Bulls

LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener

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LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener

Saturday, March 19, 2011
CSNChicago.com
By Alan Ferguson
STATS Writer

It took 15 seasons for FC Dallas to reach the MLS Cup, becoming the last of the leagues charter teams to accomplish that feat. Whether the team makes a return trip might hinge on finding suitable replacements for leading goal scorer Jeff Cunningham and other contributors to last years squad.

FC Dallas will start that search Saturday night when it welcomes the Chicago Fire, who missed the postseason for only the second time in 2010.

Following a record-setting regular season, FC Dallas advanced to its first championship game by eliminating defending champ Real Salt Lake and Supporters Shield winner Los Angeles. The franchise fell just short of another victory at Torontos BMO Field, falling 2-1 in overtime to Colorado.

We want to go a step further and bring home that trophy, and Im confident with the way the team has looked this preseason that we are going to continue playing great soccer, captain David Hernandez told the leagues website.

That defeat concluded a 12-4-14 campaign that saw Dallas set MLS records with a 19-game unbeaten run, a 12-game unbeaten streak away from home and the fewest losses. Cunningham had a team-best 11 goals during that season but his contract was not renewed in the offseason.

Following the 34-year-old forwards departure to Columbus, Dallas signed 18-year-old Colombian striker Fabian Castillo. The team could also rely on homegrown player Ruben Luna, who scored six times in the preseason.

FC Dallas will still have reigning league MVP David Ferreira to direct the offense. The midfielder had eight goals and 13 assists during his second MLS campaign, and scored his teams lone goal in the MLS Cup. The team also brought back Marvin Chavez, who had a strong second half, and added two more midfielders in Andrew Jacobson and 31-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Villar.

FC Dallas, though, wont have All-Star defender Heath Pearce, who was dealt to Chivas USA in the offseason. George John (ankle surgery) and Ugo Ihemelu (sports hernia) are also out due to injuries.

Brek Shea will try to help that unit by moving over from his usual spot in the midfield. The team could also get contributions from Eric Alexander, Zach Loyd and Jackson Goncalves.

FC Dallas will have a pair of experienced goalkeepers with Chris Seitz, a starter last season for Philadelphia, joining up with MLS all-time wins leader Kevin Hartman.

Hartman will likely be between the sticks against an overhauled Fire team that finished 9-12-9 in 2010. With 36 points, Chicago finished well-behind the postseason cut-off of 46.

To rebound this season, the Fire will have to make up for some key losses. Forward Brian McBride and defender C.J. Brown both retired. Freddie Ljungberg headed off to play for perennial Scottish Premier League power Celtic and Mexican forward Nery Castillo is with Aris in the Greek Super League.

That means the Fire will likely rely on midfielder Marco Pappa, who had a team-best seven goals and five assists, and 21-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Chicago, though, might relegate Patrick Nyarko, who had a team-best 10 assists in 2010, to the second team.

Right now, I know who is starting, but I want to wait for the match to say, coach Carlos de los Cobos told the leagues website.

Dallas has retained the Brimstone Cup every season since 2001 and clinched that trophy in 2010 - and a playoff berth - with a 3-0 victory at Pizza Hut Park.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine and David Watson reflect on the passing of an NBA icon, Kobe Bryant.

0:30 - Reaction to Kobe's passing on Sunday

18:00 - More discussion about Kobe Bryant and his impact on the league

25:00 - The guys favorite memories of Kobe Bryant

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

Denzel Valentine is beloved throughout the Bulls’ locker room. It takes only a brief sweep around to glean that.

“I love playing with Denzel, that's my guy,” Kris Dunn said. “No matter what, that's my guy. He know[s] that.”

No matter what.

“Man, Denzel is a true professional,” Zach LaVine said. “We're thankful to have him on this team, I think any team would love to have him. He's someone that is beneficial to us because he's gotten put in a tough situation where he came off the bench, and he's a player that's a regular rotation guy.”

Any team would love to have him.

“They show a lot of support, man, it's just crazy. We have a really good, close-knit team,” Valentine said of his teammates. “Zach — he's been a really good help in this situation. Talking to me every day. Coby [White], Kris, I can go down the line of everybody that's a part of it, so. I got blessed, man, I'm on a really good team with really good teammates.”

Let’s rewind. Valentine logged his fourth-highest minutes total of the season (19:06) on Monday, tied his season-high for scoring (16 points) and played crucial, crunch-time minutes in one of these Bulls’ most memorable victories — a 110-109 squeak-by over the San Antonio Spurs on a night the late Kobe Bryant was commemorated from start to finish. 

Valentine added three assists, four rebounds, four 3-pointers and was a team-high +18, as well.

“I thought Denzel was terrific. He's kept himself ready and came in and helped us win a game,” coach Jim Boylen said.

It can’t have been easy keeping the rust off. After missing all of last season due to ankle reconstruction surgery, Valentine is averaging by far his lowest minutes per game this season while shooting 39.5% from 3-point range. He has been phased in and out of the rotation on multiple occasions.

“That's my job as a professional, to stay ready and play when called upon,” Valentine said of how he endures with playing time not a given.

In four games which Valentine has played more than 19 minutes this season, he averages 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 50/44/100 shooting splits. The Bulls are 3-1 in said contests.

“Playing winning basketball,” Valentine said on what he brings when given opportunity. “Whether that's scoring, passing, playing defense, rebounding. Just whatever I can do to affect the game. People always want to look at my shots, but I think I impact the game in a lot of different ways. I think my defense is underrated, and I impact the game in a lot of different ways.”

Valentine said he’s excited to continue to prove himself with advanced opportunity likely in the near future. Thad Young’s insertion into the starting lineup with Lauri Markkanen out for at least the next month opens a gaping need for scoring off the bench. Since Markkanen went down, Valentine is averaging 13.8 minutes per game. Before then, he hadn’t played more than seven since logging 16 minutes in a blowout loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 30. 

But tonight, he was instrumental to a victory. Of his four 3-pointers, two came in the fourth quarter as the Bulls were clawing their way back from, at one point, a 10-point deficit. 

“He brings that. Scoring, another playmaker. You know, when Denzel get rolling, you get to see a different player in him,” Dunn said. “He has that same mentality that I have in the sense of — you know, just go out there and do whatever you can do to win.”

Valentine is beloved throughout the locker room.

“That's not up to him, to play his minutes. He came in, and he's the biggest reason why we won the game I think,” LaVine said. “I think he was 6-for-10, he had 16 points in [19] minutes. You know, high-IQ player, playing on and off the ball, so it was big and I appreciate having him as my teammate.

“Denzel has some of the highest respect in the locker room, we know who he is as a player, and as a person.”

But are his teammates hinting at something? Trade speculation has swirled around Valentine with the deadline impending and the Bulls’ role for him undefined. Now, though, the team’s need for him is evident, given their short-handedness. 

The waters are muddy, but all there is to know for sure is this: All parties have remained and will remain professional.

Time will tell the rest.

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