Bulls

The NBA's Rookie of the Year will be...

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The NBA's Rookie of the Year will be...

From Comcast SportsNet
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Kyrie Irving began his first pro season as the top pick and ended it as the top rookie. Cleveland's smooth, playmaking point guard has been chosen as the NBA"s Rookie of the Year, a person familiar with the voting told the Associated Press on Sunday. Irving's selection is hardly a surprise since the 20-year-old led all first-year players in scoring -- 18.5 points per game -- and renewed hope for Cleveland's franchise. He'll receive the award on Tuesday, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the league has not yet announced the winner. ESPN.com and The Cleveland Plain Dealer first reported Irving's win. Results of the voting won't be available until Tuesday, but it's safe to assume Irving's victory will be lopsided. After Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio suffered a season-ending knee injury, Irving was far and away the best all-around player in the rookie class. The Cavs used the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft to select Irving, who played in just 11 games as a freshman at Duke because of a toe injury. However, it didn't take long for the 6-foot-3 Irving to establish himself as one of the game's rising stars. With a fearlessness on the floor, Irving made clutch shots, orchestrated fourth-quarter comebacks and managed to keep the Cavs competitive and in the playoff picture for several months before they traded guard Ramon Sessions in March and injuries took their toll. Irving is the second Cavaliers player to win the award, joining LeBron James in 2004. Irving's is the final postseason award to be announced by the league. On Saturday, James, who spent seven seasons in Cleveland before signing with Miami, won his third MVP award in four seasons. Irving recently treated himself to a postseason vacation in the Bahamas. In June, he's expected to play on the Cavs summer league team in Las Vegas and will be part of a U.S. Select Team which will train against the American Olympic team going to the London Games.

Bulls trip to Mexico a much-needed diversion

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USA TODAY

Bulls trip to Mexico a much-needed diversion

After a drama-filled first eight days under the leadership of new head coach Jim Boylen, maybe a trip to Mexico City is exactly what's needed for the 6-22 Bulls.

With all the reports of player unrest, a potential practice boycott and the formation of a players' leadership group, maybe a team dinner in a warm climate is the perfect recipe for reducing tension.

Of course, both the Bulls and Magic will have to adjust to playing at the mile-high altitude in Mexico City Thursday night. The Bulls' players are hoping to get their legs back after last week's training camp-style practices. They played well in the first half against Sacramento on Monday, running out to a 56-45 lead. But the Bulls looked stuck in the mud the rest of the way, getting outscored 63-33 in the 2nd half on the way to a 108-89 loss, their third in four games under Boylen's direction.

The Magic have also struggled lately after getting off to a good start that currently has them in the eighth playoff position in the East. Orlando has dropped seven of its last 10 games, the latest a 101-76 haymaker at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.

The Magic are led by free agent to be Nikola Vucevic, who's averaging 20.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Aaron Gordon got the big contract he was looking for as a restricted free agent last summer and he's having a decent season, but not what the front office was hoping for after paying him close to 80 million dollars over the next 4 years.

Former Bulls guard D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant are running the point for Orlando. Augustin has started all 27 games so far and he's been decent, averaging 10.1 points and 5.1 assists, while Grant has chipped in 4 points and 3 assists in just under 20 minutes of action off the bench.

Orlando is also getting solid production from wing players Evan Fournier and Terrance Ross, but much like the Bulls, their future is about the development of recent top 10 picks Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. Both have been inconsistent so far, and both need to add strength to be able to deal with all the physical contact in the paint. Unless one or both develop into a top tier post player, the Magic's grand rebuilding plan will fall apart pretty quickly.

Still, Orlando is 12-15 at this point which is about where the Bulls figured to be if they hadn't suffered so many injuries at the start of the season. It will be interesting to see which direction each of these teams go now that the Bulls have everyone back except for Denzel Valentine. Of course, trades could change the composition of both rosters with players like Vucevic, Fournier, Ross, Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez all of potential interest to contending teams.

Here's what it will take for the Bulls to get into the win column on Thursday.

1. Sustained effort. As my former studio partner, the late, great Norm Van Lier used to say, "I need 48 minutes of intensity." The Bulls gave Jim Boylen 24 minutes on Monday, with Zach LaVine throwing down a monstrous hammer dunk to punctuate his 12 point, 5-6 shooting first half effort. Whether it was tired legs from all the extra practice time or poor execution, the Bulls were done in by a turnover-filled second half. They'll need to find a way to avoid the nightmare quarters that have cost them a chance at several wins this season.

2. Limit second-chance points. Orlando has plenty of size with Vucevic, Gordon and Isaac in the starting lineup and Bamba coming off the bench. The Bulls' big men have to focus on boxing out and not allowing the Magic to get multiple shot opportunities. Robin Lopez played well in the first half on Monday, then didn't see the floor after intermission. His size will be important in this game.

