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Plenty of points scored in NBA All-Star thriller

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Plenty of points scored in NBA All-Star thriller

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Kobe, KD and the West looked ready to deliver a quick KO. Kevin Durant knew better. "With all these great players on the floor, you never know what will happen," Durant said. "Guys making big shots, and they cut it down to one. We were up 18." Just enough, it turned out, to hold off LeBron James and the East in the NBA All-Star game. A bloodied Bryant scored 27 points, moving past Michael Jordan as the career scoring leader in the game, Durant had 36 in an MVP performance, and the Western Conference won 152-149 on Sunday night. James and the East cut a 21-point deficit to one in the closing seconds, but weren't able to move in front. James had 36 points and fellow Heat star Dwyane Wade finished with a triple-double. "It was fun," Durant said. "That's the type of All-Star game you want to see." Blake Griffin scored 22 points for the West, which rang up 88 points in the first half, setting an All-Star record. But he won the game with his defense, picking off James' pass when the East had a chance to tie in the final seconds. "When I tried to throw it late, that's what usually happens and it results in a turnover," James said. "Definitely wish I could have that one back." Griffin then hit one free throw with 1.1 seconds left, and Wade was off on a 3-point attempt from the corner. He finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, joining Jordan and James as the only players with All-Star game triple-doubles. Bryant was bloodied by a hard foul from Wade and stayed in the game, but left to be evaluated afterward and did not speak to the media. Durant's win left Bryant tied for the All-Star record with his four MVP awards. But he got a bigger mark in his 13th All-Star game. He broke Jordan's record of 262 points on a dunk with 4:57 left in the third quarter and now has 271 for his career. He passed Oscar Robertson (246 points) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (251) earlier in the game. "That record he got tonight, with KD in the league, I don't know how long it's going to last," Wade said. It nearly wasn't enough, as the East's comeback had the crowd filled with entertainers and athletes chanting for defense -- never a part of the All-Star game vocabulary -- in the final seconds. James hit two long 3-pointers in the final period, and the East had a chance when Bryant, with the crowd loudly booing, missed a free throw with 18 seconds left and the West up 151-149. But New Jersey's Deron Williams was short on a 3-pointer, and after the East came up with it, James fired a pass into a crowd that Griffin intercepted. On a colorful night in Orlando, from pregame performer Nicki Minaj's pink and green hair to the neon sneakers many of the stars wore, Dwight Howard had nine points and 10 rebounds as the game's host. The NBA's first All-Star game in Orlando in 20 years wasn't close after 2 quarters. But players always say it gets competitive in the final five minutes, and James was again up for the challenge. He hiked his scoring average to 25.9 points over his eight All-Star games, and someday he'll probably take the record Bryant set Sunday. But he couldn't quite catch Kobe in the game. "Being a competitor, no matter All-Star game or not, you don't want to get blown out," James said. "Of course not, when you're going against your peers and you're going against great players and you're playing with great players. I just wanted to try to pick it up and see if we could make a run at it, and we did." With the 2-year-old Amway Center considered by many the finest arena in the league, the NBA brought its midseason showcase back to Orlando for the first time since the memorable 1992 game, when Magic Johnson was MVP three months after retiring from the league because of the HIV virus. This one was once in jeopardy of being lost when the lockout lasted into late November. Without a settlement then, All-Star weekend may have been wiped out, as it was in 1999 following a work stoppage. The party was saved. James and Howard, wearing bright orange shoes, danced onto the stage for pregame introductions, Howard breaking into an enormous grin when fans gave him a thunderous ovation as the last All-Star introduced. He insists that he and Magic fans still have a love affair despite his trade request, understanding he still loves the city even if not his team, and urged everyone to ignore the trade talk for a weekend and have fun. "We did it big for our city," he said in brief pregame remarks to the crowd before the game. Then Andrew Bynum blocked his first shot attempt. The speedy Russell Westbrook had the East looking like it was standing still late in the first half, and it was 88-69 at the break. Howard and Derrick Rose ditched their orange sneakers in the second half -- James kept his -- and the East quickly got back into it, trimming 12 points off its deficit in less than 6 minutes. They even started to defend -- Wade whacked Bryant so hard on a drive that the Lakers star needed a break between free throws to wipe blood from his nose before sinking it to tie Jordan. Williams scored 20 points for the East. Carmelo Anthony had 19, and Rose finished with 14. Kevin Love, who won the 3-point contest on Saturday, scored 17 points for the West, which has won two in a row. Chris Paul had eight points and 12 assists. NOTES: With Bryant, Bynum, Griffin and Paul, four West starters were from Los Angeles. Bynum played only 5 minutes after a having a procedure on his knee Friday. ... Johnson came onto the court for a standing ovation following the first quarter after highlights of his 1992 performance were shown. He was part of another 20-year anniversary acknowledgement in the third quarter, joined by Olympic Dream Team teammates Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson.

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

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USA Today

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

If you wanted to throw water on the Bears’ playoff chances, the hardest part would be deciding what well to draw it from. The data overwhelmingly agrees: the Bears, even after a reassuring 31-24 win over Dallas, are longshots to make the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor gives them a 5% chance. The Cowboys, with their 6-7 record and three-game losing streak, have a 59% chance. 

“If we don't win, none of those percentages matter,” Matt Nagy said after the game. “The percentages part, [I don’t know]. I know we’ve got to win.” 

