.

That’s baseball, of course, they’re not all going to be winners. And this rebuilding franchise has seen plenty of losses. But the feelings have been so good of late — whether because of Eloy Jimenez’s 400-foot homers or Lucas Giolito’s Cy Young caliber season to this point or a variety of other positive signs that make the White Sox future so bright — that losing Saturday to the first-place New York Yankees seemed rather sour.

Obviously there will be plenty more losses for this White Sox team before the book closes on the 2019 campaign. Back under .500, these South Siders aren’t expected to reach elite status before all the pieces arrive, and it would be no shock if they’re removed from the playoff race in the American League by the time crunch time rolls around in September.

But don’t tell these White Sox that an 8-4 defeat is a return to reality or a reminder that this team is still a work in progress. Even if, for a lot of players, development is still occurring at the major league level, the “learning experiences” that have been such a large part of the conversation surrounding this team in recent seasons and their daily goal of winning baseball games aren’t mutually exclusive.

“The Yankees are sitting in first place and they lost two games in a row,” catcher James McCann said Saturday night, providing a reminder of how the first two games of this weekend series went. “Just because you're expected to win and expected to be World Series contenders doesn't mean you're not going to lose ballgames. It's how you bounce back.

“And it doesn't mean you're going to win tomorrow, either. It's just, how do you handle a defeat? How do you handle a bad at-bat? How do you handle a bad outing, whatever it may be? But it doesn't mean that we step back and say, ‘Oh, we're back under .500, we're supposed to lose.’

“We expect to win when we show up to the ballpark. You can take learning experiences whether you win or lose. Do I think a game like tonight reminds us we're supposed to be in a rebuilding mode? No. We still expect to win, and we're going to show up tomorrow with that mentality.”

Maybe that’s a description of the much-discussed “learning to win” young teams supposedly need to do on the road to contender status. Maybe that can’t happen until a team figures out how to bounce back from a defeat — until it learns how to lose and how to act in the wake of a loss.

For all McCann’s certainty about the team’s expectations on a daily basis, his explanation was peppered with questions. He said he’s seen the answer to “how do you bounce back?” from this club, and his three-run homer in the eighth inning Saturday night was fairly convincing evidence that the White Sox didn’t use up all their fight just getting back to .500.

So while the White Sox know they won’t win every game — that no team will — they need to know how they handle defeat. Losing, it turns out, might end up being more instructive about when this team is ready to win.

“I think we've done a pretty good job (bouncing back),” McCann said. “You look at the road trip in Houston and Minnesota where we took two out of four from a good Houston team and then played really not very good baseball for three days in Minnesota only to come home and have an extremely good homestand.

“It's the big picture. It's not the very next day. It's not, ‘We've got to bounce back and win.’ It's not a must-win situation in the middle of June. But it's how do you handle yourself? How does a game like tonight, do you show up flat tomorrow and let it snowball into a three-, four-game spiral? Or do you fight?

“And that's what this team's been really good at doing is fighting and not giving in.”

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