Bulls

Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

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Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

There have been a handful of surprises through the first week of the NBA season.

James Harden's offensive explosion in a leading role for the Rockets. The Lakers' 1-3 start combined with Steve Nash's injury. Portland point guard Damian Lillard's early bid for Rookie of the Year honors.

But of the many storylines, there may not be one more surprising than the 2-0 start by the Orlando Magic.

The Bulls (2-1) will try and put a stop to Orlando's hot start to the season when the two teams square off tonight at the United Center at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.

Orlando was the headline of a wild NBA offseason, but for all the wrong reasons. All-Star Center Dwight Howard had demanded a trade and essentially brought about the firing of head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith. Howard was eventually traded to the Lakers, but the best piece the Magic received in return was Arron Afflalo from Denver, as part of a four-team trade. And maybe just as significant, the Magic lost power forward and 2011-'12 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson to free agency.

The Magic were expected to be awful on offense, as Afflalo was the leading scorer from a year ago at 15.2 points per game, with Jameer Nelson (11.9) and Redick (11.6) close behind. They were supposed to struggle defensively, too, after losing Howard, a five-time All Defensive First Team member and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

But through two games, the Magic have been stellar, averaging 108.5 points and allowing just 91.5 per game.

It's a miniscule sample size, but home wins over Denver and Phoenix, the latter without Nelson, have given the Magic plenty of momentum heading on the road to face the Bulls, who will be looking to rebound from an ugly home loss to the Hornets on Saturday.

The Bulls have been equally as good on defense, allowing just 87.3 points per game. Their focal point will be to stop Glen Davis, who has averaged 25 points through two games. The compact big man has the front court reins following Howard's departure, and has been the go-to scorer for the surprising Magic.

Carlos Boozer will have his hands full, but he should improve on his four-point effort against New Orleans against the pesky yet undersized Davis. Boozer was off to a hot start, posting 18 and 19 points in the Bulls first two wins, and Phoenix's Luis Scola, a similar player in build and skill-set to Boozer, posted 24 points in the loss Sunday. The Bulls are still looking for a consistent scoring option, and Boozer finding his rhythm again should help a Chicago team averaging 96.7 points per game (18th in NBA).

The Magic may be without Nelson, who's currently battling multiple injuries, which will make Orlando's wings vital to their offense. If Nelson can't go, the Magic will start E'Twaun Moore, who played with the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League. In Nelson's absence, Redick and Afflalo have been impressive offensively, meaning Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and Jimmy Butler's defense could go a long way toward the Bulls picking up win No. 3. Hedo Turkoglu broke his hand Sunday and will likely miss a month.

The Bulls have made an effort to get out and run off missed shots, as Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam noted yesterday. That will be a difficult task tonight, as the Magic have allowed just 8.5 transition points per game, the best mark in the NBA. With a generally small lineup, the Magic have gotten back in transition, and their scoring makes it tough on opponents to get fast breaks started. Marco Belinelli finding his shooting stroke against New Orleans (13 points) would add another dimension to the Bulls' break, as will Nate Robinson's continued efficiency (15 assists to 7 turnovers).

New general manager Rob Hennigan took over a gutted roster that contained just one player originally selected in the NBA Lottery, J.J. Redick (No. 11 overall, 2006). That's an unfathomably low number, considering even the lowly Bobcats have six former Lottery picks, but the results have been positive thus far.

But the road is a different story. The Bulls are looking to rebound from an ugly loss and the Magic haven't played away from Orlando this year. With a solid defensive showing, the Bulls will be able to cool the Magic offense and help initiate transition offense.

Thumb injury leaves Wendell Carter Jr. on the outside looking in at NBA All-Rookie teams

Thumb injury leaves Wendell Carter Jr. on the outside looking in at NBA All-Rookie teams

Wendell Carter Jr. was on his way to becoming the second consecutive Bulls player to make an All-Rookie Team, but a thumb injury that required surgery in January ultimately proved to be the deciding factor in his omission.

The All-Rookie Teams were announced on Tuesday afternoon and, as expected, Carter was not on either. The seventh overall pick had a promising rookie campaign in which he averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Those marks ranked 10th, 4th and 2nd, respectively, among first-year players.

But Carter's thumb injury limited him to just 44 games. Of the 10 players who made the first and second teams, Memphis' Jaren Jackson Jr. played the fewest games (58) while the group averaged 72.8 games played.

Carter's thumb injury was initially diagnosed as a jam, but further testing revealed that surgery was the best course of action for the then-19-year-old (he turned 20 in April). The Bulls opted not to rush Carter back at the end of the season - a wise decision on multiple levels - and Carter, when he spoke with media members for the first time after undergoing surgery, said his goals had moved to the long-term.

“So many people have had this injury and they don’t get it taken care of and bones are coming out of their socket very easily,” Carter said. “I just wanted to eliminate all that. If I was to get in a cast and come back and the tendon didn’t come back out, then I’d have to wait another eight weeks and get the surgery. So I just went ahead and knocked it out to get it out of the way.

"It's all good. I'm just looking at the long-term now."

He was one of the league's youngest rookies but hardly played like it. He moved into the starting lineup for good just a few days into the preseason and wore multiple hats for the Bulls. Injuries to Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine thrust Carter into a significant scoring role for the Bulls, sometimes acting as the No. 2 option behind Zach LaVine early in the season.

He took on more of a traditional post-up role - with solid footwork making him a serviceable roll man - when those players returned and Jim Boylen took over, slowing down the offense. He shot a respectable 48.5% from the field and his 79.5% mark from the foul line showed a nice touch. But he also went 6 of 32 from beyond the arc in his rookie season. He'll need to find some more versatility on the offensive end, though there will be more floor spacing in his sophomore season after the Bulls added Otto Porter Jr. at the trade deadline.

He is one of five rookies over the last seven seasons to average at least 7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, joining Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid in that category. That's not to suggest that Carter will have the same career arc as those All-Stars plus Noel - he's got plenty to do on the defensive end - but in Carter the Bulls have found a defensive anchor and someone to complement Lauri Markkanen on that end of the floor.

He's a raw talent who showed promise as a rookie. And while it didn't result in an All-Rookie bid, the future is bright in the middle for the Bulls. Like many of his teammates, expectations will increase for Carter as they enter Year 3 of their rebuild.

Check out the All-Rookie Teams below.

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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