Bulls' collective effort has star potential

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Bulls' collective effort has star potential

CLEVELANDIt appears that this will be a theme this season. The Bulls, without injured superstar Derrick Rose, will be an unselfish squad, score by committee, play determined defense on a nightly basis and try to get out in transition.
Of course, the caliber of opponent will varynot every team will struggle as much as the hapless, inexperienced Cavaliersand they wont record 34 assists on nearly 64-percent shooting every night, but the aforementioned principles will remain constants.
It also helps to have some extra motivation.
I thought the readiness to play was really good, I thought the defense was very good to start the game and then, we ran the floor well and we played inside-out, and we shared the ball, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. When you look at intensity, you have to understand where it comes from. It comes from your concentration, being prepared and your effort. When you put those three things together, youll be intense. It doesnt come from emotion. You have to understand where it does come from, so if we put the work in and we do the right things, and were ready to go, well be intense.
It was a balanced attack. The ball was moving and when a guy got going, they searched him out a little bit. We got our cutting game going, got to the free-throw line. Theres still things we can do better, he continued. The balls hopping, making quick decisions. That part is really good.
What Thibodeau neglected to mention was the fact that the Bulls wanted to avenge one of their two preseason lossesthey already repaid Minnesota upon the Timberwolves return exhibition trip to Chicagoa disappointing defeat in Champaign, Ill., on the campus of the University of Illinois.
We watched our last game that we played against them. They kind of blitzed us and they got after it. At the end, we came back. We ended up losing by two or three in the preseason. We remembered that, Nate Robinson revealed. We were like, Were going to come here, were going to play hard, were going to get after it from jump ball to the end, and we did that.
Getting revenge wasnt the only objective on the evening for the Bulls, however. It appeared that they were trying to challenge themselves to execute expertly or, as Thibodeau likes to say, strive for perfection.
Coach does a good job of every day, repetition, going over the plays, getting guys in spots where they can be successful, Robinson, a catalyst on the night, said. Thats what basketballs about, playing team ball and everybody getting a piece of the pie.Thats me. Just bring the energy. Everything else will take care of itself, he added. I made a couple shots, but just trying to make the right play. Not trying to make the home-run play. Just getting guys involved, attacking, keep driving and kicking, and finding guys. Im just having fun.
Whether it was Robinsons energy, Rip Hamiltons marksmanship, the versatility displayed by forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer or the collective selflessness in both transition and against Clevelands set defense, the Bulls looked like a juggernaut Friday.
It was awesome. It felt good. I think everybody felt good. I think the good thing about it was everybody was catching the ball in their sweet spot and just trying to make the easy play, Hamilton explained. Its hard to guard. When youve got guys at every position that can score and play, and make the right play, it puts pressure on the defense at all times. The floor always stays spaced, guys are scared to help.
Added Boozer: We came out of the gate with intensity defensively. I thought we did a great job of trying to stop them from scoring to start the game and to be honest, that just kind of set the tone for the rest of the game for us. Offensively, you know unselfish we are. We pass, we cut, we screen, take open shots. We do a good job of moving the ball, but I think the key to the game was how we came out defensively.
"You've got to measure yourself if it's good enough to win against the great teams. Not taking anything away from Cleveland, but our goals are much higher than beating Cleveland. Our goal is to try to win a championship and for us to do that, we have to measure how we're playing and if it's championship-worthy. Thibs talks to us about that all the time and amongst ourselves in the locker room, we talk about that, too."
No, it's not flashy and yes, Friday's blowout wasn't against the cream of the crop. But it's effective and on the nights when the Bulls are clicking--even without the gaudy shooting statistics, but still executing at a high level--on any given night, that type of solid play is capable of beating anybody.

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

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Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

The White Sox newfound brand of crisp, clean baseball is suiting Jose Quintana awfully well. 

The 27-year-old left-hander pitched another gem Tuesday night, firing eight innings of one-run ball to propel the White Sox to a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in front of 15,025 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anchored by improved offensive and defensive support, Quintana lowered his season ERA to 1.40. But more jarring — in a positive way — is that in earning the win on Tuesday, Quintana for the first time in his career won three consecutive starts. 

“It’s way better this year,” Quintana said. “The offense is, for me and for everybody, everybody tries to do his job. We’re off to a really good start and we believe this year is a good year for us, and we’ll try to do everything to stay in first place.”

