Bulls eke out win over short-handed Thunder

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Bulls eke out win over short-handed Thunder

One of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus frequent sayings is fools gold, in which he refers to his teams success, despite not playing the mistake-free style he prefers. That phrase would apply to Tuesday nights preseason contest against the Thunder, in which the Bulls eked out a 94-89 victory, though the team clearly took a step back as they regular season approaches.

A quick start for the hosts, sparked by Luol Dengs (21 points, five rebounds, three steals) scoring and Carlos Boozers (24 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) passing, earned the Bulls a slim cushion, but the short-handed visitorsplaying without the All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrookcame back to narrow the gap behind the big-man tandem of Serge Ibaka (24 points, eight rebounds, and Kendrick Perkins. However, the home team again gained some separation, buoyed by an 8-0 run and Joakim Noahs (15 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots, two steals) formidable defensive presence and high activity level on the other end of the floor.

But Oklahoma City didnt relent and with the combination of Ibakas much-improved jumper and the replacement starting backcourt of reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner James Harden (13 points on 2-for-17 shooting, seven rebounds and assists apiece) and Eric Maynor pushing the pace, the gap was narrowed. Increased defensive intensity at the end of the framemost notably, Kirk Hinrichs hustle playsled to a 28-22 Bulls advantage after a period of play.

Surprisingly, former No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeeta 7-foot-3 center, who was previously labeled a bustwas the catalyst for the Thunder making it a close-knit affair at the outset of the second quarter. Outside of second-year swingman Jimmy Butler, the Bulls second unit struggled on both ends, as they allowed the visitors to creep back into the contest before Bulls head coach opted to reinsert most of his regulars.

Boozer got his scoring going for the home team and Hinrich also looked for his shot more, but most importantly, the defense clamped down, frustrating Harden, in particular. By the intermission, the Bulls built a double-digit winning margin and went into the break ahead, 51-40.

As the third quarter started, things began to get a bit testier on the courtthe physical Perkins was engaged in a battle with Boozer and Noahbut although the Bulls appeared somewhat frustrated, they maintained their comfortable edge. And drew the foul-prone Thunder into the bonus even before the periods midway point. On a down note, the Bulls lost Hinrich for the evening with a strained right groin, stretching their point-guard corps, already missing All-Star Derrick Rose, even thinner.

First backup Nate Robinson, then rookie Marquis Teague saw action and while neither was a disaster, the Thunder cut into the deficit as the period waned on. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls clung to a 73-67 lead.

It would be nice to characterize the low-scoring nature of the early fourth quarter as a defensive struggle, but for the Bulls, it was more of an exercise in offensive futility, with little solace taken for their own defense, as the Thunder had several deep reserves in the contest. Still, despite Ibakas continued outside marksmanship, the hosts were able to keep Oklahoma City at bay behind the interior play of Boozer and Noah.

Down the stretch, Thunder rookie forward Perry Jones III (14 points) came on strong and made it a single-possession game before a contested, fading Boozer jumper with 34.4 seconds left. After a timeout, the talented and athletic Jones responded with an acrobatic layup at the 22.8 mark to make it 89-86 in the Bulls favor, but Robinson split a pair of free throws with 18.5 seconds remaining and though Oklahoma City made repeated comeback attempts, the hosts escaped with the win, with veteran Rip Hamilton salting the game away at the foul line.

Will Likely a two-way starter on Terps' Week 1 depth chart

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Will Likely a two-way starter on Terps' Week 1 depth chart

We heard Will Likely would be utilized on the offensive side of the ball this season, but we weren't sure in what fashion.

Well, first-year head coach DJ Durkin apparently has big plans for the All-Big Ten defensive back, who was listed as a starter on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball when the Terps put out their Week 1 depth chart Monday.

In addition to being the No. 1 starter at nickel back, Likely is also listed as a co-starter at one of the wide receiver positions.

And while Maryland's depth chart didn't list starting return men, you'd have to figure Likely will be the featured player there, as well.

That's quite the workload for the guy who returned to College Park for his senior season.

Of course, there's little doubt that Likely is Maryland's best player. Durkin is going to make sure he gets the most out of Likely this season.

The Terps open their season Saturday against Howard.

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

Adam Eaton shakes off bruised forearm, returns to White Sox lineup

DETROIT -- He’d already made out the lineup card for Monday, but Robin Ventura wanted to check in on Adam Eaton.

It’s not often Eaton voluntarily leaves a game as he did Sunday.

So even though the preliminary report was that Eaton was cleared, the White Sox manager held a 60-second conversation with his outfielder before the opener of a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers. As he suspected, Eaton, who left in the fifth inning of Sunday’s win with a bruised right forearm, reported he felt fine.

“I was waiting around to see what he felt like, but yesterday he couldn’t grip anything,” Ventura said. “Today it’s good enough for him to play. He’s been able to battle through some stuff, and he can play with pain, so I’m going to let him do it.

“You know it takes a lot for him to come out of a game, and it takes a lot for him to show up the next day and not be in it. There’s very few times he has come in and said he couldn’t go. It would have to be pretty bad for him to not be in there.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Eaton -- who is hitting .276/.359/.412 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs -- joked he normally plays at about 75 percent for most games. He suggested that number dropped by one percent after Taijuan Walker hit him with a pitch and caused swelling in the fourth inning. Eaton stayed in the game until the bottom of the fifth and later had X-rays of his forearm taken, which proved negative. He said he didn’t have much strength in the area on Sunday, but it wasn’t an issue on Monday.

