Bulls' defense not up to usual standards

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Bulls' defense not up to usual standards

As I wrote in a previous column, the Bulls offensive problems early in the season really should come as no surprise. Without Derrick Rose in the lineup, they dont have anyone to break down a defender off the dribble or command a double team. That leads to a jump shooting offense that will be susceptible to long cold stretches.

And, outside of Nate Robinson, there really isnt any firepower to bring off the bench. Marco Belinelli still looks lost and Nazr Mohammeds impressive offensive play during the pre-season was obviously a mirage built on feasting against guys who are no longer in the league.

Whats most troubling about the teams 5-5 start is their substandard play on the defensive end, which is supposed to be the strength of a Tom Thibodeau team. The Bulls got off to a good start defensively, holding their first three opponents under 90 points. But theyve been terrible since then, allowing their last four opponents to top the century mark, something thats never happened before in the Thibodeau era.

So, what is the problem? Thibodeau would probably give you a lengthy explanation based on playing the system, making the proper rotations and doing a better job of closing out on shooters while controlling the defensive boards. The reality is this, the Bulls are starting three players with below average quickness for their positions, a liability thats hard to cover, even in Thibodeaus proven system.

Have you noticed the trend developing of Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich sitting on the bench for most or all of 4th quarters? Those are the three players who struggle to stay with their man defensively, and Thibodeau clearly would rather have Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Robinson on the floor to create more ball pressure, and give the Bulls a chance to get some easy baskets in transition.

The problem is, Gibson is suffering through a terrible offensive slump, even after all the extra work he put in this summer at the Berto Center and with the U.S. Select team. Maybe its the pressure of trying to live up to that big money contract extension, but Taj is really struggling right now, and the Bulls need him to get back to his normal productive self. Butler is a max effort player who is strong on the defensive end, but still has a tough time knocking down open jumpers.

Hinrich looked good during the preseason after putting in extra conditioning work over the summer, but hes never been a high-percentage shooter, and right now hes having a tough time staying in front of quicker point guards. Maybe the strained right hip is giving him more trouble than hes willing to admit, but lets be honest, this is Hinrichs 10th year in the league, and its asking a lot for him to defend lightning quick players like Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo.

Same story with Rip, whos having a tough time defending most NBA shooting guards at the age of 34. Hamilton has shown flashes on the offensive end, but all too often, we see him sitting on the bench in the 4th quarter with the Bulls trying to get some stops to rally from behind. Watching Jamal Crawford light up the Bulls in L.A. made me wonder again why the Bulls didnt go with their former player when they were shopping for a shooting guard before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Crawford is only two years younger than Rip, but he has much more life in his legs, and is able to create a shot off the dribble, something this Bulls team is sorely lacking.

Its always dangerous to make conclusions off a 10-game sample size, and given the work ethic of this Bulls team and coaching staff, Im sure theyll come up with some answers as the season rolls on. But talent wins games in the NBA, and right now, the Bulls look a little short of that precious commodity on both ends of the floor.

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

It’s World Series or bust for Cubs while carrying Aroldis Chapman’s baggage

Aroldis Chapman is the ultimate baseball mercenary for a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908. The Cubs say they are going into this with their eyes wide open, knowing the superstar closer comes with off-the-field baggage and plans to cash in as a free agent this winter.

For all the talking points about being good neighbors and family friendly, the Cubs care about money and winning, which makes them just like any other professional sports franchise.

Chapman behaved in Yankee pinstripes, handled the New York market and performed with game-over efficiency, going 20-for-21 in save chances. The Cubs wanted a lefty with a 105-mph fastball and a 15.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings-pitched career rate, making a 4-for-1 trade by rationalizing that they would rather be with Chapman in the playoffs than against him.

So the Cubs – and not the first-place Nationals or even-year Giants – had to deal with the bad optics and the lost-in-translation moments before Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Chapman did not make a good first impression while getting questions about domestic violence and the 30-game suspension Major League Baseball imposed to start this season.

But if Chapman gets the last out in October, does it even matter if he’s a good guy?

“Ugh,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Was Ty Cobb wonderful? I mean, I don’t know. All these different people that I’ve read about – something happened with (the Sox) in, what was it, 1919?

“At the end of the day, I’m here to get to know him on our terms – me and him. (And) he’s been a great teammate from everybody I’ve read or discussed (it) with.

“That’s the lenses I’m looking at it through right now.”

[RELATED: Hector Rondon says Cubs had to take chance and close Chapman deal]

Chapman joined a team that began the day with a 98.8-percent chance to make the playoffs on the Baseball Prospectus odds report and a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. This is all about what Chapman can do in October and how his presence can help the Cubs survive three postseason rounds.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighted that the Cardinals haven’t scored a run off Chapman since September 2011, back when Tony La Russa managed a World Series team.

