Cubs

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Hornets

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Hornets

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011
3:47 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. Tom Thibodeau discussed the up-and-down Hornets, who started off the season as the hottest team in the league, hit a slump, bounced back and endured a four-game losing streak recently before beating Orlando Friday night. Center Emeka Okafor is anchoring the defensewith Chris Paul healthy, hes one of the top players in the league. Their health, their strength up frontDavid West is having a terrific yearand I think their bench play, theyre deep. You add a Jarrett Jack, Willie Green, Marco Bellinelli and Jason Smith, you add them to the mix, they can hurt you a lot of different ways, said Thibodeau. They have the ability to put it on the floor, and West has always been a tough matchups for all the bigs up front because of his unique ability to shoot from 17, 18 feet and put it down on the floor, and a very good back to the basket and face-up game. They have a lot of weapons. Paul and West in the pick-and-roll, thats been a tough combination to stop for years. He added: They took a hit with some injuries. Theyre a deep team, I think theyve played extremely well all season long and I think sometimes, you adjusttheyve got two starters that have been outso youve got an adjustment there, but this team is very, very talented. You look at Chris Paul and David West, theyre two elite players who have played at a high level for a long time. Theyve got a number of players on their bench who have played wellits a team thats very capable. Thornton is an explosive guy who can come off the bench and hurt you.

2. Thibodeau also commented on the Hornets wooing him last summer; he turned down New Orleans head-coaching vacancy before taking the Bulls opportunity. I was grateful for the opportunity to interview last year and its a great organization, great city, but Im happy everything worked out the way it did, said Thibodeau. You just trust your instincts in the end. Going through the processwe were in the Finals, actually, when everything was going onand in the end, made the decision based on what I felt what I was most comfortable with. He was complimentary of Hornets head coach Monty Williams, a fellow longtime NBA assistant and first-year head coach, adding, Hes a great guy, hes a great coach, hes paid his dues and hes done an unbelievable job for this team.

3. Now that many observers regard Rose as the leagues top point guard, its easy to forget hes faced a virtual murderers row of good-to-elite floor generals on this trip, from the Clippers Baron Davis and Golden States Stephen Curry to Portlands Andre Miller and the Jazzs Deron Williams, and of course tonights matchup, New Orleans Paul, his Western Conference All-Star starter counterpart. It should be interesting tonight, said Rose. Its fun, going against everyone. It makes you come out here and play hard every nightif not, youre going to get embarrassed. Rose realizes that hes now getting even more attention from both opposing teams and his individual peers at the position. I take a lot of pride in it, knowing that Ive got people worried about me. You can just tell by the way people play. I look at the previous game. They probably didnt play that hard, then going into a game against Rose, they play as hard as they can, just balling. It made me change the way I play a little bit, where Ive got to be aggressive throughout the whole game, no matter who were playing, said Rose. You can tell by the defense that people play, the coverages that they run for pick-and-roll and isolation. Sometimes I see how Kobe Bryant feels all the time or Carmelo Anthony feels all the time because they send a third person over, so that you can move the ball. Thibodeau chimed in: Its the way of the league right now and there are no easy nights. When you look at it, theres a great young group of point guards that have come into the league. Then, theres the middle group where theyve been doing it for a while and are elite and then you have the older guys, who seem to be ageless and are still dominant. So, youre going to be tested every night and I think the challenge is to be ready to play and again, with great players its very difficult to guard them one-on-one, so you need your team to help out, but you are going to be challenged every night. Regarding Paul, Rose observed, Paul is shifty, very shifty. He really isnt that fastreal quickknowing how to get to a spot, knowing how to get fouled, runs the team very good, leader on the floor. Thats why hes one of the best in the league.