And not only that, but the Bears will have to win while playing the hardest remaining schedule of any team in football. Next Sunday they go to Green Bay, where they haven’t won since 2015. Then all that stands between them and a potential play-in Week 17 game in Minnesota is Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s brutal, but it doesn’t seem as impossible as it did this time yesterday. 

“I think we said that a few weeks back,” Allen Robinson said. “We’ve been saying one game at a time, and I think for us, we’re definitely on the verge of going up right now. So we just want to keep it that way. We’ve been saying it now for the past few weeks. We just want to keep stringing good practices together, good weeks together, and some good runs together.” 

Games like Thursday night’s show you what the Matt Nagy Bears are capable of when things click. It starts with Nagy, who’s finally come around on running the offense that works, even if it is the diluted version. Against Dallas the Bears ran the ball 34 times and threw 31 passes; they’re now 7-2 when running 20 times or more. 

“It’s being able to create chemistry with my O-line,” David Montgomery said. “Those guys have been doing good. I credit them with the little bit of success I’ve had towards the end of the season.”

The passing game has been opened up, ironically enough, with the emergence of three different undrafted tight ends. Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted, and JP Holtz have become legitimate cogs in the offense, which is again a testament to how critical the position is to Nagy and the Bears’ success.

“That's nice to have that,” Nagy said, grinning. “It definitely helps out.” 

“I mean, there were a few things we had in this game plan that were going to give more opportunities. He happened to be that guy on some of the plays. Those guys have stepped up. They've helped us out in that role. You can see when you have that tight end, that presence there, it helps out.”

Holtz joked after the game about being caught off guard by how much open field was in front of him on his 30-yard screen play. It was a well drawn-up and executed play – a good example of a more rigorous attention to detail that Bears coaches and players were finally happy with. 

“Guys are stepping up,” Anthony Miller said. “We’ve got some guys hurt, but we don’t miss a beat. Everybody knows what’s at stake. Everybody knows that we have to win. It’s like every game we’re playing with our backs against the wall. So, every game is a must-win, and we’ve got to get (the Green Bay Packers) in Lambeau next week.”

The injuries are a real concern. Getting Akiem Hicks is taking a step forward but losing Roquan Smith is taking two back. Playoff talk is probably still premature, but like Nagy said, all the Bears can do is win the games in front of them. They’ll play a second straight week of meaningful December football, which is two more than anybody would have guessed before Thanksgiving. 

“We are clicking on all cylinders, with all three phases,” Charles Leno added.  “Even four phases, thanks to the fans out there in Chicago that are always bringing it. 

“It was a really good performance by everybody.”

Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson at the heart of complete offensive performance

Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson at the heart of complete offensive performance

Allen Robinson posted his fourth-lowest receiving yards total and third-lowest reception total of the year in the Bears' potentially season-defining victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday.

His impact wasn't omnipresent — in a game where Mitch Trubisky, the runner, was completely unleashed and the Bears' defense, without four starters, locked down a talented Cowboys offense, there was much to cheer at Soldier Field.

But the plays Robinson made seemed to matter the most.

Early in the second quarter, it was a game-tying touchdown snare on a five-yard slant, delivered on-time and on-target by Trubisky. Then, two third-down catches on a drive that put the Bears ahead 17-7 at the half. The second of those catches was also his second touchdown of the game — with a first-and-goal from the eight yard line, the Bears had just run two futile jump-ball plays for Javon Wims.

Stagnation in goal-to-go situations has been a common lament for fans and pundits frustrated with an offense that, until the last three games, had appeared to drastically regress this season. Tonight, it was Robinson to the rescue. It's been that way all season, even without overly-gaudy receiving figures every single week. He is perhaps the most talented and accomplished skill player on the offense, and a bon a fide safety blanket for his third-year quarterback.

So it's no surprise that in Trubisky's best game of the year (when factoring in the skill of the opponent and leverage of the situation) Robinson was at the heart of so many meaningful plays.

"I think for us [he and Trubisky] by having almost two seasons together, we're just trying to continue to work on whatever we can," Robinson said. Referring to the second touchdown, a play that Robinson saved from disaster by wrenching the ball from Cowboys LB, Jaylon Smith: "I knew it would be a bang-bang play. You know, that's something that we worked on all week and we knew that it would be bang-bang."

For Trubisky, it was a play that demanded and displayed the level of trust that he and Robinson have built. He, after all, had thrown an interception the quarter before into traffic on the Cowboys' side of the field.

"Just playing free. Just trusing my instincts, really trusting Allen," Trubisky said. Then again: "Really just trusting 12 [Robinson]. When I put it up in his area, he's going to come down with it."

"Those two got a connection right now... Let 'em keep doing it," Charles Leno said with a chuckle, of Trubisky and Robinson. "They look like they're just playing backyard football right now."

That must continue for the Bears, heading into a crucial stretch of the season that they've conjured from the jaws of collapse. The prevailing mantra for many in the locker room after the game was simple: One week at a time. 

Well, next week the Bears travel to Lambeau Field. In the team's debaculous defeat at the hands of the Packers on opening night, Robinson was a lone silver lining (see what I did there?), hauling in seven catches for 102 yards.

"We're definitely on the verge of going up right now," Robinson said. "We're finding our groove."

It certainly appears so, and it comes just in the nick of time.