Bears

OKC sends Kobe, Lakers home for the summer

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OKC sends Kobe, Lakers home for the summer

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With the Oklahoma City Thunder just starting to come to life, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn't need to take a break. They will have enough time to rest as they get ready for a second straight trip to the Western Conference finals. Westbrook scored 28 points, Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and the two All-Stars skipped their usual rest periods to power the Thunder ahead in the second half for a 106-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the West semifinals on Monday night. "We know that's the most important time of the game, especially in a tight game," Durant said. "I think that we kept our composure throughout the fourth, and our poise and we made plays." Kobe Bryant scored 42 points for the Lakers and took the briefest of rest -- less than 2 minutes -- in the second half. It didn't even take that long for the game, and their season, to slip away. After getting eliminated by Los Angeles in 2010 and Dallas in 2011 before both of those teams went on to win it all, the Thunder knocked both out on their way to the West finals for the second straight year. The only other time the franchise made consecutive conference finals was from 1978-80, including Seattle's only NBA title in 1979. Once there, they'll face the top-seeded Spurs, the only team other than the Lakers or Mavs to win the West in the past 13 years and currently riding an 18-game winning streak. The series starts Sunday night in San Antonio. After Westbrook's pair of three-point plays fueled a 14-3 burst that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay late in the third quarter, Durant hit two 3-pointers as the Thunder scored the first 10 points of the fourth to push their lead to 93-77. Bryant was waiting to check in when Durant connected on his second 3-pointer, just 89 seconds into the fourth quarter. But by the time he got in, there was little he could do -- despite the 13th 40-point game of his playoff career. "That what we do. That's our rotations and that's the right rotation to make," Bryant said. "You have to trust that unit coming in there to hold the fort down." Lakers coach Mike Brown said he trusted that unit -- including starters Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum -- after it had turned a five-point deficit into a lead to start the second quarter. "I've got to be able to rest Kobe a few minutes here and there, and we didn't do a good job of handling it at that point in the game," Brown said, adding that he didn't keep Bryant out as long as he had planned. Westbrook went running to the scorer's table and pumped his fist in the air after his first energizing three-point play, when he was able to flip the ball in after Ramon Sessions fouled him on the fast break. "I just tried to throw it to the rim and luckily it went in. That kind of sparked us, and everybody else kept it going from there," Westbrook said. Westbrook converted another after banking in a jumper from the left side despite Sessions slapping him on the arm to make it 82-76 with 1:29 left in the third quarter. Durant extended the lead with a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth and then hit another 32 seconds later -- just after Bryant had stepped to the scorer's table to check in after a brief rest. Bryant described it as "tough, to say the least." After blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, Bryant had called out forward Pau Gasol to be more aggressive -- much as he had with Gasol and Bynum before the Lakers faced elimination in Game 7 of the first round against Denver. Gasol came through with a monster game -- 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists -- and Steve Blake scored a playoff career-best 19 points to save the Lakers that time. Bryant didn't get nearly as much help against the Thunder. Gasol took 14 shots, his most of the series, but made only five to finish with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace scored 11 and Bynum 10. James Harden added 17 points as Oklahoma City's bench outscored the Lakers' 35-5. The Thunder also had a 30-6 edge in fast-break scoring. The Lakers were outrebounded 51-35 and had only three offensive rebounds, two from Gasol and none from Bynum. "We're asking our bigs to do a lot but I know for sure we could have gotten more scoring from those two guys in the offensive rebounding category ... and we could have gotten more from our bench," Brown said. The Thunder got five of their first eight baskets on dunks and controlled the boards early on, grabbing 16 of the game's first 22 rebounds while keeping Los Angeles off the offensive glass for the first 11 minutes. Bryant had to create all of the offense, scoring 15 of the Lakers' first 19 points and getting all six of his baskets without the benefit of an assist. When others started chipping in, the Lakers went on a 16-7 run to go up 35-32 following Bynum's three-point play. Oklahoma City scored the next eight points, including Harden's fast-break dunk, before Bryant got past him for a pair of dunks of his own -- the first a driving, two-handed reverse jam and the second a two-handed alley-oop slam over Harden. But Bryant and World Peace both drew technical fouls as the Lakers lost their cool with 31.9 seconds left before halftime when World Peace was called for a flagrant foul against Thabo Sefolosha on a fast break. World Peace used his right hand to strip the ball from Sefolosha as he went up to the basket but then shoved him out of bounds with his left hand. Sefolosha hit both free throws and Durant capitalized on both shots from the technicals World Peace and Bryant got for arguing the flagrant call to put the Thunder 54-51 ahead at halftime despite shooting less than 40 percent. Notes: The Lakers had baskets just after the buzzer at the end of the second and third quarters that both got reviewed on instant replay. ... Westbrook got a technical foul for cursing at an official after a no-call midway through the first quarter. ... The Thunder's Nick Collison needed stitches to close a cut on the back of his head that he sustained during Game 4. ... Los Angeles is 10-3 when Bryant scores 40 points in the playoffs, losing both times he did it this season.

