Bulls fall to George, Pacers after late no-call

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Bulls fall to George, Pacers after late no-call

As hotly contested as the Bulls-Pacers rivalry has been over the past few seasons, its no surprise that Tuesday nights game at the United Center came down to the wire. In a low-scoring affair, the Bulls (8-8) withstood an offensive onslaught from Pacers (9-9) swingman Paul George and had a chance to send the game into overtime late, but a controversial no-call on a Luol Deng drive to the basket was a crucial part of how the hosts dropped the 80-76 contest.
As usual when these two teams face off, it was a close-knit affair from the outset, with the emphasis on defense or at least not a lot of offensive productivity. For the Pacers, George (34 points, nine rebounds) came out firing, showing off both his vast potential and diverse scoring repertoire.
The Bulls were sparked by another strong effort from the frontcourt trio of Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, all of whom were active from the early going and asserted themselves as scorers. However, propelled by the play of George, the Bulls trailed, 20-18, at the conclusion of the opening period.
Deng carried over his aggressive play to the second quarter and with support from the second unit, the Bulls eventually overtook their guests. Nate Robinson, in particular, filling in for a foul-burdened Kirk Hinrich, provided a boost with his instant-offense game.
Behind George and point guard George Hill, the visitors stayed within close contact with the hosts in the choppy, whistle-plagued contest. At the intermission, though, the Bulls held a 37-25 advantage.
After the break, Hinrichs playmaking and the scoring of Duke products Deng (17 points, seven rebounds) and Boozer were the primary catalysts for the Bulls. But Indiana, led by Georgehis stellar play was expected by many observers prior to the season, but the athletic wing has had some uneven performances in the wake of sidelined star Danny Grangers knee injurywho got ample help from center Roy Hibbert (10 points, 11 rebounds).
Suddenly, the Bulls found themselves in a hole, creeping toward a double-digit margin, and the Pacers maintained separation from their hosts as the period waned on. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls narrowed the gap a bit, but they were still on the wrong end of a 60-55 score.
Reserves Robinson and Jimmy Butler breathed life into the previously dormant United Center crowd. Butler got a steal and subsequent dunk in transition to start things off, followed by Robinson (19 points) going on a personal 7-0 runhe hit a triple to beat the shot clock, made a fast-break layup and concluded his spurt with a floaterbefore George knocked down a long-distance shot of his own to silence the partisan audience.
The damage was done, however, as the Bulls seized control of both the lead and the game, heading into the contests stretch run, but George refused to relent, carrying the Pacers on his back to ensure the visitors wouldnt be run out of the building until it was officially time for them to go. George was unconscious, hitting shots from every angle with one of the leagues top defenders in Deng, draped all over him and in this slugfest, his contested jumper to make it 76-74 in Indianas favor with 2:06 remaining had the effect of a last-second dagger.
Bulls miscues, whether unforced or simply bad bounces, plagued the hosts late and after Lance Stephenson converted a layupon which he was fouled, but missed the ensuing free throwwith 45.5 seconds left, it looked to be a done deal. Boozer (14 points, 10 rebounds) had a chance to cut it to a one-point deficit with a three-point play opportunity of his own with 37.2 seconds to go, but like Stephenson, he also missed the foul shot.
Down two points, the Bulls got a big defensive stop and after Taj Gibson secured the rebound with 14.1 seconds on the clock, they called a timeout before a chance to tie the game at 78 apiece or even go ahead for the win. After the inbounds pass, Noah got the ball to a cutting Deng on the baseline and though he drew contact from Hibbertthe center had his arms outstretched, but it was a controversial decision, as evidenced by the home fans displeasureno call was made and after a pair of David West (10 points, nine rebounds, five assists) free throws with 5.2 seconds to play, it was all academic.

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

PITTSBURGH – Making a risk-reward decision, the Cubs will shut down Jason Hammel and not start him Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds, leaving his playoff status and future in the organization uncertain.

Hammel said he’s been feeling tightness in his right elbow for weeks, which may have dulled the sharpness to his slider and explained some of his second-half struggles, which have put him on the postseason-roster bubble, if not on the outside looking in. 

After Friday’s TBD, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are still scheduled to start the season’s final two games at Great American Ball Park, putting them at the front of a playoff rotation that didn’t figure to include Hammel anyway.

“That decision lays in their hands,” said Hammel, who has been playing catch and throwing off flat ground during this week's spring-training-like series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “Health-wise, I’m not stressing about it. Collectively, we talked about it. And for being available through October, is it really worth something right now happening in a game that – more or less – doesn’t really matter?”

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The Hammel 2.0 reboot still has to be considered a success, with another All-Star-caliber first half, a career-high 15 wins, a 3.83 ERA and an overall resume that would look dramatically different if he didn’t have three starts allowing nine or 10 runs. 

The Cubs hold a $12 million option – with a $2 million buyout – for next season that could make Hammel an attractive trade chip given this winter’s shallow pool of free agents.   

“Obviously, not happy with the way things ended,” Hammel said. “But I would say for 9/10ths of the season, I was very good. I’ll take that into the offseason and add onto what I added (last) offseason.

“Some crazy freak incident like this can derail it, but overall my body feels good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, which was to make 30-plus starts and be competitive, save for five, six starts. Out of 30, I’d say that’s pretty good.”