Bulls

Hard work from Garza, Barney pays off in Cubs' victory

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Hard work from Garza, Barney pays off in Cubs' victory

At 5-feet-10 inches and weighing about 190 pounds, Darwin Barney doesnt exactly have the physical stature of a power hitter, even if he wanted to become one.

But thanks to an ongoing workout plan that began in the offseason, Barney has turned body fat into muscle, and hes taking advantage of the extra energy his new physique has provided.

When youre small and skinny, its not going to help anybody, Barney said. Its just one of those things in this game. You look around, these are the best players in the world. You gotta keep up. Having some strength is definitely part of that.

Barney displayed that strength while energizing Wrigley Field with a two-run home run Sunday, giving Matt Garza more than enough runs as the Cubs completed a three-game sweep over Arizona with a 3-1 victory.

Garza (5-7) threw seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts to help the Cubs to their 12th victory in 16 games, and fourth in a row. Chicago also has won a season-high six straight at Wrigley.

Barneys home run, his fourth of the season, came in the second inning and staked Garza to a 3-0 lead. It was Barneys second key extra-base hit in as many days following Saturdays two-out double in Chicagos 4-1 victory.

A lot of his hits have been big this year, whether theyve kept the line moving at just the right time or popping a home run, manager Dale Sveum said. Hes done a great job. Obviously we know what hes done defensively. Like I said before, there is nobody whos been better at second base than he has been.

With one out and Bryan LaHair at second, Barney drove a 1-2 offering from Trevor Cahill into the left-field bleachers. His three RBI in the past two games are Barneys first of July.

Barney said he dropped nearly 20 pounds down to 170 in the first half of last season when his body fat registered at around 14 percent. Now he said hes at 190 with only 8 percent body fat.

Losing 20 pounds last year, that was hard on the body, he said. Ive done a decent job of maintaining what I gained this year. I wouldnt say it has anything to do with hitting the ball, hitting home runs, stuff like that. Its just coming to the park feeling energized every day.

As much as Barneys home run helped, it was Garza who made the early lead stick. In his best outing since late April, Garza only allowed two runners past second base and none beyond that.

That allowed him to earn the victory despite the Cubs offense stalling after that early display. It was the 12th time in Garzas 17 starts this season the Cubs scored three or fewer runs for him.

But it didnt matter.

Garza found a groove as the game progressed. After allowing at least one runner in the first five innings, he retired the final seven batters he faced before being pulled to begin the eighth inning.

I felt good today, Garza said. I was able to stay with my mechanics real well. And when I didnt I was able to catch myself and adjust quick. Ive been searching to get back to where I was, and I kind of used the (All-Star) break to reflect and get back to having fun and attacking hitters.

Garza only walked one batter and allowed five hits. He extended his home success by giving up three or fewer runs for the 18th consecutive start at Wrigley. He also extended the stretch of success the Cubs pitching staff is seeing.

In the past five games, the starters have a 1.13 ERA, while the bullpen recorded a 1.50 ERA. Garza said the pitchers are feeding off each others success.

You dont want to be that guy, Garza said. So you just keep going, keep pumping strikes. A lot of things we got beat on was walks. A big part of my game is keeping guys off bases. A lot of my runs are by home run -- and not solo shots. If I want to limit walks that is putting a lot of pressure on myself to make a big pitch.

While the Cubs are on a good run, the reality is it could change any day now as the nonwaiver trading deadline approaches. Garza is one of several Cubs players whose name is being attached to trade rumors.

Garza said hes tuning that talk out. Hes got something bigger on his mind.

All we can control is what we do between the lines and how we prepare, he said. Ive got a wife who is due in about 23 days, so the rumor mill can wait.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."