With linchpin DL Akiem Hicks to IR, Bears D faces real challenge to stay at elite level

With linchpin DL Akiem Hicks to IR, Bears D faces real challenge to stay at elite level

With apologies to Khalil Mack, the Bears defense on Tuesday officially lost the player it could arguably least afford to lose when defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was placed on injured reserve with the elbow injury suffered early in the loss to the Oakland Raiders in London.

Perhaps “lost” isn’t entirely accurate, since “he’s going to be with us in meetings and for game-planning and on the sidelines on game days,” said defensive line coach Jay Rodgers. “You’re going to feel his presence. But we’ve got a good group with guys who can step into that role and play well.

“He’ll be a voice on the sideline, the classroom, everything we do. His personality will still be here… . He’s part of us, the Bears family, this organization.”

But great units are a combination of personalities as well as talents, and Hicks has been a defining presence both on and off the football field since he was signed as a free agent in 2016.

Hicks has been a vital influence with young players. Hicks and veteran defensive end Willie Young began a weekly dinner out with then-rookie Leonard Floyd. When the Bears landed a late-round gem in defensive lineman Bilal Nichols in the 2018 draft, Hicks was again a presence.

“He pretty much molded me into the young player I am,” Nichols said. “It just hurt to see him go through that and catch those types of breaks because I know how hard he worked.”

But the absence of Hicks projects to have its obviously most serious impact on the field, at a time when the Bears are struggling to stay within hailing distance of leaders in both the NFC North as well as the NFC in general.

The absence of any consistent offensive play underscores the importance of the defense remaining among the NFL’s best.

Linchpin figure

In a league where the margin between division leader and missing the playoffs is sometimes alarmingly thin, the Bears will be wary of players feeling some need to break their assignment integrity and take out-of-scheme risks to make a play because of missing Hicks.

“I remember last year when we lost Khalil Mack for the Buffalo game and Jets game, and we had some guys who came in and filled in those shoes and did pretty well,” Rodgers said. “We expect the thing. The ‘next guy up’ mentality is real. There’s a reason why we build the roster the way we build it.

“We didn’t have Akiem for the Minnesota game and I thought we played pretty well in that game. It’s all about understanding what your job is and what your role is, how to execute and execute under pressure, and do what we do. We’re not asking anybody to go outside the framework of the defense or do anything extra special. We’re asking you to do your job because you’re one of 11 in the defense.”

It is Rodgers’ task to help players modulate and avoid trying to do too much. The proverbial “take your game to another level,” which is hugely insulting because it presumes a player wasn’t giving the max previously.

And Rodgers is correct, that the Bears without Hicks allowed their season-low points (6) and second-lowest yardage total (222) of the season in the win over Minnesota. That game was one of only two in which the Vikings (4-2) failed to score 28 or more points, and whether the Bears could throttle Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and that offense again so thoroughly without Hicks would be questionable.

But the fact remains that Hicks rates as the central figure on a very good defense. Without Hicks for most of the Oakland game, the Bears allowed their highest point (24) and yardage (398) totals of the season and allowed more rushing yards (169) than in any other two 2019 games combined.

The Bears were a top-10 defense before Mack arrived at the start of last season. With Hicks missing all of one game (Minnesota), most of another (Oakland) and playing less than half the snaps in a third with a knee injury (Washington), they rank sixth in yards and third in points allowed.

The Bears ranked a dismal 20th in both points and yards allowed in 2015, the year before the Hicks signing. They immediately improved to 15th in scoring defense in 2016, then into the top 10 in both points and yards allowed in 2017.

The NFL then took notice last season, with Hicks selected to his first Pro Bowl and being given the fourth-highest rating among defensive linemen by Pro Football Focus.

One player CAN make that much difference

That the Bears performed well without all or part of Hicks vs. Washington and Minnesota does suggest encouragement, particularly if Nichols can play well with a hand injury that cost him the last three games.

The Oakland game points in an entirely opposite direction. It falls to the Bears collectively to keep the Hicks loss from having the kind of devastating effect that a handful of season-ending injuries had on past Bears defenses:

DT Henry Melton, 2013

The 2013 Bears broke fast (3-0) under new coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The defense and a portion of the season collapsed when Melton, voted to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and franchise-tagged by the Bears in 2013, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in game three against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A defense that included Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman allowed 24.7 ppg and 330 ypg for the three games Melton played. Over the final 13 games those indicators ballooned to 31.1 ppg. and 409 yards.

MLB Brian Urlacher, 2009

The Bears lost their Hall of Fame middle linebacker and linchpin at the end of the first half of the first game, in Green Bay. The defense still had Lance Briggs, Alex Brown, Tommie Harris and Charles Tillman, but Brown said after the season that the unit never made up for the loss of both the performance and leadership levels 54 represented.

From 2005-2012, Urlacher’s missed season was one of only two in which the Bears finished sub-.500.

