Bulls

Fire prepare for third game in nine days

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Fire prepare for third game in nine days

Defensively, the Fire was just fine in Wednesday nights 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park, and thats encouraging given the fact that coach Frank Klopas went with a rookie in the back again and had to use a sub back there as well.

Klopas gave Austin Berry his second straight start as a central defender. Berry, the clubs first-round pick in the last Major League Soccer SuperDraft, saw his first game action in Saturdays 2-1 road win over Chivas USA because Jalil Anibaba was serving a one-game suspension.

Anibaba was available this time, but Klopas went with Berry again and it proved a smart decision because Berry was designated as the Man of the Match.

"The team went on the road and won, and I didnt want to change anything," said Klopas, in explaining his decision to stick with Berry.

Anibaba got into the match anyway, in the 51st minute when Klopas felt there was a problem with Dan Gargan on the right side.

"He a warrior, but hes been fighting through certain things and he grabbed his leg," said Klopas. "I wanted fresh legs on that side."

So, Anibaba helped the Fire finish out the first clean sheet of the season for Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson who had played four matches without getting one. The Fire (3-2-3) had just one previous shutout, with Paolo Tornaghi in the nets in the second game of the season on March 24.

Johnson, who played well during some trying times for the team the past two seasons, got his career MLS record above .500 (15-14-16) with his 11th career shutout.

But the play of the four in front of him is noteworthy, since the Fire lost two of last years central defenders, Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta, in the offseason and mainstay Cory Gibbs to knee surgery after the season started. Arne Friedrich, the German veteran, is still rounding into shape after not playing for six months.

"It (his fitness) is getting better every game. A couple more and I should be 100 percent," Friedrich said.

Even in less than ideal shape and playing beside an inexperienced partner, Friedrich likes what hes seeing with the Fire backliners.

"Playing with Austin is perfect," said Friedrich. "Hes very disciplined and organized on the pitch and very good on headers. Everybody know what everybody else is doing."

"Arne is easy to talk to," chimed in Berry. "The whole back line has done a good job communicating and we got the shutout this time a good showing by us."

Enough for the good stuff.

The Fire still could get the goal that would have produced a big victory over the best time in the Western Conference on a night when long-time defensive stalwart C.J. Brown was inducted into the coveted Ring of Fire. Brown is now an assistant coach for RSL (7-3-2) despite getting some great chances.

Dominic Oduros header off the crossbar in the fourth minute set the disappointing tone for the Fire offensively, and Marco Pappa and Rafael Robayo had good chances as the match progressed. The Fire has nine goals in its eight MLS matches and was blanked for the second time on Wednesday, the middle game of its first busy stretch of the season.

The Fire completes a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch on Saturday when Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City (7-2-0) comes to Bridgeview.

NBA Orlando restart: What are chances 2020 season sinks or swims?

NBA Orlando restart: What are chances 2020 season sinks or swims?

As it stands right now, the NBA appears well on track to begin its 22-team season restart on July 30 in Orlando.

The question, though, is if it will finish what it starts.

On the most recent episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh explained the array of apprehensions that come with the experiment the league is about to embark on. From the health and safety issues that come with a still-raging pandemic, to the mental health concerns facing a player population under relative isolation, and more, pulling this bubble off would be a grand logistical feat by the NBA.

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So, what odds did Haberstroh give the season ending as currently planned, and with a champion crowned? 50-50. A coin flip.

“I know that’s a cop-out,” Haberstroh said, “but I think it’s about a 90 percent chance we see a tip-off on July 30, and I think it’s going to be less so at the end of the playoffs. Because I think, we don’t know how this coronavirus is going to react to this bubble, we don’t know how disciplined the players will be in respect to staying in the bubble and respecting the social distancing rules and the mask rules.

“Everything looks good on paper. The 113-page protocol the NBA gave out was very thorough, an epidemiologist that I talked to said that it was a really solid plan. Of course, as Adam Silver says, it’s not risk-free. There’s risk in this bubble, and I think, when I mentioned the 50/50 proposition to an executive two days ago, he responded, ‘I don’t think that’s pessimistic enough.’ And I thought I was on the wrong side of that — I thought, I was like ‘Is that too pessimistic here, 50/50?’ And he assured me that there is concern around the league about — not Week 1, I don’t think it’s the first month in the bubble that teams worry about. I think it’s just as the bubble continues, Month 2, Month 3, is that people let their guard down and slowly just get a little bit too comfortable with the surroundings, and that’s what you have to guard against.”

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The NBA released the latest results from its mandatory “Phase 2” testing on Thursday, reporting that 25 of 351 (7.1%) players tested since June 23 were positive for COVID-19, along with 10 of 884 (1.1%) team staffers.

“Phase 2” of the league’s restart plan saw the 22 invited teams return to their home markets (the one exception being the Toronto Raptors, who traveled straight to Orlando) for restricted workouts at team facilities. An influx of positives under those circumstances was to be expected. In fact, the Nuggets, Clippers and Nets all recently reportedly shuttered their facilities on a temporary basis after positive tests in their respective organizations — though the Nets have since reopened theirs, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski

The hope for the league is that the invited teams can enter Orlando as infection-free as possible, and from there, daily testing, symptom monitoring, contact tracing, and targeted sanitation and social guidelines can mitigate potential infection, spread, or, worse yet, outbreak.

But there are concerns on that front, as well, starting with the testing protocols surrounding the Disney employees that will staff the bubble.

“The biggest worry, to me, is the Disney staffers who are not being quarantined, who are not being tested day-to-day,” Haberstroh said. “Adam Silver on a recent call with reporters said that they are trying to find a subset, or negotiate with Disney, a subset of their Disney staffers who are coming from homes or an environment where there’s as high as 15% positive tests in Orange County, Fla., they’re trying to figure out a way to test those individuals before they come into the bubble. Right now they are not being tested.”

Should the league keep its players sufficiently insulated from said staffers, perhaps that won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But given the unpredictability of the virus, and the unpredictability of individual human behavior, it’s impossible to yet know exactly how the bubble experiment will play out. How many positive tests will there be in the bubble? How many positives would warrant another season shutdown? Will positive tests on different teams be treated differently based on specific risk factors — e.g. age of coach? For that matter, will older coaches be allowed to walk the sidelines? Will we even see quality basketball? Could players be at higher injury risk after a months-long hiatus? Will anyone break the bubble? Is this all even worth it?

As Haberstroh noted Silver saying, there’s no risk-free option for resuming a contact sport during a global pandemic, especially considering all the variables the NBA brings with it. The above questions are nebulous for now. But answers may soon rear their head.

Listen to the rest of the conversation, in which Haberstroh and Co. discuss the NBA's restart, Zion Williamson's return to action and the state of the Bulls' rebuild, here or via the embedded player above.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Tom Haberstroh details the NBA Bubble in Orlando

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Tom Haberstroh details the NBA Bubble in Orlando

The first game in the NBA Bubble in Orlando is scheduled for July 30 for the resumption of the 2019-2020 NBA season. 

Kevin Anderson and Rob Schaefer are joined by NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh to discuss the details of the bubble and if the top four seeds should select their opponent in the playoffs. Later, Tom shares his thoughts on the Bulls' front office changes.

(1:14) - Will the NBA finish the rest of the season?

(9:11) - How concerned is the NBA with the mental health of the players in the bubble?

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(17:35) - This will be the hardest championship ever won

(30:18) - Should the top four seeds be able to select their playoff opponent?

(43:35) - What does the rest of the NBA think of the Bulls' front office changes?

Listen here or below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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