Cubs

Deng continues to show off versatility

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Deng continues to show off versatility

CLEVELAND Bulls All-Star Luol Deng, the longest-tenured player on the team, is used to being utilized as a jack of all trades. Thats why on nights like Wednesday, when he struggled with his shot in the squads season-opening win over the Kings at the United Center, he doesnt panic.

Instead, he simply focuses on another weapon in his vast repertoire. In the victory over Sacramento, it was rebounding he snagged a dozen boards something he hopes to continue throughout the campaign.

I think I could help a lot in rebounding. I really want to focus on that. Last year, there were days that, with the schedule and everything, it was really tough, especially energy-wise, Deng told CSNChicago.com after the Bulls Friday-morning shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. So, this year hopefully Ill have the energy and try to really focus on my rebounding.

Scoring will come. Its still early in the season. Im not worried about that at all. I will shoot the ball better, he continued. The first game is always the toughest, but its finding a way.

Deng could also be featured as a post-up scorer more, something displayed in the teams preseason finale, a win over Central Division rival Indiana. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has used the tactic sparingly in the past, but with Derrick Rose currently sidelined, showcasing Dengs versatility and using his 6-foot-9 frame against smaller defenders could work to the Bulls favor.

We did it some at the end of last year and I thought it was very good for us, so I want to try to take advantage of that more, Thibodeau explained. I want us to play inside-out. I think the more that weve done that, the more effective weve been.

Added Deng: I think it will definitely help me get to the line more also.

Being aggressive, getting easy baskets, but also getting to the free-throw line, especially when a team is in the bonus.

Deng isnt an isolation-based scorer, so even with the increased attention that will potentially be paid to him in Roses absence, he should still remain productive on offense. In addition to posting up, Deng has greatly improved his long-range shooting over the years, he has a potent pull-up game, crashes the offensive glass and scores in transition, but cutting off the ball has also developed into a real strong point for him.

When you cut the way he does, you can draw fouls and I think your team can take advantage of that because it gets you into the bonus earlier, so Ive been pleased with our ability to get to the free-throw line thus far and I want to continue to do that, Thibodeau said. Hes been around a long time and hes shown that each year, hes gotten better and better, and I think he and Rip have great chemistry together. Then, I think theyre understanding now, too, the more we play through the post and going to Carlos and Joakim, it sets up your cutting game even more effectively.

Luols added a lot to his game. Hes added the three-point shot, which makes people come up to him more and so, then he can put it down on the floor and now hes using his cutting to get into the post more, and hes a very good random cutter from the weak side, so he can score a number of different ways and thats sort of what his strength is, his ability to read how the game is going, what the defense is doing and to play off those things.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.