From Comcast SportsNet If canceling opening night and the rest of the NBA calendar for November failed to prove how serious David Stern is about saving his owners money, there's this: The commissioner reportedly fined Miami Heat honcho Micky Arison a cool half-million for a tweet suggesting he wasn't one of the owners willing to sacrifice games to save money. In response to someone who labeled the parties involved in the lockout "greedy ... pigs," Arison tweeted, "Honestly u r barking at the wrong owner." That's a lot more per letter than anyone has ever paid on "Wheel of Fortune." And speaking of game shows, the closest thing to a competition involving an NBA player anywhere on TV came Tuesday when New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul showed up with his relatives in tow for an episode of "Family Feud." It was a poor substitute for watching the Dallas Mavericks raise last season's championship banner into the rafters before taking on the Chicago Bulls, one of three games originally on the schedule. On the bright side, Robin Paul demonstrated where her son gets some of his fire from. "We all are competitive," she said. "Very, very, very." The same could be said about both sides in the lockout, though at this late juncture they seem just as interested in cannibalizing their own as the other side. Stern's levy on Arison marked the third time he's lightened an owner's pocket for talking out of school about the lockout -- Charlotte's Michael Jordan and Washington's Ted Leonsis had already contributed 100,000 each to league coffers -- but the extra-heavy hit might reflect more than the commissioner's growing impatience with rule breakers. Though Arison later endorsed the league's party line about the tweet being taken out of context, it's clear that his real sin was exposing the owners' less-than-unified stance. Arison paid plenty to bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami and made plenty in return, not just for his franchise, but everywhere the Heat played last season. Even if the league's claim that 22 teams are losing money is correct, successful teams such as the Heat, Knicks, Lakers and Bulls can't be thrilled with the prospect of losing an entire season of profits to help the poorer franchises squeeze a more favorable deal from the players. But desperate as the fine made Stern look in his bid to hold ownership together, he still has a much easier task at the moment than his counterparts at the union. The 400-plus members of the players association are being tugged in different directions by executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher. They staked out different positions on the central question in the negotiations -- what percentage of basketball revenues the players will settle for -- and the campaigning behind the scenes has grown uglier by the day. Fisher has been accused of secretly negotiating a deal with Stern to get the players to agree to a 50-50 split in exchange for a cushy job with the league down the road. The rumors grew so loud he was forced to respond to the players in an email, saying, "There have been no side agreements, no side negotiations or anything close." For his part, Hunter has been adamant about the players keeping 52 percent -- a drop from the 57 percent they got in the last agreement -- which would still transfer more than 1 billion back to the owners in any new deal. He walked out of a bargaining meeting last week to dramatize his threat the players won't consider a penny less, but the players' weakening position suggests it was little more than grandstanding. At this point, most insiders and likely even the players themselves know the final deal will get made at 50-50 or not at all. Hunter's intransigence has led to speculation that he's taking a hard line to impress players and hang onto his job as much as he's worried about theirs. If the result is a bad deal -- and whenever it's finalized, it likely will favor the owners -- at the very least it gives him an alibi. There's a growing sense that the players would vote to take the deal at 50-50, since the only other option is to walk away, decertify the union, and take their fight to the courts. That would effectively wipe out the season, which has also led some players to question why the union didn't exercise that option over the summer, when some leverage might have made a difference. Instead, it's the owners doing most of the squeezing. Players will lose 350 million because of the canceled games this month, and the threat of sacrificing another round of games, likely followed by the owners putting an even worse deal on the table, should have the desired effect. Stern holds most of the cards, and all he has to do is hold the owners together for a little longer. Buying that loyalty doesn't always come cheap, but as even Arison would likely concede whenever the deal gets done, it's rarely a bad investment.
A year ago, had the Bears come within one yard of tying the New England Patriots in a game in which they allowed two special teams touchdowns, the vibe in the Solider Field locker room might’ve been different. Sort of like, hey, that was pretty good that we were able to hang with one of the league's best teams and nearly tie and/or beat them despite our own mistakes.
The operative term, then, after Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots may be confident frustration. The Bears know they’re a good team, better than they’ve had in recent memory. And that makes losing a game this team felt it was close to winning that much more frustrating.
“We still had confidence last year that we could go in and win games (last year), but I would say this year we know what type of team we have,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “We know we got a quarterback that’s developing and throwing the ball down the field really well. We know we have a great wide receiver corps. We know we have rushers that can get to the quarterback. We have a really good team and we’re going to have to figure out how to capitalize on that big play momentum and finish games out.”
Perhaps this is a picture of a talented team still trying to figure out how to win. The Bears’ defense entered Sunday allowing an average of 8.8 yards per play in the fourth quarter and allowed 6.5 yards per play in the final 15 minutes Sunday, including a critical 96-yard touchdown drive.
And while Mitch Trubisky’s Hail Mary to Kevin White came up one yard short, that the Bears were even in that situation to begin with was the problem. New England was able to chew up 3:49 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Bears' offense with 24 seconds remaining. Get a stop earlier and the Bears might not have to rely on a nearly-converted heave with time expiring to tie the game.
“In games like this, your room for error is slim in all phases,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “No matter what we did (well), there are still a couple things that we have to clean up against a team like that."
The Bears’ defense is remaining confident despite scant pressure on Brady — he was sacked once (by Roquan Smith) and hit only three times (by Smith, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris). Khalil Mack barely showed up on the stat sheet, registering only one tackle while being dropped into coverage far more frequently than he made an impact as a pass rusher. How much he was affected by his injured ankle, or how much defensive coordinator Vic Fangio felt he had to gameplan around it, is unclear (Mack did not speak to the media following the game).
Leonard Floyd, too, was picked on by Brady, who frequently got the ball out quick in a successful effort to mitigate a pass rush that’s struggled to make an impact after recording 18 sacks in four games to begin the year. But the confidence is still there, despite seemingly few reasons for optimism since the second half in Miami kicked off last weekend.
“We definitely don’t feel like (we’ve hit a wall),” safety Eddie Jackson said. “That’s probably the greatest quarterback in the NFL right now. We just gotta come in, we left some things on the field, we left some plays on the field. Like I said, it’s tough trying to put this one behind you but, you know, it’s a long season. We’re not getting down on ourselves, we’re still going to play with confidence. That confidence is still there.”
Games against two of the league’s worst offenses in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, then, should help the Bears’ defensive production match its confidence, if that line of thinking is to be believed. But as the first four games of the season get farther and farther in the rearview mirror, this is a defense that has to prove itself again in the coming weeks.
“(The Patriots) came to play all together, and not saying we didn’t but we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “It’s on us. Defense, we got it though. We’re not worried about it. It’s another game we lost. We got how many other games, we got 10 games left? Yeah. I’m not worried about it. I don’t think anybody is.”
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 first 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.