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Despite slow start, Bulls won't underestimate Bucks

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Despite slow start, Bulls won't underestimate Bucks

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
1:01 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After their end to last years campaigna first-round playoff loss to Atlanta in seven games, despite star center Andrew Bogut out with a season-ending injurymany observers assumed the Bucks, along with the Bulls would be competing to be the class of the Central Division. After a productive, if not flashy, offseason, expectations were even more optimistic.

However, things havent gone as planned in Milwaukee, as Chicagos closest regional rival has struggled out of the gates, although their play has picked up as of late. Chief among the Bucks issues have been injuries, as Bogut still isnt completely healed from his gruesome fall last spring, young floor general Brandon Jennings is currently sidelined and swingmen John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Carlos Delfino have all battled a litany of ailments.

One Bulls player with insight into the Bucksregardless of the fact that he claims not to have watched them much this seasonis well-traveled veteran Kurt Thomas, who spent last season in Milwaukee. In fact, Thomas filled in for Bogut late in the year and did an admirable job, including a late-season road win over the Bulls at the United Center in the first game of Boguts absence.

The year before, we got off to a hot start in Milwaukee and there were a lot of new faces there and this year, again, there were a lot of new faces, but they got off to a slow start. It could be a lot of new faces or it could be the strength of the schedule, so you just never know and then sometimes it just takes guys the first 10 or 20 games before they really get into a rhythm. But I think theyve been playing a lot better lately. Theyve kind of been hit with the injury bug, but every team has to face that, Thomas said after the Bulls shootaround Tuesday morning. Theyre definitely going to play hard, theyre going to compete. Scott Skiles is a great coach and he doesnt accept anything less than them being very competitive.

Thomas spoke fondly of his time in Milwaukee.

Oh, it was great. A lot of fun. Fans in Milwaukee were insaneFear the Deer. It was just a great time. It was a great group of guys I was playing with last yearunfortunately, seeing that Bogut had a major injury thereyou never knowwe probably could have went deeper in the playoffs, said Thomas.

Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffinwho played under Skiles in Chicagowas also with the Bucks last year, serving as an assistant coach. Like Thomas, he believes Milwaukee will overcome their so-so start to the season.

Right now, I would say they miss Brandon. Hes a big piece of what theyre doing. I wouldnt worry about Milwaukee too much. Typically, Scotts teams start a little slow in the beginning of the year and mid-season, and toward the end, they start picking it up a lot. It just takes them a minute to play the type of style that Scott wants and thats hard-nosed defense, committing to the defensive end, playing hard and executing on offense. It looks like theyre moving in the right direction, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.

Griffin, who was still with the Bucks through the majority of the offseason, likes the moves Milwaukee made over the summer, though he highlighted some players one wouldnt immediately expect.

One particular player they got in Keyon DoolingI was there this summer when they brought him in for workoutsand he looked great. He plays hard, a professional and I think he plays the type of style that Scott likes. Obviously Earl Boykins, youve got to respect him. People see his size, but hes a threat out there on the floor. They got some nice piecesLarry Sanders, Maggettewhen they get all those guys healthy and if they can get Delfino back, theyll be a force in the East, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.

Of course, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, known for his preparedness, doesnt underestimate the Central Division foe.

Theyre a great defensive team, so you can start there. Theyve had a ton of injuries this year, said Thibodeau. Bogut inside, hes getting healthier. He poses a lot of problems with the post-up and of course, their backcourt.

Doolings playing really well for them and Boykins has played terrificat times, theyre playing them togetherand of course, Salmons, so you have three guys who can do damage off the dribble. Maggette, hes coming off a concussion and hes back. Hes a guy who can attack the basket and Ersan Ilyasovas a range-shooting four. Theyre a quality team. I think theyre playing very well right now.

Just how well Milwaukee is playing will be measured Tuesday night, as the Bullswho last faced their primary competitor in the division in the preseason opener at Milwaukeehost the Bucks at the United Center.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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.

Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Chicago Bears fans are sick and tired of the quarterback conversation surrounding this team as we enter the most important two month stretch of the offseason. My Twitter timeline (and vicious replies) are evidence of that. 

Duly noted.

That said, it's an unavoidable truth that GM Ryan Pace has no choice but to do something at quarterback in free agency or the NFL Draft. The most diehard Mitch Trubisky fan has to admit that. The former second overall pick hasn't developed into a franchise player through three seasons under center, and while the optimist would argue there's still time for him to become that guy, the realist is who must prevail when it comes to roster construction.

Marcus Mariota may be the perfect compromise. He doesn't have a resume that will immediately threaten Trubisky in 2020, but his sneaky upside combined with his youth and overall skill set is an ideal combination that could make him a long-term answer if Trubisky fails in the short-term.

According to Sports Illustrated, Chicago -- and coach Matt Nagy -- would be an ideal destination for Mariota, even if there's an inherent conflict of interest because both Mariota and Trubisky are represented by the same agent.

