Bulls

Zambrano blames himself for what went wrong, sees future in Miami

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Zambrano blames himself for what went wrong, sees future in Miami

If this seemed a little scripted, well, Carlos Zambrano did have a camera crew filming his conditioning work in the outfield, and following him around the batting cage and Cubs dugout.

Zambrano chatting with Ryan Dempster on Tuesday at Wrigley Field became the perfect made-for-TV moment. The Franchise the Showtime reality show going behind the scenes with the Miami Marlins wont have trouble finding storylines.

It was Dempster who had spoken for the entire organization last August in Atlanta, after Zambrano had cleaned out his locker at Turner Field, saying it was time to look in the mirror: Hes made his bed. Hes got to sleep in it.

That was the point of no return. As much as Theo Epstein publicly played up the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the Cubs, there was virtually no chance of that actually happening. The new regime at Clark and Addison kicked in more than 15 million to make the problem go away.

There never was like any bad feeling (toward my teammates), Zambrano said. They treat me with respect professionally, and every time I see them I say hi to them. Theres no hard feelings, believe me, and the problem wasnt with them. The problem was not with the Cubs. The problem was Carlos Zambrano. Thats why Carlos Zambrano is now with the Miami Marlins.

If you have to blame somebody, blame me. Things didnt work out the last two yearsI accept it. I am responsible for my acts.

Is this The New Z?

Well, Zambrano had the media right where he wanted, baking in the heat and guessing whether or not he was going to talk. He spoke in the third person and about Gods plan. (Even during bad times, Cubs people didnt doubt his faith or devotion to his family.)

But it probably doesnt matter whether or not Zambrano has actually changed. With the Marlins, he can blend into the background. He doesnt carry the weight of a 91.5 million contract or a franchise that hasnt won a World Series in 100-plus years. He can play for Ozzie Guillen, his old friend from Venezuela.

Its fun, Zambrano said. He says all kind of things that make me laugh. Hes very relaxed. Hes very enjoyable. He is very professional. Hes straight (with me). I like people that say things to you in front of you. I dont like people that say something to you and stab you in the back.

Even if no one really took it all that seriously, Zambrano had talked about possibly retiring when this contract expires. But at the age of 31, he appears to have a new lease on life. He says he wants to pitch again next season and looks forward to finishing his career in Miami.

Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle who had watched from across town all those years with the White Sox is a believer.

Carlos is one of the best teammates Ive ever played with, Buehrle said. For all the stuff youve read and seenyou got to have an open mind.

Hes been awesome. Ive had no complaints. Hes been fun in the dugout, on plane rides, in that clubhouse. (He) hasnt had one rant or one time it looks like hes going to blow up. Hes a huge competitor and he wants to win.

So everything that has been reported and been on TV from his years here with the Cubs hes the complete opposite guy, from what Ive seen.

The Cubs once thought of Derrek Lee as the ideal teammate, and Zambrano had to be restrained from him in the U.S. Cellular Field dugout in 2010. That incident pushed Zambrano into anger-management counseling.

Zambrano didnt like talking about it, but admitted the sessions helped. The thing with him was that it came without warning.

In a weird way, the We stinks! rant was Zambranos way of trying to be a leader in the clubhouse.

Heres Zambranos alternate version of history, the way he views himself: I can be a good teammate, but I also can be a guy that some people dont like. Because when I see things that are not right, I come straight to that guy. If I see people who are lazy or people who dont hustle, people doing things they arent supposed to do, I will come to that guy.

Guillen likes bullfighting and has compared himself to a matador. He wants to see more out of Zambrano (5-7, 4.22 ERA), because he remembers a dominant pitcher with the Cubs (125-81, 3.60 ERA).

Off the field, hes been great, Guillen said. Sometimes I want him to go back to being Zambrano. Sometimes. But hes doing what I predicted. Dont forget about what Zambrano did. That guy almost won the Cy Young award here, (went to the) playoffs. He did a lot of good things here, too. He (also) did a lot of bad things, very entertaining things.

In Miami, the pressure isnt the same, and he doesnt have to live up to the Big Z image. To be honest, hes glad he doesnt have to pitch in this series. Maybe some other time.

Good memories I still love these fans, Zambrano said. The only thing that I wanted to do in Chicago is win. I really apologize to the fans, and to the people here who treated me good. I hope they accept my apologies.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."