DL Dan Hampton, 1989

The Bears opened 4-0. Hampton suffered a season-ending knee injury, and the team that had reached the 1988 NFC Championship game and still had Richard Dent, Steve McMichael, William Perry, Mike Singletary and Donnell Woolford proceeded to go 2-10 the rest of the way.

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Illinois AP football rankings: Week 7

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NBC Sports Chicago

Illinois AP football rankings: Week 7

The Illlinois high school football AP polls are out. Here are the latest rankings of Illinois high school football teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters:

Class 8A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Lincoln-Way East (10) 7-0 100 1
2. Loyola 5-2 75 3
3. Warren 7-0 73 2
4. Notre Dame (Niles) 7-0 70 4
5.  Homewood-Flossmoor 6-1 51 6
T-6. Hinsdale Central 7-0 47 5
T-6. Neuqua Valley 6-1 47 7
8. Minooka 7-0 33 8
9. Oswego 7-0 19 9
10. Bolingbrook 6-1 15 10

Others receiving votes: St. Charles East 10, South Elgin 5, Huntley 3, Maine South 2.

Class 7A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. (Chicago) Mt. Carmel (9) 7-0 99 1
2. Nazareth (1) 6-1 85 2
3. Glenbard West 7-0 79 3
4.  Hersey 7-0 65 5
5.  Phillips 6-1 56 6
6. Rolling Meadows 7-0 48 T-7
7.  Batavia 5-2 41 4
8. Benet 6-1 22 T-7
9. Willowbrook 6-1 21 NR
10. Normal Community 6-1 15 NR

Others receiving votes: Andrew 5, DeKalb 4, Glenbard East 4, Grant 3, Conant 2, Brother Rice 1.

Class 6A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Chatham Glenwood (9) 7-0 108 1
2.  Crete-Monee (1) 7-0 95 2
3.  Simeon (1) 5-1 81 3
4. Cary-Grove 6-1 68 4
5. Richards 6-1 62 5
6. Prairie Ridge 6-1 57 6
7. Antioch 6-1 41 8
8. Providence 5-2 34 9
9. Yorkville 6-1 22 7
10.  Lemont 6-1 15 NR


Others receiving votes: Normal West 10, Kaneland 9, Peoria Central 3.

Class 5A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. East St. Louis (12) 7-0 120 1
2. Sterling 7-0 102 2
T-3. Hillcrest 6-1 81 4
T-3.  Boylan Catholic 7-0 81 3
5.  Montini 5-2 65 5
6.  Sycamore 6-1 62 2
7. Marion 7-0 46 7
8. St. Rita 4-3 34 8
9.  Kankakee 6-1 29 9
10.  Carbondale 6-1 17 10

Others receiving votes: Dunlap 8, Cahokia 6, Joliet Catholic 6, St. Laurence 3.

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. IC Catholic (11) 7-0 119 1
2. Rochester 7-0 106 2
3. Coal City (1) 7-0 99 3
4. Richmond-Burton 7-0 80 4
5. Stillman Valley 7-0 64 5
6.  Mt. Zion 7-0 52 6
7.  Effingham 7-0 39 8
8. Columbia 7-0 35 7
9. Genoa-Kingston 7-0 23 10
10.  St. Francis 6-1 19 9

Others receiving votes: Illinois Valley Central 16, Bishop McNamara 5, Benton 2, Fairbury Prairie Central 1.

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Wilmington (9) 7-0 124 1
2. Williamsville (4) 7-0 121 2
3. Byron 6-1 93 3
4. Beardstown 7-0 85 4
5. Vandalia 7-0 72 5
6. Nashville 7-0 62 6
7. Fairfield 7-0 50 7
8. Pana 7-0 43 8
9. Princeton 6-1 33 9
10. Eureka 6-1 18 10

Others receiving votes: DuQuoin 9, Breese Mater Dei, 3, Mt. Carmel 2.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Fieldcrest (7) 7-0 122 1
2. Clifton Central (5) 7-0 116 2
3. Maroa-Forsyth (1) 6-1 100 3
4. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 6-1 90 4
5.  St. Teresa 6-1 73 5
6.  Knoxville 7-0 67 6
7. Newman Central Catholic 6-1 58 7
8. Bismarck-Henning 6-1 46 8
9. Auburn 5-2 24 9
10. West Carroll 5-2 15 10

Others receiving votes: Flora 2, Orr 2.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Lena-Winslow (11) 7-0 119 1
2.  Moweaqua Central A&M 7-0 103 3
3. Annawan-Wethersfield 7-0 88 4
4.  Morrison 7-0 78 5
5.  Ottawa Marquette 7-0 64 6
6. Forreston 6-1 55 2
7. Aquin 7-0 53 7
8. Hope Academy (1) 6-1 44 10
9. Camp Point Central 6-1 31 8
10. Athens 5-2 7 9

Others receiving votes: Tuscola 6, Carrollton 5, Fulton 2, Arcola 2, Kirkland Hiawatha 2, Princeville 1.