There are coaches out there—cough, Chicago, cough—who could slide him in easily under the guise that Mariota is a high-quality backup and develop him into a weapon under center who could take over when the starter falters.

Mariota, like Trubisky, hasn't lived up to the hype that he entered the NFL with back in 2015 when he was the second overall pick of the Titans. He's logged 61 starts and a career record of 29-32. He's completed just under 63% of his 1,110 career pass attempts and has 76 touchdown passes to 44 interceptions.

His stat sheet isn't impressive. His on-field play, at times, hasn't been, either. But he'd be an ideal reclamation project that the Bears can sell as the perfect backup even if the hope is for him to emerge as a starter.

There’s an advantage for QB-needy teams here who don’t want to deal with the public courting of Tom Brady, who don’t want to sacrifice mobility by signing Philip Rivers, who don’t want to roll the dice on every snap by signing Jameis Winston, and who don’t have the trade capital or cap space to go after someone like Nick Foles or Derek Carr.

Chicago won't be able to get into a bidding war for the bigger names like Tom Brady or even Teddy Bridgewater because of their limited cap space. Mariota won't command nearly as much to sign, and he's likely to get nothing more than a one-year commitment from a team hoping he can be like the guy who replaced him, Ryan Tannehill.

Of all the quarterbacks who've been pegged as a possible option for the Bears, Mariota feels like the most logical and, more importantly, cheaper targets who realistically could be lining up as the Chicago's starter by Week 4 of the 2020 season.

Tributes to Kobe Bryant, city of Chicago highlight memorable All-Star Sunday

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USA Today

Tributes to Kobe Bryant, city of Chicago highlight memorable All-Star Sunday

The specter of Kobe Bryant was omnipresent throughout All-Star weekend. Too often, it felt that the city of Chicago was not. 

But both took center stage at the All-Star game itself on Sunday night. The result was poignant, powerful and downright enthralling.

Magic Johnson set the tone early with a eulogy to Bryant that elicited multiple, impassioned ‘Kobe!’ chants from the crowd. That gave way to South Side native Common seamlessly weaving a cadenced monologue dedicated to Chicago, Bryant and daughter Gigi, as images of city legends from Barack Obama to Michael Jordan to Hebru Brantley flashed across the screen. The United Center rippled with emotion from start to finish.

For Bryant, the homage was a culmination. For Chicago, it was an essential re-centering to cap a weekend that saw only one Bull participate in an event — Zach LaVine, who exited after round one of the 3-point shootout. After 32 years since last hosting, this city deserved its moment in the sun. That one delivered.

“Chicago held it down,” Anthony Davis said. “I think they showed the league and everyone around the world about our Chicago history, about the city. I think everyone enjoyed it and respects Chicago a little bit more.”

Of course, there was a game to play, too — and embedded within were moments of pure symbolism.

On the surface: Members of Team Giannis and Team LeBron donned No. 24 and No. 2, respectively, in honor of Bryant and Gigi. The final quarter of the game went untimed, a slog to 157 (24 points more than the 133 Team Giannis entered the period with, per the league’s new Elam-inspired format). 

Chicago charities — Chicago Scholars ($400,000) for Team LeBron, After School Matters ($100,000) for Giannis — also received a cumulative $500,000 over the course of the game. Seventy-nine assists between the two teams means $79,000 will go towards STEM research in the greater Chicago area, too.

But now, let’s get a little nebulous. 

That fourth quarter, after a familiarly lackluster previous three, was electric. The offenses were legitimately running plays, the defenses were scrapping. There was controversial officiating, sweat dripping, and charges and clutch blocks galore. By the end, you could cut the tension with a knife.

“It felt like playing in the league in a playoff game,” Davis said.

Forgive me this contrivance, but how fitting a finish to commemorate both this city and Bryant. A true grind-it-out, scratch-and-claw affair. And as epic a pickup run as you’re like to find.

Most poetic, then, was the winning bucket. Yes, it was a free-throw — an anticlimactic ending to a memorable night — but the man that took it, Davis, was both born and bred in Chicago, and currently reps the same purple and gold Bryant did for 20 seasons as a member of the Lakers. 

“It was a great feeling, to be back home,” Davis said. “And I’m happy I was able to be the one to knock down the free throw to seal the game.

“For our side to get a win, for Kob (Kobe), this whole weekend was honoring him. And I think the league did a great job of doing that.”

Davis went on to congratulate Kawhi Leonard, who tonight took home the first ever Kobe Bryant All-Star game MVP award. His 30 points led all scorers in the game.

“It’s very special,” Leonard said. “I had a relationship with him (Bryant). Words can’t explain how happy I am for it. Able to put that trophy in my room… And just to be able to see Kobe’s name on there. It just means a lot to me. He’s a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.”

On Thursday, normalcy will return to the United Center in the form of the Bulls and Hornets. But this was a night no one will soon forget. Thank you, Chicago. Thank you, basketball.

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