Bulls

Serena's run ends at Aussie Open

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Serena's run ends at Aussie Open

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Numbers told the surprising story for Serena Williams in her fourth-round loss at the Australian Open on Monday. Seven double-faults, including four in one game; 37 unforced errors, and a first-serve percentage of just over 50 percent that had her convinced "maybe I should have started serving lefty." Some other numbers indicated why her 6-2, 6-3 loss to Russia's Ekaterina Makarova on what she admitted was a still-sore left ankle was more of a shock, particularly at this stage of the year's first major. She has played 43 singles matches at Melbourne Park since she won the first of her five Australian Open titles in 2003, and Monday's loss was just her third. She's 54-7 since playing here for the first time in 1998, and she hasn't gone out this early here since 2006. "I'm not physically 100 percent, so I can't be so angry at myself, even though I'm very unhappy," Williams said. "I know that I can play a hundred times better than I did this whole tournament." Without Williams, who injured her left ankle in Brisbane two weeks ago, the only major winners still in contention were Maria Sharapova, defending champion Kim Clijsters and Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova. Sharapova earned the right to play Makarova in the quarterfinal when she beat Germany's Sabine Lisicki 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a night match. The 2008 champion blew a 3-0 lead in the opening set, needed three set points to win the second and advanced on her second match point despite making 47 unforced errors and eight double-faults. "A lot of ups and downs today -- fortunately I finished on a high note," she said. "Even though I didn't play my best tennis I fought to the end and sometimes that's what gets you through." Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, still in search of her first Grand Slam title, played Clijsters in a quarterfinal on Tuesday. The Belgian veteran advanced to the quarterfinals with a comeback win over Li Na on Sunday in a rematch of the 2011 decider, while Kvitova had some trouble late before beating former top-ranked Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 7-6 (2) Monday. Kvitova will next play Sara Errani of Italy, who beat 2008 semifinalist Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-1. In the late night match, defending champion Novak Djokovic reached the Australian Open quarterfinals for the fifth straight year with a 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt. Djokovic, who is aiming to become only the fifth man in the Open era to win three consecutive majors after collecting the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles last year, was up two sets and a break before Hewitt won six straight games to force a fourth set. But after losing a set for the first time in the tournament, Djokovic regained his composure to ensure all of the top five men reached the quarterfinals. He will next play No. 5 David Ferrer, who had a 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Richard Gasquet of France. The loss for former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Hewitt ended his 16th campaign at the Australian Open and also meant there's no locals remaining in the men's or women's singles draws. Hewitt's best performance at Australian title remains his run to the final in 2005. Earlier, two-time runner-up Andy Murray was leading 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 when Mikhail Kukushkin retired from their fourth-round match with a left hip injury, giving Murray an easy path into the quarters. "It's obviously good for me, I get to conserve some energy," Murray said. "Tough for him, first time in the fourth-round of a Slam." Murray will next play Kei Nishikori, who had a 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist. The 22-year-old Nishikori became the first Japanese man in the last eight at the Australian Open in 80 years, and only the second man from his country to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the Open Era started in 1968. Shuzo Matsuoka reached the 1995 Wimbledon quarterfinals. "Is feeling unbelievable. My first quarterfinal and beating Tsonga, makes me really happy," Nishikori said. "I hope it's big in Japan. A lot of people messaged me a couple of days ago about the round of 16 and now the quarterfinals. It's really exciting." Makarova, a 23-year-old Russian left-hander, was equally thrilled about her win over Williams. And considering she'd lost in the first round of the last six tournaments she'd played, in awe over who she beat. "Yeah, I'm surprised because she's a great player and it's really tough to play against her. But, I don't know, I just feeling so good and so focus. So I played my game, and that's it. I won against Serena. That's amazing." Makarova overcame plenty of Williams crowd support, many of whom weren't that familiar with the Russian. Oracene Price, Williams' mother, was in the players' box with her sunglasses on and a wide-brimmed hat. In the fourth game of the second set with Makarova serving, Williams netted an easy forehand return. She made an angry sound, and there was a bit of laughter in the crowd. Price just turned away, shaking her head. After Williams' fourth double-fault in the fifth game of the second set, which gave Makarova the game and a 3-2 lead -- Williams shouted "Oh my God." She looked ready to smash her racket, but in the end bounced it on the court and caught it on the rebound. The 13-time Grand Slam winner had only played two competitive matches since losing the U.S. Open final to Sam Stosur in September, and her light preparation was curtailed when she badly twisted her ankle as she won her second-round match at Brisbane earlier this month. For that reason, Williams wasn't about to beat herself up over Monday's loss. "Am I usually angry? I don't know. Crying? I don't cry. So I don't know what I usually project," she said. "I feel like I didn't play well today. I don't feel like I can't get better."

