Bulls

Were Lakers able to avoid 7th straight loss?

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Were Lakers able to avoid 7th straight loss?

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dwight Howard arrived at Staples Center expecting to sit out another game to rest his injured shoulder. He ended up helping the Los Angeles Lakers out of their longest losing streak in nearly six years, which made that shoulder feel a whole lot better.Howard had 22 points and 14 rebounds in his return from a three-game absence, and the Lakers snapped their six-game losing streak with a 113-93 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night."When we play like this, we win, and we win big," Howard said. "We've just got to continue to learn from games like that, and hopefully we can just string together some wins."Kobe Bryant scored 23 points for the Lakers, who finally earned their first victory of 2013 while ending their longest skid since February 2007. Howard went 9 for 11 despite his torn labrum while leading Los Angeles to a comfortable victory over the lowly Cavaliers, who beat the Lakers last month.Steve Nash said the win was "mandatory" for the Lakers, and they played with an appropriate effort. Nash had 10 points and nine assists for the Lakers, whose skid has been severe enough to cause fans to worry about this star-packed roster's playoff chances even in mid-January."I don't want to overdo it, (but) I don't want to undersell it, either," Nash said. "We have to make up that ground. In so many areas, it was big to get a win tonight and have something to build on."After Oklahoma City ran the Lakers out of Staples Center on Friday night in a 116-101 victory, a downbeat coach Mike D'Antoni told his players that "our season starts Sunday." Opening day went well for the Lakers, but much bigger challenges loom -- including the Miami Heat's visit on Thursday.The Lakers' hopes of a run hinge on their defensive effort, and Bryant led a strong push against the Cavs."I though Kobe set the tone hawking the ball with (Kyrie) Irving," D'Antoni said. "Defense was much better with Dwight back in there."Irving and Dion Waiters scored 15 points apiece for Cleveland, which has lost seven of nine. Alonzo Gee added 14 points for the Cavaliers, who fell behind by 19 points in the first quarter of their second stop on a five-game West Coast road trip."We beat them the last time, but tonight they did a great job of containing me and everybody on the team," said Irving, who had seven assists. "We just got punched in the mouth in the first quarter. We just didn't have that fight in the first quarter, and it kind of killed us the rest of the game."Cleveland (9-30) is barely ahead of Washington (6-28) for the NBA's worst record.Pau Gasol missed his fourth straight game for Los Angeles with a concussion, while top backup Jordan Hill is likely out for the season with an injured hip. Earl Clark had another solid game in the starting lineup with 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while Antawn Jamison added 16 points and hit four of the Lakers' 13 3-pointers.Howard injured his shoulder earlier this month during a game against the Clippers, and he aggravated the injury last Sunday while grabbing a career high-tying 26 rebounds against Denver. He sat out for the past week to rest the injury, but didn't appear limited while patrolling the paint against the Cavs despite committing seven turnovers."Getting beat like that is embarrassing," said Cavs guard C.J. Miles, who had five points on 1-for-9 shooting. "You definitely can't live with this. That's the reason why it's really a big deal to us in this locker room, because we're striving to get better. There are going to be some bumps. We know that. We're not going to use that youth thing as a crutch, but there's some nights where we're playing a veteran team, and tonight it showed."Before the game, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott declined to follow the lead of fellow 80s Lakers greats Magic Johnson and James Worthy in hammering the current Lakers for their defense, toughness and D'Antoni's strategy. Scott understandably has bigger concerns than his ex-teammates-turned-pundits who have mercilessly ripped D'Antoni, Howard and even Bryant in recent weeks.Los Angeles looked sharp early, taking 37-18 lead in the final minute of the first quarter on a 3-pointer by Bryant. But the Lakers committed turnovers on six straight possessions late in the second half, allowing Cleveland to trim their lead to nine points.The Lakers still scored 57 points in the first half with 17 assists on their 20 field goals.NOTES:Nash hit three free throws, improving to 18 for 18 this season and increasing his minuscule lead on Mark Price for the best free throw percentage in NBA history. ... Cleveland continues its road trip in Sacramento on Monday night against the Kings, who have lost four straight. ... The Lakers won despite 22 turnovers, including 18 by their starting lineup.

Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

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USA Today

Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

Lauri Markkanen is seven feet tall.  Cristiano Felício is 6’10. It’s safe to say they’re big guys, which would lead you to believe they wouldn’t be scared by much. In a preseason outing to 13th Floor Haunted House in Chicago, Lauri and Felício showed that height doesn’t mean you’re immune to spooks (especially when Benny the Bull is let loose in the haunted house control room).  

Watch them try to maneuver their tall frames through cobwebs and zombies in the video posted to the Bulls’ Twitter here.

Viewers beware, ghastly ghouls and frightened NBA stars await you.

Despite all the screaming, the Bulls players sounded like they had a fun night. Lauri even responded to video on Twitter saying that while maybe he got scared a little, he ultimately had a good time.

Hey, if they can face-off against monsters and chainsaw mascot maniacs, taking on the other teams in NBA won’t seem so bad!

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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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