Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

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Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

HOUSTONMaybe in a few months, if and when the Bulls (5-6) cement their previous status as one of the Easts upper-echelon teams, Wednesday nights 93-89 loss to the Rockets (5-7) will be something to laugh about. But now, as losers of three consecutive games for the first time in the Tom Thibodeau era, nothing seems like a laughing matter.
The defensive tone Thibodeau had basically been pleading for the duration of the Circus Tripand the entirety of the young seasonwas evident in the early going, as there was less emphasis on pushing the tempo and more focus on getting stops. Kirk Hinrich came out aggressively on offense, knocking down his first two shots from the field, but the Bulls played balanced basketball, with each of the five starters getting on the board.
For Houston, starting wings James Harden (28 points) and Chandler Parsons (18 points, 13 rebounds) were the focus of the hosts attack, but power forward Patrick Patterson (20 points, eight rebounds) was also effective from the outset and gave them an inside scoring presence. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a 22-20 edge.
It appeared the visitors would continue their recent trend of second-quarter lulls to begin the frame, as they struggled on offense initially and both Harden and Patterson made major impacts, along with rugged young big man Greg Smith. However, Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds) began to assert himself as a scorer, as did Joakim Noah (11 points, seven rebounds).
Thibodeau made a slight change in his rotation, playing second-year swingman Jimmy Butler (eight points) earlier than usualfirst alongside Deng, at shooting guard, then at small forward, when the at least temporarily demoted Marco Belinelli entered the contestand it seemed to pay off, as the Bulls regained the lead from Houston, with reserves Nate Robinson (21 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Taj Gibson (nine points, six rebounds) also providing a lift. Still, the Rockets stayed in close contact behind the play of Harden, and at the intermission, the Bulls maintained a narrow, 46-42 lead.
Another ongoing issue for the Bulls, slippage at the beginning of the third quarter, briefly reared its ugly head immediately after the break, as the Rockets surged out of the gates with a 9-2 run. While the guests eventually regained their composure, the contest became a close-knit affair, with Harden, Patterson and Parsons continuing to do damage and the Rockets capitalizing off yet another Bulls issue this season, turnovers.
Houston built a slim cushion as the third period waned on, as miscues by the visitors piled up and the Bulls struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Deng remained their primary source of scoring, but received ample assistance from Carlos Boozer (13 points, 15 rebounds), who play inspired basketball as a scorer and rebounder to close out the quarter, though the Bulls still trailed, 66-65, heading into the final stanza.
It remained a back-and-forth contest in the fourth quarter and while the familiar trio of Harden, Patterson and Parsons were still the catalysts for Houston, Robinson became the Bulls top option. The diminutive scorer delivered time again, either with fearless drives and finishes at the rim, seemingly ill-advised deep jumpers or clever floaters over the tall trees.
When it counted, the visitors made huge hustle plays, particularly on defense, but a series of controversial whistlesfirst, an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Bulls was overturned, then a block-charge call went the Rockets wayand some clutch baskets by Houston, as well as untimely Bulls miscues, gave the hosts both the lead and momentum. Harden and reserve point guard Toney Douglas (11 points) salted things away at the charity stripe for the hosts, and while the Bulls, as always, fought until the bitter end, the night ended with Thibodeaus squad marking an unwanted first.

Bears signing Brian Hoyer a statement bigger than just a backup QB

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Bears signing Brian Hoyer a statement bigger than just a backup QB

The signing of Brian Hoyer was just another margin note to another NFL Draft weekend. But of all the moves made by the Bears this weekend, none might have made any clearer mission statement than the addition of this 30-year-old (31 in October) backup quarterback who is on his fifth team in the last six years and had winning records as a starter with his last two but might be remembered as the only quarterback to lose his job to Johnny Manziel.

For one thing, the last time the Bears signed a backup quarterback from Michigan State was in the late 1990s when they became the fifth team for Jim Miller, who sat behind Shane Matthews and Cade McNown before rescuing the 2001 season and taking the Bears to the playoffs.

And that in fact appears to be the plan with Hoyer, that if something befalls Jay Cutler, the Bears will not spiral down the way they did in 2011, when Caleb Hanie let a 7-3 start turn into an 8-8 playoff miss after a Cutler injury.