4. With scuttlebutt having the Bulls in talks with the Rockets for a traderookie backup center Omer Asik for Houston reserve shooting guard Courtney Lee, give or take a draft pickThibodeau shared his thoughts on Asik, as well as his take on trade rumors. Defensively, Asik has come in with a defensive mindset. I think hes still learning team defense and the individual tendencies of the players hes going up against. Offensively, hes been a very good offensive rebounder. Hes a very good screenerI think hes become more confident with experience. I think hes still working hard at it. The speed of the game and the strength of the game are areas where he still has to improve upon, said Thibodeau. In this league, you hear about that stuff every day. Hes professional and he knows what the league is about. This time of the year, for every 100 that gets talked about, maybe one gets done. The challenge is to not be distracted, to keep your priorities in order and thats why we dont like to change our approach from game to game, practice to practice. While Asik would be an upgrade from starter Keith Bogans, hes not necessarily a game-changerthough his low-maintenance offensive game (he doesnt need a lot of touches to be productive, but can shoot with range and drive to the basket), toughness, defensive ability and experience (he started for Orlando as a rookie two seasons ago, when the Magic made it to the NBA Finals) would be a good fitand with Noahs injury woes, Kurt Thomas age and the Bulls being budget-conscious in thinking of both a new collective-bargaining agreement and being able to sign Rose to a maximum contract when hes up for free agency, its a longshot to happen, according to various sources. The team currently has excellent chemistry and while Bogans isnt the most offensively-prolific player, Thibodeau trusts him and hes popular amongst his teammates. With Rose, Noah, and Luol Deng all 25 and under, Carlos Boozer under contract for another four seasons after the current campaign, the Bulls window will be open for a while and other options at Lees level or better will eventually surface if they choose not to make a move before this months trade deadline. In addition, swingman Ronnie Brewer may come off the bench, but hes the de facto starting shooting guard in terms of minutes (sharing the role with sharpshooter Kyle Korver) and Thibodeau has been pleased with his play as of late. Brewers energys been terrific, hes a very good defensive player, very good open-floor player and hes a very good mid-range shooter. His slashing and cutting is something that I think helps our offense quite a bit and defensive, hes got great instincts. He reads plays well, stated Thibodeau, referencing Brewers game-sealing steal in his return to Utah Wednesday.

5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

The Wrigley Field basket has played a huge role in this week's Cubs-Reds series.

In Monday night's game, Cincinnati catcher Curt Casali hit a game-tying homer into the basket in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs went on to lose.

But the basket giveth and the basket also taketh away.

Tuesday night, it was Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs who were singing the praises of one of the strangest ballpark quirks in baseball.

Schwarber connected on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, hitting a fly ball through the impossibly-humid air and into the basket in left-centerfield for a 4-3 Cubs win.

"Whoever thought about that basket — whenever that occurred — tell them, 'thank you,'" Joe Maddon said. "Although it did work against us [Monday]. When it works for you, it's awesome."

Schwarber has stood under the left-field basket many times with his back against the wall, thinking he might be able to make a play on a high fly ball only to see it settle into the wickets and turn into a chance for a Bleacher Bum to show off their arm. 

But is he a huge fan of the basket now that it worked in his favor?

"I guess so," Schwarber laughed. "Yesterday, it cost us, but today, it helped us out. It's just the factor of Wrigley Field. Happy it worked out today."

It was Schwarber's first career walk off RBI of any kind.

It was the Cubs' fourth walk-off homer of the season, but their first since May 11 when Willson Contreras called "game" on the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Cubs are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break and hold a 2.5-game lead in the division.

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease picked up a win in his first start, but his second did not go as well.

Cease pitched six innings Tuesday at the Royals and gave up six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk. He struck out seven, but took the loss in an ugly game for the White Sox.

The game got off to an ominous start with Eloy Jimenez getting injured on the first batter Cease faced. The White Sox defense didn’t help Cease much either with three errors (Cease had one of those on an errant pickoff throw).

After giving up six runs in the first four innings, Cease settled down to retire the final eight batters he faced. He finished with seven strikeouts against just one walk and threw 67 of his 108 pitches for strikes.

Cease struck out six in his first start and is the first pitcher in White Sox history to strike out six or more in each of his first two career appearances.

A deeper look at Cease’s numbers show his swing and miss stuff hasn’t quite caught on as expected so far. Cease got 13 swinging strikes in 101 pitches in his major league debut. He got 12 whiffs on 108 pitches on Tuesday. His slider did get five swinging strikes on 25 pitches against the Royals.

Fastball command remains a key part to Cease’s success. He only threw 26 out of 54 fastballs for strikes in his debut. Cease improved upon that with 31 strikes on 50 fastballs against the Royals.

Most of the Royals’ damage came against Cease’s fastball as well. Six of the Royals’ eight hits off Cease, including all three extra base hits, were off heaters. Cease also gave up four hits with two strikes.

There has been plenty of hype surrounding Cease since he joined the White Sox, but he hasn’t hit the ground running in the majors just yet. Having 13 days between the first two starts of his career due to the all-star break and the White Sox giving him some extra rest also isn’t the ideal scenario for a young pitcher.

Cease’s ERA is now at 5.73, which isn’t going to set the world on fire. Still, there have been enough positives in his first two starts to see where reasonable improvement could lead to Cease becoming the pitcher the White Sox expect him to be.

 

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