Bulls

In the zone: Garza shuts down Phillies

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In the zone: Garza shuts down Phillies

PHILADELPHIA Matt Garza bobbed his head and swayed from side to side in front of his locker. He buttoned up his blue dress shirt, singing along with the Bob Marley music spilling from the clubhouse speakers.

Dont worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right.'

Garza doesnt exactly project calm. Hes hyperactive and talks to himself. But as Cubs president Theo Epstein once said, theres a method to the madness.

And the idea of Garza staring down hitters from a distance of 60 feet, 6 inches has to be reassuring to the other 24 guys in the room.

In front of a sellout crowd, Garza crossed over into another zone on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, dominating the Philadelphia Phillies in a 5-1 victory that highlighted everything he could be for this franchise.

Garza allowed a bloop single to Jimmy Rollins that fell into right-center field to begin his game and then retired the next 18 batters he faced.

It was a steady stream of weak pop-ups and routine groundballs, the nasty stuff you need in October. After seven scoreless innings, Garza left with a one-hitter and 10 strikeouts, the 10th time hes hit double digits in his career.

Manager Dale Sveum said Garza who knows his own personality very well would be the first one to tell you this.

Thats probably the most comfortable place hes at on the mound, Sveum said. Other than that, hes bouncing off walls all the time.

Its probably the one place where he can kind of gather himself and calm down and obviously hes done it throughout his career. Hes been one of the better pitchers in baseball.

This is where Garza pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series. The Cubs are 8-14 and near the start of a long rebuilding process.

There are indications that Garza (2-1, 2.67 ERA), who is under club control through 2013, will likely be a major part of those plans. How long will it take to get back to those heights?

I dont know Im just trying to get through the next five days, Garza said. I dont foresee anything. I just know that were moving in the right direction. Were playing aggressive (and) were playing hard through nine. Thats all we can do.

I have every expectation to be a part of that. Id like for it to happen this year. I dont know anything beyond the next five days.

It wasnt a perfect game Carlos Marmol walked three batters and forced in a run in a close-your-eyes ninth. And a Phillies team (10-12) weakened by injuries has been hearing the boos, struggling to generate offense throughout April.

But the Cubs could laugh about waiting until Game 22 before an outfielder (Joe Mather) hit his first home run this season. The small-ball approach continued to work with Tony Campana (two hits, two runs and his sixth stolen base in eight games).

The rotation (4.12 ERA) wont stack up with Philadelphias. But the Cubs have been competitive, and theyve enjoyed watching Jeff Samardzija evolve into a potential frontline starter, and look forward to Ryan Dempster coming off the disabled list on Thursday.

Everyone feels pretty confident when (Garza) goes out on the mound, Mather said. Those guys are going out there and giving us a chance to win every single time.

It remains to be seen whether the Cubs can really run that momentum out into the summer, and give their fans reasons to watch, but Garza expects to enjoy the ride.

We got a lot of moving pieces, Garza said, but I think its going to be a lot of fun (with) a lot of youth (and) a lot of growing up.

Bulls observations: Bulls smother Magic and mount furious, historic comeback

Bulls observations: Bulls smother Magic and mount furious, historic comeback

The title ticker flicks to six. The Bulls overcame an 18-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Orlando Magic 93-88 and grab a 2-0 Eastern Conference series lead. Observations:

A team effort

This game was such that The Sports Channel's player of the game award was bestowed upon 'The Chicago Bulls.'

At a glance, that may feel peculiar. Only three Bulls tallied double-figure point totals (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman) and as a group they shot 40% from the field. But this one was truly a clinic in smothering defense, and contributions from all around made it possible.

Pippen's length and work on the glass (he had six offensive rebounds) seemed to impact the game at its most crucial moments. Ron Harper ended the night with two steals, but you could have said he had 10 and I would have believed you. He was everywhere, and continues to cement himself as on the short-list of most underrated contributors during the dynasty. Rodman and the team's rotating cast of bigs played a huge role in bottling Shaq as the Bulls made their decisive third-quarter run. Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr poured in timely buckets. The team's fullcourt press ground the Magic down to perfection.

All in all, it amounted to flipping a 15-point halftime deficit (which in the third quarter grew to 18) into a five-point victory — and a demoralizing one at that. Fifty-three first-half points by the Magic against this team was a feat. Their 35 in the latter half  compared to 55 for the Bulls) felt a correction. Soul-snatching stuff.

A different time

The United Center was an absolute madhouse, you could feel it through the television screen. These Bulls give 'flipping the switch' new meaning.

It all culminated with 'MVP' chants for Michael Jordan in the game's waning moments, as he put the finishing touches on a 35-point, six-assist, four-steal outing. It is astounding how routine he makes these types of nights look.

And, oh yeah. This was a thing.

No, I mean a really different time

In a playoff run filled with celebrities, this has to be the most riotous beneficiary of a Rodman jersey toss so far: 

Chicago really was the center of the basketball universe.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Zach LaVine ducks exits players-only NBA 2K20 tournament in first round

Zach LaVine ducks exits players-only NBA 2K20 tournament in first round

It's day 74 of self-quarantine, and Zach LaVine bowed out of the players-only NBA 2K20 tournament on ESPN with a 57-41 first-round loss to Deandre Ayton.

Ayton played as the Houston Rockets. LaVine played as the Miami Heat. Yes, that means he was controlling Jimmy Butler, who the Bulls swapped for LaVine, Kris Dunn and the rights to Lauri Markkanen to spark the rebuild three short years ago.

Fortunately, no stats are available from this one, so I am physically incapable of breaking down Butler's performance (though a few bricked layups stand out). But LaVine did struggle to get offense all game, scoring just four points in the fourth quarter after trimming a nine-point deficit down to three entering the final period.

Perhaps he would have fared better playing as the team that employs him:

Alas. The quality of the on-court product in the Ayton-LaVine matchup waxed and mostly waned, with LaVine saying he hadn't played 2K since his rookie year.

But the true entertainment value came from the banter on the side between the two.

It began friendly, with Ayton teaching LaVine how to throw alley-oops (double-tap Y, Zach! come on) followed by LaVine chiding Ayton for a dunk he uncorked on him when Phoenix visited Chicago back in February.

Then, the two took a few moments to appreciate Shaq Harrison — frankly, something all of us can do more of. LaVIne called Harrison "my dog" and fondly recalled a conversation in which Harrison good-naturedly lamented having to guard LaVine in practice in Chicago after being tasked with checking Devin Booker in his time in Phoenix. After spending a year with the Suns, Harrison signed with the Bulls in advance of Ayton's rookie season, but it appears the two are friendly.

The topic of conversation eventually shifted to favorite NBA arenas to play in. Ayton answered Madison Square Garden — a fine choice — while LaVine cited the Sacramento King's old Sleepy Train Arena as a true "shooter's gym." The context to that comment is... Something (albeit completely inocuous). 

All the while, Ayton pulled away as LaVine largely spammed contested 3s in the second half. Considering the real-life Bulls' woes in 2019-20, it was all perfectly on the nose. Especially so was LaVine intentionally fouling Ayton, down 16 with five seconds left, to squeeze in an extra possession — though luckily no timeouts were called.

And finally, before signing off, LaVine was sure to make his feelings on participating in the dunk contest once again clear:

Fair enough. LaVine is more than just a dunker. He's also a prolific scorer, clutch late-game performer and near All-Star level player with a tremendous amount of potential.

But if he wants to add '2K star' to that list of distinctions, he'll have to keep hitting the sticks.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.