Quintana’s posted consistently solid results since the White Sox plucked him from Double-A Birmingham to start in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians four years ago. His decidedly-not-flashy-but-effective pitching style didn’t make headlines like his prolific teammate Chris Sale, but a 3.46 ERA and an unfairly poor win-loss record landed him on plenty of lists and social media takes focused on the most underrated or overlooked players in baseball. 

That’s changed this year. Before his stellar start Tuesday, Quintana was given 8/1 odds by the sports betting website Bovada to win the American League Cy Young, the third-best of anyone (Sale led the way at 6/5). It’s still early, of course, but these six starts to begin the 2016 season stand is one of the best stretches he’s had in his career. 

Manager Robin Ventura attributed Quintana’s ace-like success in part to pitching with a little less pressure than in the past. 

“There is something to be said for going out there thinking if you give up one you’re going to lose,” Ventura said. “It’s been a few years for him. Right now (with) the feeling going on in there, he knows if he just pitches his game those guys are going to scratch out some runs for him.”

The White Sox continue to show signs of ending a head-scratching inability to support Quintana. 

Jose Abreu’s first-inning RBI triple got the White Sox scoring started and his double in the eighth added two insurance runs (a Todd Frazier groundout in the third inning plated the White Sox other run). For the fifth time in six starts this season, Quintana was supported by four or more runs, and Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson made sparkling defensive plays to keep hard-hit balls from inflicting any damage. 

Having the offense score four or more runs in 83 percent of Quintana’s starts seems unlikely — if he makes 32 starts this year, that’d mean he’d get that support in about 27 of those — but it is an improvement off the last few seasons. The White Sox scored three or fewer runs in 54 percent of Quintana’s starts from 2013-15, a span in which it’s worth noting the club also was rated as having the third-worst defense in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

“There’s more of a confidence level of him knowing he doesn’t have to do an extraordinary thing — and he might do it, like tonight,” Ventura said. “But he doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

Quintana isn’t throwing harder this year and hasn’t added a new pitch or anything like that. But Ventura’s theory on why the Colombia native is pitching better makes sense — perhaps the next step in Quintana’s career was getting a good, reliable team playing behind him.

“He’s probably one of the best right now in the league,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. 

That’s not hyperbole. Quintana has a top-10 ERA that’s backed up by a 2.12 FIP, which is a good indicator that his early-season success isn’t necessarily a small sample size-generated mirage. 

Quintana is a shining example of how so much has gone right for the White Sox this season — even on the day in which the team announced it would eat over $11 million to cut ties with veteran left-hander John Danks. Not only is he pitching better, but everyone around him is playing better. And the combination of that, so far, has taken Quintana and the White Sox to another level. 

“Everything changed,” Quintana said. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.”

Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

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Today on CSN: Lester, Cubs go for sweep in Pittsburgh

The Cubs look to sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11 a.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83) vs. Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33)

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

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Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

Erik Johnson gets the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the White Sox rotation, but the situation is hardly finalized.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that they would promote Johnson from Triple-A Charlotte in time to make Thursday’s start in place of John Danks, whom they will officially designated for assignment later this week. But just because Johnson gets the first start doesn’t mean he’s here for good, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Hahn and the White Sox have made it clear they want better production from the fifth spot, whether it's from an internal or an external option.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fluid situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn is comfortable with the team’s internal options at Charlotte beyond Johnson.

Miguel Gonzalez, who started last Monday in Toronto, has a solid major league track record. Then there’s Jacob Turner, who has 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA in five starts.

But Hahn also said the White Sox wouldn’t shy away from looking outside the farm system, either. Hahn declined to answer whether or not the White Sox would watch Tim Lincecum’s tryout Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. before he noted the club has “scouts everywhere.”

The White Sox could also try and use their internal options to get by for several months before adding another pitcher ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter whom they turn to, the expectation is better results than the White Sox received from Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ER in four starts.

“Obviously, Erik starts on Thursday,” Hahn said. “After that, we may well make another move next week as we try to accomplish two things with that spot -- first and foremost, get greater production than we’ve been receiving thus far this year.”

“We do have a few internal options.

“If it does get to the point where we’re better off going outside the organization, obviously we’ve never been shy about doing that.”