“Nothing broke, nothing major just a lot of swelling,” Eaton said. “I don’t like to leave games at all. It’s no offense to anybody else. But if I’m in the game I want to stay in the game. I don’t want to be Wally Pipp’d. It has always been my mindset and still is. I couldn’t really raise the bat up all that efficiently and we had a healthy Shuck. Let him go up there and compete. I hate coming out of the game, but sometimes you have to. I respect (Ventura) for getting me back in there right away and I guess, trusting in me that I’m all right and good enough to play.”

One reason Eaton pressed to play -- he’s not ready to give in. The leadoff man knows the odds are heavily against the possibility of a White Sox postseason berth. But isn’t ready to concede just yet.

“We’re not out of it until they say we’re out of it,” Eaton said. “There’s been teams down seven or 10 games and the last month of September have won 20 something games and forced a one-game playoff and gotten to the playoffs and been hot at the right time and made a good push. We’re not counting ourselves out and we want to continue to play good baseball.”

After 'year off,' Mike Denbrock ready to develop Notre Dame's next crop of WRs

After 'year off,' Mike Denbrock ready to develop Notre Dame's next crop of WRs

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame faced a similar question in 2014 it faces now: Who’s going to catch the ball?

Two years ago, Notre Dame entered the season having lost 70 percent of its receptions, 74 percent of its receiving yards and 78 percent of its receiving touchdowns from the 2013 season. The answer to the question turned out to be a guy who only had six catches as a freshman the previous year — Will Fuller.

Notre Dame might or might not have another breakout candidate like Fuller on its roster this year. But there’s a constant between 2014 and 2016: wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock.

The Irish are without Fuller (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 touchdowns), who became a first-round pick of the Houston Texans after turning pro earlier this year, along with Chris Brown (48 catches, 597 yards, four touchdowns), Amir Carlisle (32 catches, 355 yards, one touchdown) and Corey Robinson (16 catches, 200 yards, one touchdown) at the receiver position.

Add in the losses of running back C.J. Prosise (26 catches, 308 yards, one touchdown) and tight ends Alize Jones (13 catches, 190 yards) and Chase Hounshell (one catch, six yards), and Notre Dame has to replace 82 percent of its 2015 receptions, 87 percent of its receiving yards and 84 percent of its receiving touchdowns this fall.

“It’s like starting over,” Denbrock said. “Last year was kind of a little bit of a year off for me, quite frankly. I mean, I had guys that had heard me say the same things for three years and had kind of got used to being out there in the fray and doing it. Now it kind of regenerates itself and we start all over again, which for me is kind of exciting.

“I love the challenge, I love the dynamic of the group. I love their attention to trying to do things the right way, we’re just a little bit inexperienced and we’re learning how to do things the right way.”

Denbrock is in his fifth year coaching Notre Dame’s wide receivers (he spent 2010 and 2011 as the Irish tight ends coach and helped develop Tyler Eifert there, too) and has overseen that regeneration of a receiving corps after the losses of three go-to options in Michael Floyd, T.J. Jones and Fuller. And while an offense requires all its units — quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen — working together to succeed, it’s worth noting Notre Dame’s passing S&P+ rankings since Denbrock took over the Irish receivers:

2012: fifth

2013: 15th

2014: 13th

2015: eighth

Even if you might view some of those rankings as a bit bullish — like 2012’s, which seems high for a year in which Notre Dame deployed a conservative run-first offense — they’re solid evidence of Denbrock’s success in developing reliable pass-catchers.

“He's someone that doesn’t take anything less than what you can give,” redshirt junior receiver and captain Torii Hunter Jr. said. “He expects you to give 100 percent all the time. He just wants you to max out your potential, whatever it may be. And I’m grateful for the type of coach that he is because he never lets us get away with half-done.”

Of course, it helps that Notre Dame has recruited exceedingly well at the receiver position over the last few years. Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Corey Robinson, Fuller, Hunter, Corey Holmes, Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin, C.J. Sanders, Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley were all Rivals four-star recruits, while three-star recruit Chris Brown developed into a rock-solid player and fellow three-star prospect Kevin Stepherson impressed during spring and preseason camp (he's expected to play against Texas despite his arrest earlier this month).

While coach Brian Kelly said he’s “concerned” and that all those inexperienced receivers — St. Brown, Sanders, Boykin, Holmes, Claypool, McKinley, Stepherson and ex-walk-on Chris Finke — are “suspects,” he has an immense amount of trust in Denbrock. The two have coached together for 16 non-consecutive seasons, with Denbrock serving as both an offensive and defensive coordinator, a tight ends coach, a wide receivers coach and an associate head coach. Denbrock, too, has coached offensive line and linebackers at various stops in his 30-year coaching career.

“He knows the offense and the system and he knows what I look for and what I'm trying to do, and so it's a great relationship because I don't have to micromanage him,” Kelly said. “All I have to do is kind of say, this is the direction I would like to go, and he's off and running.

“So any time you have that, and a longstanding relationship with somebody that knows exactly where you want to go, it allows to you do so many other things and it allows me to help coach some of the players at a level, a grass roots level that sometimes the head coach doesn't get a chance to do.”

There’s been some inconsistency with players during practice in August, but that’s to be expected with such a green group.

“He’s on us hard,” St. Brown said. “He knows he has to be harder than ever because we have a young group of receivers.”

But why should 2016, even with all the uncertainty surrounding that position, be any different? There’s that saying that you should never bet against a streak. And Denbrock is on a pretty good streak.

“I just think you gotta be very consistent and very demanding with what you ask them to do and not let their youthfulness be an excuse for not playing at the level they should play at,” Denbrock said. “They get it, they understand it, and they’re growing.”