“Again, he did do his suspension,” Maddon said. “He has talked about it. He’s shown remorse. And then everybody else has their right to judge him as a good or bad person.

“That’s your right. But I know there are times where I’ve been less than perfect. I think we’ve all been less than perfect in particular moments that nobody’s ever known about. 

“I want to get to know Aroldis. I think he can be a very significant member. And he’s got the potential, yes, to throw the last out of the World Series. And if he does, I promise you, I will embrace him.”

[MORE: Cubs make business decision to look beyond Chapman's domestic violence suspension]

Inside baseball’s conservative bubble, Maddon has to be the game’s most liberal manager, a hands-off, big-picture guy who lets his players run the clubhouse. The Cubs believe his positive vibes and presence will help Chapman’s transition.

“I’m probably the most non-judgmental person you’ve ever met,” Maddon said. “I don’t go in that direction. I do get upset sometimes when people jump to conclusions without knowing everything.

“(Gather) all the information for yourself and make your own opinion. Draw your own conclusion, as opposed to maybe hearing one thing and then all of a sudden jumping on a negative bandwagon.

“I want to get to know him, get to understand him, have good conversations with him. And then, maybe at that point, I could draw some conclusions. But never having been around him, it’s very hard for me to do that.”

Chapman’s Wrigley Field debut will be electric, the triple digits lighting up the huge video board. At that point, the focus should shift back onto baseball. But the equation doesn’t change in a bottom-line business. There is only one outcome that will truly make Cubs fans happy with this deal.

“They expect me to come here, do my job and try to guide us to the World Series,” Chapman said through coach/translator Henry Blanco. “Especially in this city, they haven’t won a World Series in a long time, so they want me to do everything I can to help us win.”

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

How Joe Maddon helped inspire James Shields' gem over Cubs

Joe Maddon's mere presence may have hurt the team he manages Tuesday night.

As the Cubs invaded U.S. Cellular Field for the final night on the South Side of this Crosstown series, Maddon's current team was tasked with facing one of his old friends.

James Shields pitched for Maddon in Tampa Bay for seven years and the veteran right-hander took the hill for the White Sox Tuesday night, spinning a gem — 7.2 shutout innings allowing four singles and four walks.

After the game, Shields — nicknamed "Big Game James" by some — credited Maddon for his outing.

"I get amped up every game pretty much. But I always want to get amped up in front of my old manager," Shields said. "I have a lot of respect for Joe. He helped build me into who I am today. 

"I always want to go out there and show him, especially being 34 years old, that I’ve got this thing."

Maddon certainly noticed.

The Cubs manager admitted "that's what he looks like" when talking about Shields' outing.

The Cubs had pursued Shields in free agency prior to the 2015 season and came close to deal before the right-hander opted to sign with the San Diego Padres for four years and $75 million.

Part of the reason was Shields' competitiveness and desire to finish every game he starts.

"During the first part of the game, I went up to [John] Lackey and I said Shieldsy went to John Lackey Junior College at some point in his life," Maddon said. "I said I used to compare Shieldsy to you all the time back in Tampa Bay, whenever James would [refuse to come out of a game].

"So Johnny giggled about that. Very similar guys — highly competitive, believe they can beat anybody on any given day. You gotta love that about him. He's very good."

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

White Sox likely will place 2B Brett Lawrie on disabled list

The White Sox will "probably" place second baseman Brett Lawrie on the disabled list before Wednesday’s Crosstown game at Wrigley Field, manager Robin Ventura said.

Lawrie initially was diagnosed with a tight left hamstring July 21 against the Detroit Tigers, causing a firestorm of speculation he had been traded when he was removed from the game. He was initially considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI on Friday, and manager Robin Ventura said before both Monday and Tuesday’s games against the Cubs he could’ve been available in an emergency. 

But Lawrie suffered a setback sometime Tuesday, and with two games under National League rules at Wrigley Field requiring more bench pieces, Ventura didn’t want to head to Clark and Addison short-handed. 

“It just seemed like he was going backwards today, during the game, of his knee,” Ventura said. “There's no way you can go over there and play the National League rules with nobody on the bench.”

[MORE: Shields picks up bullpen as White Sox top Cubs again]

Infielder Carlos Sanchez was removed from Triple-A Charlotte’s game Tuesday night and is expected to replace Lawrie on the White Sox roster. 

Lawrie is hitting .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs and 22 doubles over 94 games this season. 

Tyler Saladino has done well in his short stint in the starting lineup since Lawrie’s injury, going 4-15 with a walk. His walk-off single on Monday netted the White Sox their third win in what now is a four-game winning streak, the team’s first since May 6-9.