3. More from Dunn and Portis. Both players showed encouraging signs in their first game since late October, combining for 14 points and 8 rebounds in the opening half against Sacramento. Best of all, they showed no hesitation in going all out following their rehabs from knee sprains. Dunn should return to the starting lineup soon where his ability to penetrate will lead to easier shots for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Portis can provide instant offense off the bench, something that's been sorely lacking for most of the season.

Don't forget you can watch Thursday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and MyTeams by NBC Sports app. Sticking with the Mexico City theme, we'll be doing the preame show live on location from Harbee Liquor and Tavern in the Pilsen neighborhood, 1345 W. 18th St. If you're going to be in the area, come on out and say hello to Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Horace Grant and myself. Pregame coverage begins at 8 p.m., with the play-by-play call from Neil Funk and Stacey King at 8:30, followed by Bulls Postgame Live and Bulls Outsiders.

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.

First and Final Thoughts: A chance to seal it at Soldier

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USA Today

First and Final Thoughts: A chance to seal it at Soldier

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thought on Week 14

J.J. Stankevitz: Can we give some love to Sherrick McManis for the work he put in on Sunday night? A guy who’s been labeled as a special teams ace, and not much else, stepped in for an injured Bryce Callahan and played well for 36 snaps against one of the best offenses in the NFL during the second half. The Rams targeted McManis four times, per Pro Football Focus, and he allowed three catches for 18 yards – and, notably, only one yard after the catch. McManis was sent on a blitz five times by Vic Fangio and pressured Jared Goff on three of those plays.

This isn’t the first time McManis has made an impact on defense this year – he had a tremendous game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 – but consider this: The 36 defensive snaps McManis played on Sunday were more than he played during the entire 2017 season (31). If the Bears are without Callahan for any period of time – Matt Nagy said the Bears should know more about his foot injury by Wednesday – McManis will have to take on an increased role the likes of which he hasn’t had since 2015, when he played 29 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps. But after seeing what he did against the Rams on Sunday night, perhaps he’ll be up for the task.

Paul Aspan: Akiem Hicks is the absolute MVP of this team. He made the biggest play of the game, helping to force the INT to Kyle Fuller right after the offense committed a pretty brutal turnover of its own. Nothing new that Hicks is making key plays on a weekly basis but he might be the most unheralded DT in the league. With all due respect to Aaron Donald and the likely defensive player of the year season he’s having but what Hicks is doing in a mostly 3 technique & 1 technique this season is some of the most disruptive of a DT playing that far inside the line and me thinking shades of Warren Sapp.

Cam Ellis: We place some sort of arbitrary value on 100 rushing yards, as if it's *that* more impressive than 99 or 98 or 97. It's dumb. With that said, it's nice to see Jordan Howard get over 100 yards -- and against a stout Rams defense, no less. This year surely hasn't played out like Howard envisioned it would, and just because he didn't get moved at the deadline doesn't mean his future in Chicago is set in stone. If the Bears are going to roll into the playoffs with this defense-first mentality, they'll need a run game along side it. Watching Howard rumble between the tackles was enjoyable to watch. 

First Thought on Week 15

Stankevitz: The Bears know as well as anyone that if you give Aaron Rodgers an inch, he’ll take it a mile. Even after losing to the woebegone Arizona Cardinals and firing Mike McCarthy, the Packers still have that inch in the NFC playoff race – at 5-7-1, they’re only one game behind the current six-seeded Minnesota Vikings, who fired offensive coordinator (and former candidate for the Bears’ coaching job) John DeFilippo on Tuesday. While the Vikings have the tiebreaker over the Packers, it’s not inconceivable to see Minnesota’s season flame out along with the sagging playoff hopes of the Eagles (6-7), Panthers (6-7) and Washington (6-7). And you know who shouldn’t be counted out? Aaron Rodgers.

If the Packers are able to beat the Bears this week, their final two games are eminently winnable: At the Jets, and home against the Lions. Winning out means an 8-7-1 record and, potentially, a trip to Chicago for the wild card round of the playoffs. The Bears would do well to drive a stake into the Packers’ heart this weekend and remove the specter of Rodgers from playoff contention once and for all.

Aspan: No letdown. Sounds ridiculous after that performance but it’s still Aaron Rodgers in a place he apparently feels pretty comfortable in at soldier field. The Bears should drive a stake into the heart of the Packers for their own well being, especially considering what happened week 1. Factor in the Seahawks win over the Vikings you can start making your plans for a Chicago playoff game in January. The only question is how many. 

Ellis: Rogue Aaron Rodgers is the most dangerous Aaron Rodgers. Just ask the Falcons.