Bears

Teague comes of age in Bulls' victory

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Teague comes of age in Bulls' victory

PHILADELPHIA I just play basketball. Ive been playing against people my whole life, the 19-year-old said. Im just playing basketball. Its not a big deal to me. Its just like playing in the park.

It helps when those people include the likes of his brother Jeff, the Atlanta Hawks starting point guard, as well as injured Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon and Indiana starter George Hill.

Bulls rookie Marquis Teague, although he hasnt had extended playing time this season, looked like a veteran in Wednesday nights 96-89 road win over the 76ers.

His statisticssix points, four assists, two steals in 20 minutes of actionwere modest, but the poise he played with spoke volumes, on a night when regular starter Kirk Hinrich was sidelined due to injury.

He did an admirable job on Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday, an All-Star candidate, on the defensive end, distributed the ball to his teammates, got in the lane at will, pushed the tempo, only committed one turnover and most importantly, knocked down two clutch free throws down the stretch to help the Bulls seal the deal.

Well, I see how hes working every day in practice, but hes also shown, in the minutes that hes gotten, that hes played well. In the Boston game, I thought he played very well. In this game, I thought Kirks been hurt before. When hes out, Nate steps up. He does his job and Marquis comes in, and does his. And Marquis is just going to continue to get better and better. Hes a bright kid, working hard and hes improving, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterwards, before explaining the rationale for leaving Teague in the game in crunch time.

Just the way the game was going. I thought the unit was playing well together on the floor. I thought his quickness, when youre dealing with the speed and quickness of Holiday, I thought he could match up with that speed and youve got to try to make a guy like that work for his points. Hes a load, hes an elite point guard and I thought Marquis did all he could to get over screens, try to get back in front of the wall, hustled and I thought that was important.

Luol Deng added: Man, its huge. Kirk went down, were trying to find answers, he comes in. Im not surprised. The kid, hes been coming in early. He hasnt played yet, hes staying late, hes staying with the coaches. Im proud of him. Tonight, we really believe him, Jimmy and Taj won us this game.

The soft-spoken Teague said that he kept his approach simple against the Sixers and that he enjoyed the rowdy atmosphere. His demeanor, which seemingly never changes was evident in the Bulls' narrow home loss to Boston last month, when he matched up with Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo, but the road is a different environment.

Just wanted to be ready. Just doing whatever my team needed to help us win. Went out and defend the ball, give good pressure. Just make it tough on them and run the offense, Teague, a prolific scorer in high school and national champion at Kentucky during his lone college season, said.

It was great. It was fun. Just got a chance to go out there on the road with my team and get a win. Thats always great when you come out on top, so it just felt good.

I just like the fact that I was playing good defense. Thats what I like to do, come out and just defend, show energy on the defensive end, just pick up energy. I got pressured a little too much at the end. I let him get in me. I should have made an easier play or something, just letting Jrue Holiday get in me, continued the Indianapolis native.

I just take whatever the defense gives me. If Ive got to score, Im going to score. If Ive got a pass, Im going to make the pass to one of my teammates. I played with different teams since Ive been in high school. In high school, I played with teams that werent as good, so I had to score a lot of points. Now, Im playing with guys who are on a higher level, so its easier to make a good pass to them because you know theyre going to score the ball.

Predictably, Thibodeau wouldnt commit to giving the youngster more minutes.

Well see, Thibodeau said. Obviously when Kirk comes back, everyone comes back, but everyone has to stay ready. You never know what happens.

If Hinrich is hurt again, Robinson gets injured or Thibodeau simply decides to put him in the game, Teague will be unfazed.

Whenever he calls my name, Ill be ready, he said. Ill be ready to play.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.