Bears

Finally at full strength, Bulls making progress

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Finally at full strength, Bulls making progress

AUBURN HILLS, Mich.Now that the Bulls are finally at full strength, its almost as if observersfans and media alikeexpect more from them. Granted, excluding the Easter Sunday overtime loss to the Knicks, after which Derrick Rose missed the home rematch with a sprained right ankle, theres only been a two-game sample size to evaluate.

At the same time, as theyve done all season long, the Bulls are simply finding ways to win, whether its a role player like C.J. Watson coming up big in a high-profile affair like Thursday nights win over the Heat or on the backnot literally, as thats still a sore (again, not literally) subjectof the reigning league MVP against the inferior-caliber Pistons Sunday.

On top of that, theyre starting to jell as a cohesive unit, with Rose back in his scoring and playmaking alpha-dog role and his supporting cast knowing exactly where they fit in, with the added confidence of knowing they can do even more if called upon, due to having enhanced roles during his various absences.

Im not sure how we won that game. Ill be honest with you. Every night, its someone else. C.J. hits it the other night, Derrick hits it tonight obviously. Lots of guys have hit big shots and made big plays for us. That says a lot about our team, but we dont want to keep putting ourselves in this position. The odds arent really in your favor to keep pulling out the wins, said Kyle Korver. Were taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to us, but weve got to play a better 48-minute game.

I dont think were there yet, but I think were getting better. I think were going to need these last two games. A lot of teams are probably going to start resting some guys when their positions are locked in and I dont think thatll really happen with us. Maybe a little bit, but just because weve had so many guys out this year, we kind of need these last few games. I think were getting there, were getting better. I thought out start tonight in the first quarter was great. we havent had a great first quarter in a while. I thought that was a really good sign, he continued.

Its like a walk in the park now. Four in five nights is nothing. Its the nine in 12. Those are tough. Weve got a deep team. Were going to use everybody. It is a tough stretch, but we know that weve got days off coming up, too. So, lets focus in, lock in, take care of these four games in five nights and then weve got a good four or five days before our last back-to-back, and then the playoffs start. I think the beginning of our season was really tough, really a grind, but its been good this last month. Had a few more off days.

Indeed, the fact the Bulls have faced so much adversity between injuries and scheduling this season, yet have still thrived en route to having the leagues best record speaks volumes. Thats why, although they didnt have a great overall performance against Detroit, theyll take the win and move on.

Were coming along good. Kind of rusty a little bit, but trying to smooth out everything, the wrinkles. Passing the ballthats the one thing, the passesthrowing where guys are, where they should go. Just give it to them in the right place, so they can make the right play, said Rose. Its coming along quick. Im not worried about that. Ive got amnesia. This game is done already. Im on to Washington.

Added Joakim Noah: Theyre all tough. We know that we didnt play our best basketball. We gave up a pretty big lead going into the fourth and we know we have to play better, but at this point of the year, every win is important and when Derrick hit that three, that just gave our team new life and we just handled our business in the overtime.

Even Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who examines even blowout victories with a fine-tooth comb, was relatively satisfied with his teams progress.

We struggled most of the game and then in the end, just found a way to win it. I thought Joakim was unbelievable with his activity, offensive rebounding. Derrick, huge shot. We were a step behind on everything, but I thought the defense was pretty good. The rebounding was outstanding. Offensively, we werent as sharp as wed like to be. The turnovers are really hurting us, so weve got to shore that up, he explained.

We know we have to continue to improve and we want to be playing well down the stretch. We want to be healthy and weve had a number of guys that have been out for a good chunk of the season, so were trying to get those guys in rhythm. Thats a priority, but more importantly, having our team play well is something we want to get done.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

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USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.