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their 1st victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots

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USA TODAY

Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots

One yard. Less than one, really. That’s all that separated the Bears and the New England Patriots on Sunday, after Kevin White’s efforts to tug a Hail Mary into the Patriots end zone came up just that short in a 38-31 loss to the NFL’s greatest team over the better part of the past two decades.

And normally for a team under a first-time head coach (the Bears’ fifth coach since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady started their run in 2001) would feel good about nearly overcoming giving up two special-teams scores and two turnovers of their own, all against one of the NFL’s elites.

But feel-good was hard to find after a second straight loss of a winnable game to a good team.

“’Close’ doesn’t cut it,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky,  who set career highs in pass attempts (50) and rushing yards (81) on his way to two passing and one rushing TD’s, but his lowest passer rating (69.8) of the season after throwing two interceptions.

“There’s a new standard here, and coming up one yard short and not tying the game and going to overtime, that’s not good enough anymore.”

Perspective isn’t particularly easy with a young team that dropped to 3-3, still its best scorecard after six games since 2014 but now back behind Minnesota and idle Green Bay, both at 3-2-1, and tied with Detroit (3-3).

Still, with their best individual player (Khalil Mack) hobbled with an injured ankle and a pass rush that got virtually no pressure on Brady, the Bears did find themselves at the Chicago 45 with a chance to tie with 2 seconds to play.

Maybe the marvel was that they were even that close to the Patriots, after special teams allowed a punt-block return for a touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“We were right there. I think our offense is growing and I like where we are right now, I really do,” Nagy said.

More than that, as he told the players in the locker room afterwards, “With everything that happened to us and we were a yard away from tying the game. Take that and think about that a little bit.”

The ebbs and flows of the game notwithstanding – the Bears led 17-7 early in the second quarter, and were down 38-24 midway through the fourth – the game was arguably another small indicator that the Bears are the cliché’d “for real.”

Whatever that actually means.

The defense, which failed to protect leads in the fourth quarter in two of the Bears’ first four games, was unable to deliver a stop in the final minutes Sunday, allowing New England to drive 96 yards for score to go up 38-24 midway through the fourth quarter.

They “held” Brady and the New England offense to 24 points without Mack, the linchpin of their defense. But the Patriots were without Rob Gronkowski, the perennial Pro Bowl tight end and favorite target of Brady.

"I think it just comes down to knowing,” said cornerback Kyle Fuller, who intercepted his third pass in the past two games, “that if you are going against a good team, your room for error is slim, so you have to be on point the whole game."

And after some shaky handlings of in-game situations this season, Nagy was not out-coached by Belichick, who routinely takes an opponent’s strength away and who effectively took leading receiver Taylor Gabriel out of the offense. Nagy and Trubisky turned to tight end Trey Burton for 9 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Trubisky hurt himself and the offense with a handful of bad misses of open receivers, including Anthony Miller in the end zone in the first half. New England forced him into quick-react decisions with an array of blitzes alternating with eight-man zones, and Trubisky was able to make the Patriots pay with short- and mid-range targets of Burton.

Accuracy cost Trubisky when he underthrew wideout Josh Bellamy who was two steps behind cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the third quarter for another missed touchdown opportunity. A subsequent sloppy throw on the run to Bellamy was intercepted when the ball was thrown to the defender’s side of Bellamy instead of toward the sideline, costing the Bears a chance at at least a field goal. A mis-placed fourth-quarter pass toward Miller later in the fourth quarter was intercepted at the New England 4.

But Trubisky’s 333 yards marked the third straight time he has passed for 300 or more yards and Nagy cited a number of throws that Trubisky didn’t make as evidence of improved decision-making.

“I came away pleased with how he played,” Nagy said.

Added Gabriel: "He's a playmaker, man. A guy that wanted to win. You can see that out of him. He's the leader of this team and I would go to battle with Mitch any day."