Because, whether skeptics agree or not, the Bears do in fact see the 2016 playoffs as very much within reach.

Privately the internal expectations for 2015 were exponentially higher than the way the season played out, vindicated in some measure by five losses by four or fewer points and one on an overtime touchdown with a roster that lost two of its three wide receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal) for seven games each, their projected No. 1 draft pick (Kevin White) for all 16, virtually all of their projected top defensive linemen and being physically without their No. 1 tight end (Martellus Bennett) for five games.

A team resigned to any sort of rebuilding mode typically does not take developmental time away from a quarterback prospect and put a veteran No. 2 in place ahead of him, not unless there are lofty expectations in the short term. And Hoyer was signed for one year while the Bears ignored the quarterback position in the draft.

This is in the vein of the Bears’ securing Brian Griese in 2006 to back up Rex Grossman despite the distinguished rookie season turned in by Kyle Orton that ended in the playoffs. It was there in acquiring Todd Collins as a veteran behind Cutler in 2010 despite some seeming promise in Hanie; in Josh McCown for the 2013 season; even in Fox and the organization choosing to re-sign Jimmy Clausen last offseason, a quarterback familiar to Fox and a former No. 2 draft choice. Those teams didn’t accomplish their goals, but the plan was there.

The 2012 Denver Broncos under Fox did bring in Hanie to back up Peyton Manning (who hadn’t missed a game in 13 years before his 2011 neck issues). But they also invested a No. 2 pick in Brock Osweiler, who was Manning’s backup through this season. The Bears don’t draft quarterbacks high, none higher than the fourth round since 2003, which does explain some things, but that’s a topic for another time.

Veteran journeymen don’t necessarily come even close to working out. But the intention is clear: Development is always good, but not at the expense of what is considered a promising present, particularly with a starting quarterback at his best at age 33, and not at the risk of precipitous backsliding if that backup is needed.

Hoyer does not pose a job challenge to Cutler; he wasn’t signed to push Cutler. And no member of the 2016 draft class was going to, either. Early last offseason, Fox and Ryan Pace pointedly withheld any “he’s our quarterback” sentiments. This offseason, both have been so clearly pleased with Cutler’s performance and personal makeup, it was amply apparent that Connor Cook, Kevin Hogan, Paxton Lynch or any other member of this draft class was a challenger. If the Bears weren’t pleased with their starting quarterback, they could have traded well back in Round 1 and taken Lynch long before the Broncos did.

Fox and Pace subscribe to under-predicting and over-producing. But their actions have the feel of a very strong expectation.

Bears announce release of Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

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Bears announce release of Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

The Bears announced the departures of a pair of veteran players Sunday, releasing offensive lineman Matt Slauson and safety Antrel Rolle.

"We thank Matt and Antrel for the dedication and leadership they brought to our organization," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said in the announcement. "Both men did everything we asked of them. Part of growing as a team is making difficult decisions like the ones we made today. We never take them lightly given the respect we have for everyone who has put on a Bears uniform. We wish each of them the very best as they move forward."

Slauson started 37 games during his three seasons with the Bears including all 16 last season, starting 12 games at left guard and four at center. Slauson spent four seasons with the New York Jets prior to joining the Bears.

Rolle's release was reported earlier Sunday afternoon, and the safety — who appeared in seven games in his lone season with the team in 2015 — tweeted the following shortly after the initial report came out.

Rolle spent five seasons with the New York Giants before joining the Bears last offseason. Bothered by injuries, he appeared in just seven games last season, recording 45 tackles.

Photos: Cubs all dressed up for 'minimalist zany' themed road trip

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Photos: Cubs all dressed up for 'minimalist zany' themed road trip

Joe Maddon's themed road trips are the stuff of legend.

Cubs fans will remember the "onesie" road trip from last season, a trip that featured Jake Arrieta's no-hitter at Dodger Stadium and the team pajama party that followed — as well as Arreita's post-no-no press conference, during which he wore a mustache-themed onesie.

Well, the first themed road trip of the 2016 campaign is here, and the Cubs were all dressed up following Sunday's loss to the Braves at Wrigley Field.

The theme this week is "minimalist zany," something Maddon concocted while online shopping during spring training. He said he wanted the team to dress up in suits — but not conventional suits, an obvious Maddon touch.

Check out the Cubs in their "minimalist zany" duds.