Bulls' comeback bid falls short, drop second-straight to Blazers

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Bulls' comeback bid falls short, drop second-straight to Blazers

PORTLAND If once is anomaly, is twice the start of a trend? For the second straight game, the Bulls (5-5) were given a taste of their own medicine and while Sundays 102-94 loss to the Trail Blazers (5-5) at the Rose Garden wasnt the blowout defeat the team suffered Saturday in Los Angeles, the lack of urgency, especially against an inexperienced young squad with inferior talent hints at deeper issues.

After an embarrassing loss the previous evening, the Bulls were locked in at the outset of the contest, as both Joakim Noah (16 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists) and Rip Hamilton (15 points) had their mid-range games clicking early on, helping the visitors build a slim cushion.

For the hosts, LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points, 13 rebounds)a former Bulls draft pick, though he was traded for the eventually-jettisoned Tyrus Thomasjustified his All-Star status early with his combination of finesse and interior play, while fellow big man J.J. Hicksons high activity level also made an impact and star rookie Damian Lillard (16 points) showed flashes of his tremendous ability.

However, the Bulls were focused on both strong defense and getting quality shotsthey shot nearly 62 percent from the floor in the opening quarterand with Noah displaying his all-around game as a scorer, passer and rebounder, not to mention a balanced effort that saw seven of the eight players who received playing time get on the board, the Blazers found themselves on their heels. After a period of play, the Bulls led, 30-23.

Portland started the second quarter with a 6-0 run to quickly narrow the gap, prompting a Bulls timeout, though not much changed afterwards, as they reverted to their ways from the night before, as ball security once again was an issue. So was point production, as the guests experienced one of their periodic offensive droughts, with the second unit, aside from backup point guard Nate Robinson (18 points), and the Blazers capitalized with Aldridges continued domination, as well as contributions from swingman Wesley Matthews (21 points), to overtake their opponents.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau eventually reinserted his regulars, with the exception of reserve swingman Jimmy Butler, but the turnover issues and inefficient offense persisted, allowing Portland to gain some separation.

Having lost all momentum and simply being out of sync on both ends, at the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 51-43, following a last-second layup by Lillard before the halftime buzzer.

Typically, the Bulls, whether instantaneously or in a more gradual process, adjust their mindset and overall approach during the break, coming back with a more focused effort, regardless of the results. That didnt occur in the third quarter, as they continually permitted the Blazers open looks, settled for contested jumpers and perhaps most disturbingly, didnt display the hustle thats defined this team during Thibodeaus tenure, particularly in defensive transition.

Swingman Nicolas Batum (21 points) took over the hot hand for Portland in the period, knocking down a trio of shots from long range, while Lillard, an early-season Rookie of the Year candidate, resumed his consistent play.

As the period waned on, however, the Bulls managed to trim the deficit behind Hamilton, Noah and later, energetic subs Butler and Taj Gibson (11 points), who had been struggling as of late, and heading into the final stanza, the visitors were behind by a more manageable 73-68 score.

Gibsons energetic play carried over to the fourth quarter and sparked by his hustle and toughness, as well as solid play from Noah and Luol Deng (14 points, seven rebounds), the Bulls knotted up the contest early in the period. But Portland countered with an 8-0 run to acquire some breathing rooman extended 12-2 spurt gave the hosts a double-digit edgeto make the contest a continued uphill battle for its guests.

Down the stretch, Robinson was the Bulls offensive catalyst, but as admirable as the effort of the diminutive scorer was, the visitors simply couldnt get over the hump, with the Blazers seemingly getting to every key loose ball and rising to the occasion late.

To put a nail in the Bulls coffin, Matthews, Butlers college teammate at Marquette took it upon himself with an array of jumpers and hustle plays to cement the home teams victory and while their guests, led by Robinson, would make an inspired last-gasp comeback in the games final minute, it was too little, too late.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

New Fire acquisition Dax McCarty tweets thank you to Red Bull fans

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USA TODAY

New Fire acquisition Dax McCarty tweets thank you to Red Bull fans

When the Chicago Fire traded for midfielder Dax McCarty it surprised many around Major League Soccer.

McCarty had been with the New York Red Bulls for five and a half seasons and served as the team's captain in recent years. He was a central figure in the club's identity and success (2013 and 2015 Supporters' Shield winners). His departure was devastating to many fans and came at a busy time in McCarty's life.

He got married two days before the trade and had just arrived with the U.S. national team for the annual January camp that takes place during the MLS offseason and largely features domestically based players.

On Sunday McCarty took to Twitter to thank Red Bulls fans in a lengthy note.

McCarty says he was blindsided by the trade.

"I have been in the league long enough to know how things work, yet somehow I was still surprised," McCarty said in the note. "I've been sitting here for a week trying to process everything, and I still can't quite come up with the words to describe how I'm feeling."

McCarty then thanked his teammates, the support staff with the Red Bulls, Red Bulls fans and his wife.

"To the fans: Thank you for giving me 5 1/2 of the best years of my life," he wrote.

The note is similar to what Harry Shipp tweeted after the Fire traded the Lake Forest native to the Montreal Impact. Shipp was again traded this offseason, to reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle.

One difference between the two is that Shipp mentioned being excited to join Montreal. McCarty made no mention of Chicago or the Fire.

"It will be weird stepping onto the field at Red Bull Arena as an opponent, but I'll always cherish the memories we made together, as a family," McCarty wrote. "If you could do me one huge favor and not chant "metro reject" when I come back, I would greatly appreciate it."

Metro reject is an old chant for former players in reference the club's previous name, New York/New Jersey Metrostars. The Fire visit Red Bull Arena on April 29.

The Fire open preseason training on Monday, although McCarty won't be there because he is still in camp with the national team.